Cage Fighting

…Mixed Martial Arts… Houthis and Yemen (thereabouts)… Aces and Eights…

I spent last Friday night at Wild Bill’s drink emporium and live entertainment shit-kickery. Actually it is just called Wild Bill’s. I made up the last part. It seemed appropriate. Anyway Wild Bill’s is a sprawling complex just north of Atlanta in the “too crowded to be a suburb yet too Podunk to be a city” part of town. It is the part of town where both “a-hootin” and “a-hollerin” are valid forms of communication. I was there to watch the Legacy Fighting Championship. A couple of friends of mine work for the “AXS-TV” channel that records and broadcasts these cage matches all over the country. They mentioned they were filming in Atlanta and invited me to the fights.

I know nothing about cage fighting except that it takes place in a cage and that when the two fighters go into the cage, they fight. Luckily I had some of the finer details explained to me by one of the producers of the show while we sat out back in the mobile television studio, which was a state-of-the-art converted tractor trailer with its own satellite. He explained that mixed martial arts means the fighters can box, grapple, and kick. Nothing too brutal like biting, gouging or genital splattering, but other than that anything goes. I’m still not sure why it takes place in a cage. Of the eleven fights that were on the bill not one fighter tried to flee the perimeter only to find he was fenced in. No fighters tried to perform some crazy maneuver like a ten-foot drop kick off the top of the cage. For all intents and purposes the ropes of a boxing ring usually seem to do the trick. Most understand the three ropes around a ring are a definitive boundary that the fighters are supposed to stay inside of and the audience is supposed to stay outside of, although in the event of some massive upset the crowd wouldn’t be able to storm the fenced ring like they could in a traditional rope setup like say, in a Rocky movie, but that is about it. Anyway, I went to Wild Bill’s and there was a cage in the middle of the room and fighting inside of it.

The fights were exciting. The fighters conditioned and relentless. The crowd of spectators was good and pumped. I understood why Hemingway went to the bullfights. Writers after all are strange little freaks that silently scrutinize and then sneak off to chew on their words. These guys got into a cage in front of 2,000 people, attacked each other and bled.

In the first match Berleigh Phillips was beaten handily by Jared Gooden, who won with a submission choke-hold in the third round. Since I was there with the film crew I couldn’t decide whether to watch the fights in Wild Bill’s or out back in the mobile production studio. Sitting in the production studio was like sitting with NASA scientists. The engineers calmly called the camera shots, flew the stats onto the screen, mixed the audio, panned and faded. Sitting in Wild Bill’s, on the other hand, was like being in the Hunger Games. I decided since there were almost a dozen matches I would divide my time between the two. After watching two matches in the production trailer, in which Zac Cooper and Dee Melton came out the winners after a technical knockout and split decision, respectively, I walked into Wild Bill’s where I was submerged in the heat and the noise and the neon of it all. The crowd was good and juiced up, cheering as the next set of fighters walked down the entrance plank. I fell in with a cluster of rowdies and we watched local boy Devorius Tubbs beat Derrick Brown after being locked on the ground with each other like snakes in heat for three rounds. Everybody was yelling for blood.

“Kick his teeth in.”

“Bust his head open.”

“Here we are watching this thing and the Houthis in Yemen are on the offensive,” a guy said. Houthis? Yemen? That came out of nowhere. It seemed odd to bring up Yemen, first because the guy who made the comment looked as rigorously American as bikini girls firing machine guns. On a broader note, I wasn’t sure what to think of the Houthis, who hate Al Qaeda but are also attacking our allies, but that is neither here nor there. Somebody said something about bombing, and we sat back, satisfied, as Doug Usher pulled off a brilliant TKO in the first round with a flurry of hand strikes.

“Aces and eights,” a guy next to me screamed. I wasn’t sure what that was all about either until somebody yelled into my ear over the din that aces and eights was the poker hand that Wild Bill Hickock was holding when he was shot in the back. I took it to be a term for an ambush, and a somewhat appropriate remark for a place called Wild Bill’s. All the savagery seemed so natural, I thought. Almost quaint. Quaint savagery. Was there really such a thing?

“Also called the dead man’s hand,” he threw in.

“What is?”

“Aces and eights.”

“Or any hand when you get plugged from behind with a six-shooter.”

“Fair enough.”

“Yemen is like the canary in the coal mine for the warring factions. The consolidation of power is largely symbolic.”

“What the hell is he talking about?”

Dave Vitkay came out on top in the third round with an arm bar submission of Tommy Jones and in a showboating display of flair he scaled the cage and taunted the audience. Finally, I thought, someone took advantage of the fact that there was a cage.

“If the Houthis win out in Yemen they could possibly take it all.”

The guy was half corn-pone and half foreign policy analyst. The next fight featured Matt Betzold, who, with only one leg, was worth watching just for the handicap, so to speak. Unbelievably he moved faster than most people could with two. Even so he lost in a decision after putting in a solid three rounds against Rodrigo Lima. The main event was fast approaching. Cody East, American, was going head-to-head against Brice Ritani-Coe, a New Zealander. I decided to walk out back to the production trailer. I bid my new friends good night.

“Let’s hope Yemen doesn’t fall into the hands of the more rabid terror franchises,” I said, just trying to leave on a friendly note. The guy looked at me like I was crazy. It turns out he had been talking about two M.M.A. fighters whose names sounded similar to Houthis and Yemen the whole time and I had misheard everything. At least the whole thing made a little more sense.

Outside in the trailer the production guys were getting ready to pack it all up. No time to waste. Some of the fighters were walking out of the back entrance to the parking lot, broad-shouldered silhouettes with swollen faces peeking out of hooded sweatshirts. Victorious whether they had won or lost, I thought. It takes a big dose of determination to climb into a ring, or a cage, or anywhere, and square off with an opponent who has been solely focused on your destruction. Word came around that the American had beaten the New Zealander and that was it. Go America! The satellite sent the show to Denver, Denver sent it to the world, and the speed and precision with which the crew broke everything down and put it all away was an art all to itself. I enjoy excellence, whatever form it takes. Whether it is a chess match, combat, or a video production team, it is reassuring to know that there are people out there showing off a superior expertise. When the world seems to be turning to shit, sometimes it’s the only consolation.

Out in the parking lot two guys got into a fight and somebody called the cops.

More Alembics to come

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