Tonight I’m going to Edmonds Community College in Edmonds, Washington to watch my oldest brother, Chad, 25, a highly paid scientist with the Boeing Company, owner of two homes and two cars and a generally likeable person, fight another man inside a cage. The fight will end when one of them is unconscious, or is in a position where he has to cry uncle, or the three rounds end and the judges decide who delivered the worst beating. Whatever sort of rubric the judges use, they always pick the same winner as my 11-year-old brother, Jake, who doesn’t miss a fight. He’s a fifth grader at a local Christian academy. He loves this stuff.

No one’s making Chad do this. He’s been doing it for a year or so, training two hours a day after work and fighting every other month, and he’s definitely not getting paid for it. I don’t know why he does it. Neither does he, as far as I know. I’ve rolled through a lot of theories, theories that involve things like Fight Club or phrases like “postmodern equivalent of gladiatorial games” or just an old-fashioned Jesus-shaped hole in Chad’s heart, but none of them holds much water when I’m actually watching two guys do everything short of bite each other.

Chad’s is one of fifteen amateur fights this evening, all part of an event called Axfighting. No axes are involved. No one who organizes the fights has any good explanation for the name, so I’m going to go ahead and say that “Ax” is being used as an intensifier, like “cool” or “awesome.” I’m hoping it’ll catch on: “That perm is so ax.” The fights will take place in a hexagonal ring enclosed by rubber-coated chain-link fencing. These are cage fights.

You might have seen Ultimate Fighting Championships on TV. It’s the same idea as amateur mixed martial arts, with a few different rules. However, I’d avoid comparing the two—live mixed martial arts is just a totally different experience from televised ultimate fighting, especially when you have a family member involved.

- - -

At the Fight Proper

The line is out the door. I’m standing with Jake in a line for people who, like us, wisely bought their $25 tickets ahead of time, a line that is somehow not moving. In front of me an adult male is wearing a shirt that reads I LIVE ON THE CORNER OF BITE ME BLVD AND NO FREAKIN’ WAY. I’m trying to imagine a universe that makes this T-shirt a plausible wardrobe option—maybe he actually lives at the intersection of streets with these names—but I’m rescued by Jake, who’s using his 11-year-old powers to cut in line, and I’m not about to lose him in this crowd.

The attendees are mostly white. Caucasian, yes, but more white, pasty, Washingtonians-in-January white. In the crowd of roughly two thousand I count seven people of color. In sight range there are eight heads shaved to the skull. I’d estimate the crowd is 80% male. Apparently black is the wardrobe color in the suburbs right now. No matter how many spotlights and posters and amps you put in a community college gym it still looks like a community college gym: basketball hoops folded to the ceiling, plaques celebrating dubious athletic accomplishments, wooden bleachers designed with a total disregard for the human sitting position. And it’s crowded. We had to get here an hour early just to get seats for our cluster of friends and family. It is hot.

Franklin the Turtle

Before every fight, when each fighter walks out to the ring from a back door with his posse—usually his coach and training partners and assorted riffraff-types—they play a song over the PA system. I don’t know what the songs are supposed to express, whether they’re supposed to be an expression of the fighter’s worldview and life philosophy or just something to get him jazzed up before the fight. The songs are usually angry rap or angry rock or an angry combination of the two. Jake states that his song would be “Our Song” by Taylor Swift.

It would be really neat if I could record each song and then compare that fighter’s performance to his—or her!—song, maybe with a line graph. I have a theory that the angrier the song the worse the fighter, or at least the fighter’s performance, and I’m going to hypothesize that the last thing a fighter needs before fighting is a jolt of anger, since it seems like good fighting depends more on clear-headed judgment than on wanting to fuck the world.

I’m unable to note the songs because I’m distracted by someone I’ll call Franklin. He looks like Franklin the Turtle. He wears thick glasses, and is standing just below our seats on the gym floor. He’s chubby. He appears to be unaccompanied. As soon as each intro song begins playing, he immediately begins dancing, head bobbing, and generally just rocking out, even if said song doesn’t lend itself to rocking out. While rocking out he looks around him, using the head bobs as a sprinkler-style way of moving his gaze. His expression is the expression of someone looking for ladies. Except for those in my immediate family, Franklin is my favorite person in the gymnasium.

