I miss the first two fights of tonight’s event—Knockout at the Nile 4, which takes place at our neighborhood Masonic Lodge—because I’m trying find a way into the building that doesn’t require a thirty-dollar general admission ticket. I consider it a moral affront for a religious organization, however cultish it might be, to charge thirty dollars for a sporting event that doesn’t involve Pelé joyriding Secretariat through a meadow.
My attempts to sneak in turn out to be futile. Two or three old Masons are guarding every possible entrance, and after I circle the building twice I lose my moral indignation and simply feel dumb that I can’t outsmart a bunch of old men wearing purple hats. I end up calling my brother Chad, who’s helping coach his friend Billy tonight, and he somehow finagles a pass for me from another coach.
In the center of the room is a cage, surrounded by folding chairs fifteen rows deep. All the chairs are full, and in the open space behind them is a standing mass of human beings. I soon have sweat in all my most personal places. There is no good place to stand. Let me apologize in advance for all references to erections in the rest of this note.
The first fight I catch is between two guys who simply won’t punch each other. They circle around the ring shoving each other, like a reenactment of every fight that happened at my middle school. Sometime in the second round I realize that it’s some sort of wrestling match, which explains the lack of punching. And this wrestling match, unlike every wrestling match I’ve seen at MMA events, actually ends in a victory: the flabby, pasty wrestler chokes out the tattooed and (I suspect) spray-tanned guy. I consider this a victory for the universe as a whole.
Fight Four, by the Numbers
Number of times someone behind me and to my right yells “find your rhythm”: 2
Number of times above-mentioned faceless voice yells “hands up” to his favored fighter: 13
Number of times the fighter puts his hands up in response to one of these admonitions: 2
Number of ring girls who, when they booty-shake around the ring between rounds, receive 1970s-construction-site-style cat calls: 1
Estimated age of said ring girl: 17
Number of spit buckets used between rounds to receive a gooey substance unlike any saliva a human would produce under normal circumstances: only 1, thank God
Final score of fight: 29-28, 28-29, 29-28
Estimated number of audience members that have any idea what that means: 14, which doesn’t include me
The losing fighter stomps out of the cage, and I don’t need to follow him to know that he’s going to do some top-drawer little-league-baseball-style bitching about bad calls and fuck this and stupid judges.
Fighter one has his hair braided into two pigtail things that look like how Pippy Longstocking would wear her hair if Pippy Longstocking was an angry young African-American male. On his way out to the cage he stops for a moment to scowl at the audience.
The second fighter—whose name, according to the program, is Wallid—is wearing the exact outfit my dad wears when he goes jogging: a hooded sweatshirt, mesh shorts, and Asics running shoes. He gets slightly lost as he jogs to the cage but eventually gets there.
It appears that Angry Longstocking has an erection. It could be that his shorts are designed to create a bulge near where his penis is located, but I don’t know why anyone would construct or buy shorts that make the wearer look like he has an erection.
The fight begins. Apparently all relevant parties are ignoring the erection. Soon into the first round, Angry Longstocking and Wallid get into a position we’re going to call London Bridge is Falling Down.
Here’s what happens in LBIFD: Angry Longstocking is standing up, sort of crouched over. (The mysterious bulge is still there, if you’re keeping track.) Wallid is belly up on the floor and has his legs wrapped around Longstocking’s neck. I have no idea how they got into this position, but here we are.
Longstocking stands to his full height so that the back of Wallid’s head is three feet off the floor. Wallid’s hang-onto-his-neck tactic seems ill-advised at the moment, but he hangs on, even though he has to know what’s coming: Longstocking swings his whole upper body toward the ground, hammering the back of Wallid’s head into the cage floor.
This seems like a good place to point out that the cage floor isn’t particularly soft—it’s about as forgiving as a linoleum kitchen floor.
And Wallid still doesn’t let go. So Longstocking stands up and again drops Wallid’s head to the floor. He does this three or four more times—oh God it’s brutal—and then the ref blows the whistle, ending the fight. It is then announced that Wallid Mahggob—yes, he of what must be a grade-one concussion—has won the fight.
What happened, I later learn, was that Wallid was using his legs to choke Angry Longstocking. Each time Longstocking slammed Wallid’s head to the ground, Wallid tightened his hold around Longstocking’s neck until, finally, after much violence, Pippy could no longer breathe and had to tap out, forfeiting the fight.
I’m impressed, and wondering if this says something about human perseverance through pain, about sticking to your strategy even when your tactics seem doomed, and then I notice that Pippy’s erection—or whatever it was—is still present. Wallid, in an unrelated gesture, raises the roof.
