Tonight I’m at an event called “Knockout At the Nile 2” to watch my brother Chad participate in what’s called a tag-team mixed martial arts fight. The Nile in question is the Nile Shrine Temple Country Club, which I strongly suspect is a front for a cult, a cult that hosts amateur mixed martial arts events.

I should mention that everything in this column is literally made possible by the United States Army. I only brought one pen tonight—a pen acquired from a Westin Hotel—and it stops working while I’m still in the parking lot. Fortunately —and unexpectedly—there’s an Army recruitment table in the Nile’s lobby area.

The recruiter begins trying to recruit my brother, Brady. The recruiter asks Brady what he’s been doing since high school, and Brady tells him that he’s been in college. The recruiter ignores me, although I too am a young, draft-eligible male. I’m beginning to worry that there’s something about my appearance that says that I am a wimp and unfit to serve in the armed forces. It could be the notebook in my hand. It could be the Westin pen I’ve been trying to rehabilitate with saliva.

I ask the Army recruiter for a pen. I tell the Army recruiter not to worry about recruiting me, that I’m too big of a pussy to serve in the armed forces. The recruiter nods and gives me the pen. It is a very nice pen.

I’m here tonight with my brother, Brady (21); his girlfriend, Emily; my mom and dad; and someone named Garret. The fights are being held in a room that has previously held a high school prom. (Or so I suspect—it’s been surprisingly difficult to verify.) It’s a banquet hall of sorts, with chandeliers, and a wall-size sculpture-thing that looks like a drafting compass trying to eat a right angle.

A woman walks by drinking Red Bull from a can with a pink flexi straw. Directly above the cage is a disco ball large enough to contain an adult male, and not once during the night does it stop rotating. Padded folding chairs are set up in a flower-petal pattern with the cage at the center. Garret gives me an unsolicited explanation of the phrase “elephant walk,” which explanation is obscene and won’t be reproduced here.

A woman who resembles my second-grade teacher sings the national anthem. There is not an American flag in sight, or anything remotely patriotic looking—not a Boy Scout, not an apple pie. So instead of staring at a flag everyone stares at the cage. I get the unmistakable but unverifiable feeling that someone somewhere in the room is singing along.

Fight One

Tonight’s fights take place in an actual cage. It’s a hexagonal structure with padded posts at each corner. Calling it “cage fighting” sounds extreme, but the heavily padded posts obscure about twenty percent of tonight’s action, which isn’t extreme at all. At the end of the fight my dad reports that this is literally the bloodiest fight he’s seen in his whole life.

Fight Three: Submission Wrestling

The third fight is something called a submission wrestling match. I get the feeling that everyone in the crowd is thinking what I’m thinking: “this is fucking Kafka-esque.” And by Kafka-esque, I mean it’s weird and I don’t get it. The match ends in a tie, which is exactly what Kafka would’ve wanted.

The Nile Shriners

The concession stands are manned by men wearing royal-blue elastic baseball hats. Most of these men have grey hair, many of them have beards, and all are wearing white star badges that look like something a cartoon sheriff would wear. In age and attire these men seem like they don’t really fit in with the crowd, so I assume they’re a part of the Nile Shrine cult. I later find out that they’re called Nile Shriners.

From my experiences tonight and from the Nile’s website, here’s what I’m able to logically induce about the Shriners:

  • Nile Shriners prefer to charge $5 for a cup of beer.
  • Nile Shriners use capital letters liberally and randomly.
  • Nile Shriners will sell a bottle of soda for $1 and the exact-same-size bottle of water for $2, and will fail to see the weirdness of this.
  • Nile Shriners welcome ladies to become Nile Shriners, but in all instances the word “ladies” is used instead of, say, “women” or “females,” which makes it seem like they’re including the invitation for purely legal reasons. There are no female Nile Shriners.
  • Nile Shriners aren’t categorically opposed to purple vests.

Fight Four: Someone Named Josh vs. Someone Named Clinton, Both of Whom Weigh 135 Pounds

These fighters must be embarrassed: they are wearing identical outfits. Both are wearing black shorts with a single white stripe. Both fighters are shirtless. This is like showing up to the prom in the same dress as your best friend. Across the butt of said shorts is text that’s completely illegible except for the letters “.com,” so I know that their product has a website, which should narrow it down a lot.

After the first round a ring girl walks around the cage holding a sign with the number two on it, signifying that the next round is the second round. She’s wearing four-inch heels, a not-entirely-slutty bikini, and can’t be older than twenty. She is pretty. The ring girl tradition is a carry-over from boxing—what’s interesting, though, is that boxing matches can have up to fifteen rounds, while the amateur MMA fights tonight have three rounds, which makes the ring girl more or less unnecessary, counting-wise.

The girl walks around the ring, self-consciously shaking her general booty area. The eight Nile Shriners within eyeshot have all stopped what they’re doing—one of them holding popcorn in mid scoop—and are staring at the ring, heads swiveling to follow the girl. Each one of their mouths is slightly open.

Fight Six: Heavyweight Fight

I miss most of the fight, but my dad reports that this is literally the bloodiest fight he’s seen in his whole life.

I miss the fight because I’m in a back hallway, investigating what exactly the Nile Shrine is. On the wall are framed newspaper articles, some of them decades old, all of them about the Masons. One of them mentions that fourteen presidents have been Masons. No mention is made of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.

