Tonight I’m in my hometown of Everett, Washington, for a mixed martial arts event called “Chaos at the College.” The college here is Everett Community College, where right now a group of guys in the parking lot are smoking cigarettes and drinking beer near the open trunk of a small car. Tailgating, it seems.
I’m here to watch Jonny “Cage” Gilbertson fight for the Cagewars number-one contender spot at 155 pounds. A four-time state placer in high school wrestling, Jonny turned to MMA during college and has won all three of his MMA fights. One time at a wrestling tournament Jonny and I shared a room at the Night Lite Inn in Fife, Washington, where the carpet was inexplicably wet and left black stains on our socks.
Before the Fights
At the door a boy who looks all of thirteen years old collects tickets. Poor kid. He looks like he’s never seen a press pass before. I walk right by. Growing up is tough.
In the men’s room, I’m at a urinal two stalls away from a guy who eats an entire apple—the whole thing—while he urinates. The logistics of how he does this aren’t visually confirmed for obvious men’s-room courtesy reasons. He washes his hands while holding the core in his mouth, and then throws the core away.
I sit in a section of about two-dozen Jonny fans, including my mom, my dad, my brother Brady (22), my brother Jake (13), and a guy named Ben who promises that he’s going to provide some “really funny commentary.” Ben weighs 275 pounds and has a circumference around his shoulders of seventy-one inches, which took him “more than one tape measurer.” At one point in the evening I lose sight of my notebook, and when I get it back someone has added a note next to Ben’s name: “Ben, whose shirt is from Baby Gap.”
A Cagewars staff person is standing on a platform attached to the cage, filming the audience with a handheld camera. His shaky shots of the crowd are displayed on a projector screen that takes up most of the gym’s west wall. For about thirty seconds he zooms in on my dad, who has his face in his hands and looks bored. He doesn’t notice that he’s on the big screen.
Jonny’s fight is the fifteenth of eighteen fights tonight. According to someone in our group, we will be here “long enough to watch two movies and still have time to come back and watch Jonny.”
Fight Three: 205-Pound MMA
Jake notes that the first fighter “jiggles when he bounces.” The fighters end up on the ground, and the jiggler manages to trap both of his opponent’s arms and legs while keeping one hand free to pummel his face.
Announcer: “That’s what I came to see.”
Fight Four: Submission Wrestling
This fight is what Ben’s wife, Ashley, describes as “This is not a punching one?” This is not a punching one. One of the wrestlers is wearing a red spandex wrestling singlet, with regards to which Ben wants me to write: “Don’t do that.” The singlet guy gets choked out.
Fight Five: 170-Pound Kickboxing
In this fight, large amounts of time are dedicated to recovery from unintentional groin shots. Jake thinks that kicking a guy in the testicles is a good way to take a break if you’re tired. Ben yells: “Pee-pee kick. Shake it off.”
When the fight finally resumes, one of the fighters gets punched in the cheek and goes down. In what looks like a Rocky-esque struggle of will, he gets back to his feet before the ref does a ten count. He immediately gets punched even harder in the face, and this time he doesn’t get up.
Fight Seven: 115-Pound Youth MMA
At one point in this fight a sweaty teenage boy is sitting on another sweaty teenage boy’s mouth, punching him in the stomach.
Jonny’s dad: “This is getting disgusting.”
The face-sitter wins by choking the other kid out. With a chokehold, not by face-sitting. His coach carries him around the ring, Superman-style. His photo is not taken with a ring girl.
Jake is asking people for money so that he can buy snacks. This isn’t how our family operates, this begging. We tell Jake that if he wants money—a whole dollar—he’s going to have to work for it. What he’s going to have to do, Brady and I tell him, is he’s going to have to go down to the sound table and ask the sound guy if he can wear his hat. The sound guy is roughly eleven and is wearing an orange knit beanie of the type sometimes used to store large amounts of hair or dreadlocks.
In between rounds Jake walks down and talks to the sound guy for much longer than seems necessary. The sound guy hands his hat to Jake. Jake puts it on and gives us a sly thumbs up. When Jake gets back we ask him what he was talking to the sound guy about, and he tells us he was making sure the sound guy didn’t have lice.
Our next job for Jake—which will earn him two dollars, for a total of three dollars, enough to buy a slice of pizza at the concession stand—requires him to go to the ZipFizz booth and ask the ZipFizz girls a series of questions, some involving ZipFizz, some involving whether the ZipFizz girls have boyfriends and, if not, whether they want boyfriends. Our mom overhears parts of this conversation and just gives Jake two dollars.