Fight six is between two fighters who’ve never fought before, which is about as exciting to watch as beginner swim class. During this fight I note that if you fought at any point during the evening you apparently have the right to spend the rest of the night shirtless.
The rather unentertaining fight ends in a split decision, and there are somehow people in the audience who care enough to boo the judges. The announcer tells them to leave the fights for the ring, that “this is not the place to play tough guy.” I disagree. If there’s any place to play where it’s acceptable to play tough guy, it’s an amateur mixed martial arts event. We all paid thirty dollars for the privilege.
I have an ongoing quest to interview a ring girl. I have so many questions: how does a girl go about becoming a ring girl? Are they paid? Do they have to apply? Try out? Interview? What’s their favorite dinosaur? Have they always dreamed of being a ring girl? What do they make of Pippy’s alleged erection? How old are they, really?
But it seems to me that any possible start to an interview would seem like a feeble pick-up attempt: “Good evening, could I ask you a few probing questions and write down the answers with my creepy red pen in my notebook that’s mysteriously sweaty?” No, all the good journalistic approaches have been ruined by sleazy men. The ring-girl interview will have to wait.
In a hallway outside the cage-room proper I witness a man trying to let a friend sneak in the back door. He receives the wrath of three old men in purple hats barking “hey” at him. It is terrifying. When I return to the venue proper someone yells “I’m never buying ZipFizz again.” It appears the announcer has changed T-shirts.
I’m mentioning this rather dull fight only because it helped me pin down why the thirty-dollar ticket price gets under my skin. One of the fighters, Colton, has a cheering section of about nineteen people, most of whom look to be mom and aunt-types and forty-year-old men wearing sunglasses—i.e. it looks like his whole extended family has turned out to support him. Some of them have brought signs saying things like “Colton for president.”
So: these people have paid a total of about 570 dollars to support their son/nephew/whatever. If we were all here only to be entertained, thirty dollars would be fair: a night of MMA fights is far more entertaining than watching The Karate Kid two times back-to-back at a movie theater.
However: I’d bet that a solid majority of the audience is here tonight to support a loved one—if six or seven people show up to support each of the twenty-eight fighters, we have an almost capacity crowd. These people are here because they’re kind, supportive people—or people who know when they’re more or less obligated to do something—not because they want to be entertained. Which makes the whole thirty-dollar ticket price seem equivalent to charging thirty dollars to watch a children’s soccer game or piano recital or high school talent show.
Things people near me say during fight nine, in chronological order:
“Arf arf arf arf.”
“That foot stomp was monstrous. Gave me a hard-on.”
“Arf arf arf arf arf arf arf arf.”
Toward the end of the fight a man in the audience in front of me starts combing his hair.
This is the fight I’m here to see. Chad’s friend Billy is fighting for the 135-pound Cage Wars title belt. I don’t know Billy very well, but I know that he’s an electrician, that he’s an adult male that continues to go by “Billy,” and that he really loves blue trucks. This is enough for me to hope he wins.
We’re told that his opponent, Joe, is from the Fort Lewis Army fight team. All I know about Joe is what I can see: he’s short and mostly muscle and as he walks out he gives his coach a low, middle, and high five. Just above his left hip he has a tattoo that looks like a Rorschach test. I also know that Fort Lewis is a sad, sad place just south of Tacoma on Interstate Five.
It immediately becomes clear that Joe is a natural athlete, and it’s a pleasure to watch him fight—he’s never out of position, never wastes any movement. He lacks the understandable franticness that marks even experienced fighters, and calmly kicks ass. It’s almost disturbing how calm he is. This is, of course, unfortunate for Billy. In the third round, Joe catches Billy in a chokehold, which seems like a relatively merciful ending.
This is labeled as the light heavyweight championship. The people who organize these fights always put the championship fights last, as a climax for the evening. Shakespearian plot structure it isn’t, but it does ensure that most people will stay until the end, thus purchasing more from the concessions stands. A large part of the crowd is chanting “Weezer.” One of the fighters raps along with his song as he walks to the cage. Everyone stands for this fight. Soon into the first round there’s a takedown. I can’t see a thing—too many yelling and screaming heads in the way. Something exciting is going on and I’m missing out. This is what I get for trying to sneak in. I hear the distinct sound of fat being slapped. A prepubescent male voice yells, “Come on, light his ass up.” The crowd gets louder and then the ref blows the whistle. Someone has won, but I don’t know what happened. As I’m leaving everyone is talking about the fight and how great it was. The announcer says, “I’ve been doing this a long time, and you are the best goddamn crowd I’ve ever seen.” I’m honored.