I return to the main room and, under the guise of buying popcorn, ask one of the Shriners what all the proceeds go toward. He gives me a sound-bite explanation that all proceeds from Nile Shrine events go toward helping burn victims. This sounds noble, altruistic, and is exactly what a cult would say.

The Tag Team Fight

For Chad’s amateur-fighting career, this fight is about as important as the All-Star Game is for a Major League Baseball player. That is, it isn’t important at all. To make the fight lighthearted and fun, it’s been decided that the fighters cannot punch each other in the head. They can slap, but can’t punch. Making a mixed-martial-arts fight lighthearted by removing the punches is like making Anne Frank’s diary a comedy by removing all the cuss words.
The program sheet states that this fight features Team El Guapo San vs. Team Extreme. “El Guapo San” is Spanish for “The Handsome Saint.” “Team Extreme” is English for “I grew up in the ‘90s and somehow still think ’extreme’ is a cool and descriptive adjective.”

The announcer then introduces the fighters: in the red corner is Team El Guapo San, Chris “Chavez” Garcia and Landon “The Show” Showalter. In the blue corner is Team Extreme, Buck “The Slam” Bisbey and Chad “The Dastardly” Douglas.

Chad “The Dastardly” Douglas. I’m betting that the announcer came up with that on the spot, and I’m betting that he has no idea what “dastard” actually means. He probably thinks it’s an alliterative euphemism for “bastard,” and not a word that means “someone who avoids conflict in a cowardly manner,” which is ironic in a way that, given the crowd, I decide to keep to myself.

If you were a middle school boy at some point in the ’90s, then the rules of tag-team fighting probably seem like one of those bits of knowledge you were born with, like how to jiggle urine off your penis after you pee. But for everyone else:

Tag-team fighting was popularized—and perfected—in the World Wrestling Federation.

Two wrestlers fight as usual, but each wrestler has a teammate waiting just outside the ring. If the wrestler inside the ring can somehow tag his teammate, the teammate can then enter the ring and replace his teammate. There’s a brief and loosely regulated timeframe where both wrestlers can be in the ring at the same time, which means that at moments the fight is two-on-one or, even rarer, two-on-two.

It’s clear from the start that the fighters aren’t taking the fight seriously. The Slam tries a flying knee to the chest, which I think he got from Ryu on the Street Fighter video game. The Dastardly slaps Chavez several times in the face. The Slam does a cartwheel thing.

The whole thing is rather boring until two minutes into the first round, when The Dastardly gets choked out. Chavez basically arranges things so that they’re in a position best described as “doggy style,” and then wraps his arm around The Dastardly’s neck, choking him until The Dastardly has to tap out.

Chad apparently doesn’t like to get choked out, much less choked out doggy style. He is pissed, and the fight abruptly becomes much less funny and much angrier. The slaps start to look a bit like punches.

With a minute left in the fight, Team Extreme manages to do a tag-team bait-and-switch, which ends with The Dastardly on Chavez’s back. The Dastardly does the same doggy-style choke-out move, tying the score. Regulation time ends.

It appears that the referee and the announcer make up the overtime rules on the spot: it will be an all-in, West-Side-Story-style fight. It looks like a cross between a playground dog pile and fetish pornography. Someone’s arm is between someone’s legs. A head is wrapped by an arm. A leg is flopping around on the mat.

It ends up that the winner is determined by that old whose-fist-is-on-top game. The Show ends up on bottom, The Slam is on top of him, Chavez is on top of The Slam, and The Dastardly is on top of the pile, which allows him to choke Chavez out doggy style yet again, winning the match with what apparently is the only useful move in an amateur MMA tag-team fight.

(Chad later points out that “doggy-style choke out” sounds obscene, and that the move is actually called a rear-naked choke.)

Girl on Girl Action

One of the last fights of the night is a bout between Emma Bush and Sarah D’Alelio at 145 pounds. I’m pretty sure the announcer—who, I should point out, often wears Hawaiian shirts—uses the phrase “girl on girl action.” This makes it seem like it’ll be exciting in a Catholic-School-girls-soap-suds-finger-puppet-fight type of way, but it turns out it’s exciting for quite different reasons.

In the first thirty seconds it becomes apparent that these girls can punch. They punch hard, and often, and in the face.

What the girls can’t do, though, is block punches. Not once does either of them lift a glove to protect her face, nor do they try to bob or avoid punches in any way at all. It’s a shootout: the girls trade punches to the face. It is amazing. It’s pretty clear that the winner will be the girl who can take the worst beating and still stay on her feet.

For two rounds I witness the most brutal fight ever held in a Mason temple. Then, in the third round Sara lands a punch directly on Emma’s cornea. Emma instantly puts a glove over her eye, but blood flows around it, down her face, and onto her white tank top.

I am concerned. I’m concerned that her eye has actually popped out of its socket. Blood seems to be squirting from her eye socket, like it’s been uncorked, where her eye is the cork.

The referee blows the whistle, and Emma immediately sits down. Her coaches tend to her. She removes her glove from her eye. Her eye is still in its socket, and blood covers most of her face.

The announcer says that Sara wins by technical knockout, which is a euphemism for “I beat you to such a bloody mess that you couldn’t even see.” Emma later goes to the doctor and finds out that they eyeball in question is now lodged three millimeters deeper into her skull.