LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- Inside UFC legend Randy Couture’s MMA gym off Sunset Road, a group of about 30 people begin an intense workout. They lay into punching bags and spare with a partner.
They are all different heights, weight and some with completely different backgrounds, but they are all united.
“This place created a tribe for me,” Bruno Moya said.
Moya, a Marine Corps veteran, is the program manager for the Las Vegas Branch of Merging Veterans and Players (MVP).
"I'm here to support them and they're here to support me,” Moya said. “It’s a peer program."
It’s support that Moya said he needed but couldn’t find when he returned home from the Iraq war.
"I'm in Las Vegas by myself. I'm with my wife, she doesn't get it, and at the time, I have a 2-year-old. It was hard for me to connect with them," Moya said.
Like so many veterans, he battled mental health and desperately tried to adapt back to a society that seems so far away. It turns out that’s something that many ex-professional athletes feel, too.
"You don't know what the hell to do once you're done,” retired professional football player Romby Bryant said. “You're used to people telling you what time to wake up, what time to go to bed, what to eat and when to eat.”
Bryant spent three years in the NFL as a wide receiver and 10 total in professional football.
"That's the toughest thing I've ever had to do is transition out of football,” Bryant said. “Players didn't have that place where we talk to people that have been through similar situations as us and show us the right kind of empathy and be able to talk to us and speak our language."
Fox Sports' Jay Glazer and Green Barret and ex-NFL player Nate Boyer had the epiphany in 2015. They realized that both groups struggle as they transition back into society, and are looking for a team around them again.
"I had this notion in my head of what professional athletes were. it was shattered getting to know these people. Getting to know their background, their struggles. It opened me up to understanding them and them understanding us," Moya said.
When the group of 20 to 40 members works out every Friday night, everyone gets in the octagon. However, it’s not to fight. Instead, it’s to talk about feelings and a chance to be vulnerable.
"You're able to let out whatever’s on your mind instead of letting it get bottled up where it could explode at some point," Moya said.
A big topic inside the cage lately is the end of the war in Afghanistan, and it’s triggered many memories for the combat war veterans.
"You have this thing on your shoulder that's bothering you. You come workout, you get vulnerable and you share what's going on in your head. And you get a support system. Not people that are trying to fix what's going with you," Moya said.
"It really challenged me to keep coming back and keep coming back so I could keep up,” Marine Corps veteran Kyle Rodgers said. “So that really kind of brought me out of my shell."
A radio operator in Iraq, Rodgers rode around in Humvees and they constantly dodged explosions. He took so much trauma to the head that his temporal lobe was permanently damaged. Rodgers has spent years in therapy at the VA.
"Just coming to MVP really helps with that, because even having to memorize the strikes that's kind of helping rewire you're brain just a little bit,” Rodgers said. “Having to remember the workouts back and forth that's a challenge for me. I'll forget in the middle of a workout."
Now, Rodgers is working his way through a PhD program at UNLV.
Merging veterans and ex-pros is a simple idea that has given dozens around the country and in Las Vegas the outlet they need on the battlefield of life.