AOL News Thread Bashes MMA

From the AOL news room.. Sport still does not get respect in mai stream.

Updated: 01:17 PM EDT
Alive and Thriving in the Midwest: Brawling in Cages

By MICHAEL WILSON, The New York Times

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (July 23) - When they rewind the video of the fight in the cage, all the blood will spray back into Gervis Fool Bull's nose, all the screams will be sucked into the collective chest of the sweating crowd, and the fist will snap back toward the big truck driver from Iowa who threw it, a man with a mohawk haircut who grew up fighting his twin brother in the neighborhood junkyard.

But to find where this punch between strangers really began, the rewinding would have to go back almost three weeks, to the Fourth of July in the lakeside tourist town of Okoboji, Iowa, where the twin brothers were prowling around, drinking, not liking tourists.

Kevin Moloney
Cage fighting matches -- in which amateur fighters use a variety of fighting techniques to vanquish opponents in a sport with few official rules -- are springing up across the Midwest. The sport has been banned in several states.

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"My goal that night was to beat up the biggest tourist I could find," said Nate Hawn, 20.

He picked a marine, he said, and beat him in the crowded streets. A stranger approached, and the Hawns wondered if he wanted some, too.

The man said that he worked with a promoter of cage fighting and that the guys should come to Sioux Falls in a few weeks. "He said, 'You guys are exactly what we're looking for,' " the brother with the mohawk, Ryan Hawn, recalled.

The brothers arrived on Saturday at "The Cage," a no-holds-barred night of one-on-one fights between men shut inside an outdoor chain-link cage here at the W. H. Lyon Fairgrounds. In a sport known by practically interchangeable names - extreme fighting, no-holds-barred fighting, cage fighting - fighters can use boxing, kickboxing, martial arts or wrestling moves, or any combination. Opponents have called it "human cockfighting," a brutish pseudo-sport.

New York banned cage fighting in 1997, two years after Brooklyn's district attorney threatened assault charges if a scheduled fight went off. Athletic commissions in Pennsylvania, Ohio and several other states have refused to sanction the fights. Indian casinos have continued to allow the matches, while most fans have relied on watching pay-per-view channels with Ultimate Fighting Championship battles and DVD's with titles like "Cage Rage 8: Knights of the Octagon."

But in Sioux Falls and other small cities and towns of the Great Plains - Fargo, N.D.; Rochester, Minn.; Marshfield, Wis.; Sioux City and Des Moines - cage fighting is making a comeback, drawing hundreds, even thousands of spectators to fairgrounds, small arenas and, most disturbingly to city officials, the parking lots of bars.

On June 4, promoters set up a cage in the gravel lot beside Sidewinder, a bikers' bar in Sioux Falls, and held 17 fights in a "Summer Slam." A cage fight is scheduled for a bar in the city of Yankton on Aug. 13.

"It's like the hardest core," said Jarod Stevens, 25, a beefy, freckled redhead who works at a Hummer dealership, signing up for his first fight on Saturday in Sioux Falls. "It's proving something to yourself, that you're man enough to be a part of it and do well, hopefully."

By the night's end, Mr. Stevens will be holding a bag of ice to a bluish lump on his forehead. And he will be one of the luckier ones, in 11 fights over two hours that include men who train daily and self-described street fighters. Former convicts will fight on the same card as a corrections officer at South Dakota State Penitentiary, who has been approached by his fellow officers looking to learn a few moves, in case things get rough at work. Three men will be knocked out cold, with the night ending awash in the bright, swirling lights of an ambulance.

"I always say, 'Where's the rule book?' " said Vernon Brown, 37, a former television reporter who joined the Sioux Falls City Council last year and is a critic of cage fighting. "They keep giving me a sheet printed off the Internet that says no eye-gouging, no fishhooks, no fingers in bodily orifices."

He does not foresee banning the sport. His main concern, he said, is for the spectators in the potent mix of violence, alcohol and what he sees as lax security.

A measure to keep the fights away from bars and to make promoters liable for fighters' injuries is expected to go before the council in August.

This is not quite the Sioux Falls that Money Magazine declared the best place to live in the country in 1992, not the Sioux Falls that has attracted Citibank and Automatic Data Processing Inc., a quiet, safe city of 141,000, where an average of eight new residents arrive each day and a laser-light show plays every night.