Fight Nine: 300-Pound Kickboxing
When the fighters walk out, Ben—without anyone saying anything to provoke him—says, “I don’t carry my weight there.”
Fight Ten: Ladies MMA
This might be the first MMA fight that has featured a Tiffany fighting a Gabby. Both are white girls with cornrows.
As they’re standing in their corners before the fight, Gabby takes a drink of water and spits it on the floor. Her coach mops it up with a towel. Someone behind me is discussing Million Dollar Baby.
For the first minute or so of the fight Tiffany demolishes Gabby. A female audience member yells: “Gabby, you go take it. Take it. You got this. You got this thing.”
This just isn’t true. Gabby does not have this thing. Tiffany throws a left jab, another left jab, a kick to Gabby’s ribs, and then decks Gabby right in the teeth. Gabby crumples so dramatically it looks faked. It’s over.
Fight Eleven: 145-Pound MMA
One of the guys spends much of the fight on his back with his feet in the air. This appears to be an impenetrable defense. The other guy is standing, but he just can’t get past his opponent’s feet. When the guy on his feet tries to run behind, the guy on his back simply spins. It’s brilliant.
When they’re both on their feet later in the fight, the guy that was on his back gets kneed hard in the hamstring four times. He loses.
Announcer: “I’d like to thank our promoters for getting us in such a beautiful venue with a TV [i.e. the projector screen] like that. Ooh.”
A man is walking through the bleachers distributing squares of glossy cardstock promoting a musical artist called “Chad Walker Is Big Mouth.” The man tells us that Chad Walker is one and the same as our announcer tonight. He says that Chad Walker Is Big Mouth’s music contains “no swearing. It’s all about recovery.”
The paper states that Chad Walker Is Big Mouth’s debut album, “Unconscious”—released on the label Puget Sounds Inc.—is available for free download for a limited time. I promise myself that I will download this album at the nearest internet connection.
One of Brady’s observant and trustworthy friends says to Brady: “How does everyone in your family have such perfect hair? I mean how thick it is.”
Fight Fifteen: Jonny’s Fight
In the first round, Jonny gets a takedown and he and his opponent get tangled on the mat for the rest of the round. At one point Ben barks and it sounds like a real dog. Jonny didn’t do much, but he kept his opponent from doing anything at all, so he won the round.
Second round: Jonny’s opponent throws a huge punch that misses, Jonny ducks and gets a takedown, and they get tangled for the rest of the round. Jonny has now won two rounds, which means that he wins unless he gets knocked out—or choked out, or irreparably broken—in the third round. So it’s in Jonny’s interest to play it safe and do exactly what he did the first two rounds. He gets a takedown and, yes, they get tangled on the mat. Someone yells, “Keep using that forehead, Jonny, grind it.” When the round ends Jonny has won the fight.
Jonny’s fight is what an educated MMA fan would call “smart.” Someone who came here tonight looking for some chaos at the college—some no-holds-barred bloodbaths—might call it boring. I can’t imagine this would bother Jonny. He won, and will now get to fight for the 155-pound Cagewars title.
Fight Eighteen: 185-Pound Cagewars Title Fight
The announcer encourages us to “support our local economy” by going to JR Phinickey’s for the official after party, where we’ll get to watch full length videos of all the fights, the very fights we’ve been watching for the last three hours.
This fight is between Brent “Mankill” Knopp and Carl Edwards. The last time we saw Mankill he fought against Nerd Rage, a much chubbier opponent who nevertheless made it an entertaining fight. This one looks more evenly matched. In fact, Carl looks almost identical to Mankill: they’re the same height, bald, and muscular in a way that makes me want to go do bench press. The only difference is that Mankill is Caucasian and Carl is African American.
Mankill and Carl look about even in the first round—they punch each other, tackle each other, and dish out enough violence to more than make up for Jonny’s fight. In the second round Mankill punches Carl hard with his right hand and follows it with an even harder left. Carl goes down and doesn’t get up until we’re almost out the door.
Later, at home, I listen to Chad Walker Is Big Mouth’s album, “Unconscious.” I’ve heard much worse hip hop music. The production is solid, and Chad Walker Is Big Mouth has decent rapping skills. It’s his lyrics that are the real standout, though. Contrary to what I was told, there are a few swear words—“Who fucking farted?” is a line—and a few lines that don’t technically have swearing but are probably R-rated nonetheless: “I only licky licky if it’s that good, I only hit the sticky if it’s that good.” Or: “Lick my balls and fill up my belly.”
I never paid Jake his dollar.