- - -

I’m not going to give a play-by-play of any fights besides my brother’s. As engaging as they are to watch in person, it’d be boring to describe every fight in detail, and I missed a lot of them while going on Gatorade runs with Jake. Instead, I give you…


1. The Go Fuck Your Mother, I’m Too Angry to Throw a Sophisticated Punch
This GFYM punch is most often seen from a fighter in his first fight. It’s basically an uncontrolled punch motivated more by the desire to throw a really really hard punch that may or may not connect than to use any sort of fighting strategy, e.g. holding gloves in front of face, dodging opponent’s punches. It’s almost endearing in its simplicity. I suspect the GFYM punch is the result of listening to Insane Clown Posse or Rapist Rap music before the fight.

2. The I’d Fuck My Mother, But I’d Have to Go to the Cemetery and Dig Her Up Punch
The IFMM punch is thrown in response or simultaneously to the GFYM punch. Equally angry, it often misses its mark, and it seems like its owner is thinking, nuh-uh, no one throws a wildly ineffective punch at me and gets away without receiving an equally wild and ineffective punch. I imagine that whoever runs these fights deliberately pairs up GFYMers with IFMMers. Neither of them would last long with a more strategic opponent.

3. The Your Elbow Doesn’t Bend that Way
I would need a protractor, a compass, and two well-made manikins to properly diagram this one. Basically Guy One takes Guy Two’s arm and leverages it so that all the pressure is on the elbow at the joint, except in the exact opposite direction that an elbow joint traditionally bends. When done properly, this results in Guy Two tapping out, basically crying uncle. I’ve heard that some fighters, so determined are they to never tap out under any circumstances, will simply let the fight end when their elbow shatters. Fortunately (I think) this doesn’t happen tonight.

4. The I Will Rip Your Fucking Head Off
During the first fight, a GFYM/IFMM bout, someone behind me encourages his favored fighter to “rip his f-cking head off.” A bit excessive, I thought. But then, lo, in the next fight, in the first round, when they’re standing up, Guy One somehow shoves Guy Two’s head down so that he can python-wrap it with his right arm, and from there he simply lifts the body by the neck/head area. I can’t help but think of the little yellow head popping off of a Lego pirate.

5. The Spinning Roundhouse Kick to the Face
Turns out it’s actually quite effective.

6. The Raining Hammers of Thor
My personal favorite, RHOT is simple: one guy sits on the other guy’s chest. The guy on top punches the guy on bottom in the face again and again and again. Usually a fight ender.

7. The Let’s Hold Each Other’s Heads While We Knee Each Other in the Body
Self explanatory. Let me note that, prior to tonight, I always considered knees the Prius of attack moves, neat but largely useless. I now know I’d rather be punched in the jaw than kneed in the ribs.

8. The Climbing the Cage, Straddling the Padded Top Bar, and Riding it As Though It is A Horse or Perhaps a Woman
This one happens after the most entertaining bout of the evening, between two super-humanly athletic African-American males. The come-from-behind winner of this match, a man who quite accurately calls himself Flat Top, performed this move upon his victory.

- - -

My Brother’s Fight

Chad comes out with his posse, his coaches or buddies or whoever, people I don’t know, definitely not Boeing friends. His song is by Flogging Molly. Franklin is rocking. Chad looks bloated. He cut about 15 pounds of water weight to make the 155-pound weight class. He’s regained most of that in the past 24 hours.

The fighters tap gloves at the beginning of the fight while the ref gives redundant instructions. Chad’s strategy is to avoid giving the other guy the puncher’s chance, the chance to knock Chad out with a lucky punch. Chad takes him down by grabbing both his legs and charging. Someone in our little cluster has distributed fruit snacks but has neglected to give me any.

The other guy is on his back with Chad on top. You can do plenty of terrible things to the other person while on your back. Most of them involve depriving him of oxygen or snapping his humerus. The other guy has his legs wrapped around Chad. Neither can do much from here. They’re grappling for position, slight shifts of hips and a game of who-has-whose wrists. If someone gains decisive control the crowd will stand up. They can tell when something’s coming. I can’t. No one is currently being punched or bent. The gym hasn’t cooled off at all. The sweat on my arms might be other people’s sweat that has evaporated and condensed on me.

We stand to watch. Chad somehow tucks his opponent’s hands under his (Chad’s) legs, leaving nothing between my brother’s fists and his opponent’s face. Chad is sitting on his chest like they’re going to have a tickle war. Thor’s hammers begin to rain. My brother is in a cage in front of thousands of people punching another man in the skull again and again and again. The ref blows a whistle. The fight is over. Chad wins by technical knockout in the first round. He will soon have a title fight. It will involve a novelty-size belt. Even better, I get to leave the gymnasium and its terrible wooden bleachers.