In this Sioux Falls, people are 19 and 20 and 21 years old and looking for something to do, anything besides some youth program at one of the city's 65 parks or another laser-light show. The timeless ritual of cruising, in a square of downtown called "the loop," was banned two years ago, when police officers started writing tickets after three nightly sightings of the same car.

"There's really not much in Sioux Falls to do," said Anna Anderson, 21, a housekeeper wearing black clothes and matching nail polish at her first fight, on Saturday. "People should stop complaining. There's a bunch of people who want to fight, so let them come here and fight and not cause other people problems. No one seems to get seriously hurt, but if they do, shucks for them."

About half the fighters at the fairgrounds are locals. The most dedicated meet at Active Mixed Martial Arts in Suite A of a strip of office space, where Brazilian jiu-jitsu is taught.

The studio's owner and teacher, Aaron Hullinger, 33, will not bring his young children to a cage fight. "I don't like the environment there," he said. But that doesn't stop him from training his fighters to win. "The purpose of learning jiu-jitsu is not to get into the cage," he said, "but if that's something you want to do, you better know jiu-jitsu."


One of his most experienced fighters is Lee Lohff, 23, an Army ranger twice deployed to Afghanistan who, despite his modest weight of 168 pounds, has found a paucity of worthy competition.

"We're clean cut, we have jobs, we go to school," he said, "and we get these guys who are the toughest ones in their motorcycle gang" but who don't have any training. "It's frustrating."

Indeed, the first fighter to show up Saturday morning for the weigh-in is smoking and drinking a can of Budweiser: Fred Christian, 40, who introduces himself as Dog. His ponytail is graying, his tattooed torso beginning to sag. This would be his first fight. "This is a whole brand-new deal," he said. But he is alarmed by a question on the forms - "This being wanted by any law enforcement agencies, what does that mean?" he asks - and ultimately withdraws.

Other fighters arrive more sober than Dog, but with no more experience in the cage.

Mr. Stevens, the Hummer dealer: "I'm not one of those guys who's going to back down from a fight. I've had six ribs broken. I've been knocked out cold at a concert."

By the time the guitarist for the heavy-metal band rips into "The Star Spangled Banner" shortly after 9 p.m., several hundred spectators have gathered around the ring and in the bleachers, mostly 20-something men and their girlfriends. A disc jockey climbs into the cage and thanks the sponsors: Budweiser, Outlaw Tattoos, Bullet Proof Graphics, Sioux Empire Tint.

The fight's promoter is Chris Christianson, 31, of Sioux Falls, who has built his business to a fight or two a month since last fall. He takes the microphone and thanks everyone for coming despite the "controversy." His 21-year-old sister, in a lacy halter, is one of two girls who walk the cage between rounds, holding up the number on a card.

Next in the ring is Bruce Hoyer, 23, who was a high school football player until a violent tackle detached one of his retinas, leaving his right eye blind and largely immobilized. He has a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He is the referee.

The first fight lasts about as long as it takes to read about it: two men throw a few punches and fall twisting and writhing on the mat, until one traps the other in a painful hold, maybe punching the back of his opponent's skull with a free hand. The downed fighter slaps the mat twice: I give up. This would prove the standard for most of the 11 fights. Finding the fighters and directing them to the cage takes longer than the matches do.

An exception is the bout featuring David Adamyan, 22, a Ukrainian immigrant who has not trained, mismatched against one of the star jiu-jitsu students, Paul Willman, 22. In the opening seconds, Mr. Willman flies at the novice, hitting him in the face, twice. Mr. Adamyan's eyes go blank and his legs collapse. He does not move until the referee helps him, shakily, to his feet. Two paramedics look him over, as does a nurse.

"I don't know what happened," Mr. Adamyan said later, smoking a cigarette. "It was just boom, I was gone."

Mr. Hawn, with the mohawk, wins by concession after hitting Mr. Fool Bull in the nose with his fist or his knee, both of them splattered by the bigger man's blood.

The last fight ends with a knockout. The loser looks to be in bad enough shape that someone calls 911, but as a fire engine and paramedics arrive, he rises and shuffles past the waiting ambulance to his sport utility vehicle.

Watching the fights near the cage was Damien Alexander, 30, the man who met the Hawn twins in Iowa and urged them to come and fight. Thinking back on that night, he said he does not remember seeing either of them beating a marine, but something had moved him to approach them.

As he sees it, cage fighting is poised to take off in Sioux Falls. "You know what we got? We got a bunch of bars and a state park," he said. "This is good."