Fight Club

7.7.2008

By Mark Simpson

Imagine the space shuttle taking off with a really fat customized exhaust pipe or the Visigoths sacking Ancient Rome with kicking bass tubes fitted to their 4-by-4s. Or 20,000 supercharged male orgasms. Simultaneously. And you have some idea what it sounds and feels like in Montreal's famous Bell Centre tonight for Ultimate Fighting Championship 83, as a spunky young carrot redhead in shorts pins an auburn lad on his back with his heels somewhere around his ears. I think the technical term for this is a 'full mount.' Or maybe it's 'ground and pound."

As the chiseled and blond bad guy with the low-slung shorts (Cam Gigandet) in the recent mixed martial arts (MMA) exploitation flick Never Back Down says leeringly to the doe-eyed brunet boxer good guy (Sean Faris) new to MMA, the good news is that in this sport you can choke, kick, punch, pin, and throttle; 'the bad news is that it's gotta end with you looking like a bitch in front of everybody.' Perhaps it was bad news for him -- and for the auburn lad in the ring tonight -- but certainly not for the 22,000-strong overwhelmingly young-male audience for the biggest-ever UFC event.

Over 2,500 miles away in Las Vegas, 'slapper' Brit boxer Joe Calzaghe is tonight defeating light heavyweight Bernard Hopkins on points. In the long-established world of boxing, there is rumored to be an ancient and secret tradition called the 'perk,' or 'perquisite' -- by which the losing man may be required later to literally give up what he has lost symbolically. In other words, the fucked gets'really fucked.

I don't know how much truth there is to the 'perk,' though the breathless trash talk of modern-day boxers in the run-up to a fight -- 'I'm gonna make you my bitch/girlfriend/punk' -- certainly doesn't discredit it. But I'm fairly certain that the 'perk' doesn't exist in the 'full-contact' brave new world of mixed martial arts, an omnivorous blend of boxing, freestyle wrestling, judo, tae kwon do, kickboxing, karate, jujitsu, and Thai boxing that is rapidly replacing boring old traditional boxing, especially among young men, as the fighting sport. It isn't needed. Because in MMA you get fucked in the 'ring' in front of everybody. On pay-per-view TV. The 'perk' is the whole, er, perking point, man. And UFC, by far the most successful purveyor of MMA fights for the cable TV voyeur, looks remarkably like gay porn for straight men: ultimate fuck-fighting.

In the octagonal UFC cage set up over the Bell Centre ice hockey rink -- octagonal perhaps because it better affords multiple angles than a square boxing ring -- Mac Danzig is still on his back; his sweaty, pumped white torso is flushed with the auburn heat that auburn skin produces when it is aroused. His panting, fetching head has been pushed up against the cage by redhead Marc Bocek's energetic pounding, as if the cage were in fact a headboard. Bocek isn't making love, however, or at least not the vanilla kind. He's hammering the living daylights out of Danzig with his gloves, stoking the crowd into ever-higher waves of frenzy. Although the Octagon is right in front of me, I'm watching all of this on one of the giant screens overhead: MMA is mostly a horizontal sport -- one that requires multiple zoom lenses and a big TV to enjoy properly.

Bocek pauses for a moment to grab his partner/adversary by his hips, almost tenderly, and drag him backward while still kneeling between his legs, not wanting to break contact and negotiate that tricky 'reentry.' It isn't, though, out of consideration for his chum's cricked neck. He's worried that Danzig will use the cage to get up off the canvas -- and then get him in the 'bitch' position. MMA is all about fighting for being on top. (Or maybe for being a truculent bottom.)

Unfortunately for Bocek, Danzig succeeds in breaking away anyway, jumps to his feet, and deftly, impersonally, brings up his knee and smashes it against Bocek's left eyebrow, which provokes another roar of excitement from the crowd and opens up a very nasty laceration that spills hot blood everywhere, streaming into his eye, across his face, down his chin, and splatters across his lily-white chest -- and all over his opponent. MMA is definitely not safe sex. The ref pauses the fight to examine Bocek's eye. If the blood is preventing him from seeing, the fight will be declared in Danzig's favor.

Turning to my beautifully produced glossy fight program, which includes full-page color pics of the topless young fighters (including short rundowns of their vital statistics) arranged opposite one another and their vital statistics, I learn that Danzig is 5 foot 8 and 155 pounds, 28, and a Cleveland native. His feisty opponent, Bocek, from Woodbridge, Canada, is 26, and is also 5 foot 8 and 155 pounds. As someone who has a thing for redheads and short-asses, I'd say they are well matched.

The ref continues the match -- and why not? Blood looks good on TV. There are only a few seconds left of the third and final round (UFC fights only go to a maximum three rounds at five minutes each -- about the average length of a porn scene). Bocek, despite the turned tables and his pasting and what must be death-tiredness, is still putting up an astonishing fight. Danzig scores a takedown almost straightaway and moves, as they say in MMA, 'directly to the mount.' Bocek 'gives up his back' to try to save his ruined face from further punishment but is then caught in a 'rear-naked choke' by Danzig's powerful, fatally inviting arms. He 'taps out' (submits) at 3 minutes, 48 seconds.

I don't know about Bocek, but these were some of the longest 3 minutes, 48 seconds of my life. I'm aroused and inspired and exhausted and confused. For my money, Bocek won that fight -- morally speaking. Which of course means that he lost very badly. His face is roadkill. He is really fucked. But he displayed that quality you hear people talk about reverently in MMA: heart.

Despite the gore, MMA is generally safer than boxing -- there are fewer fatalities and brain-damage injuries. Because the fight is 'full-contact,' the head doesn't take all the violence. When it does, though, it's pretty gruesome. Yet amid all the mayhem, there is a touching tenderness to MMA. Not because it looks to my twisted, queer eye like very rough sex -- but because of that 'heart' business. After a bout is over, most fighters hug each other in a pseudo-postcoital embrace that reenacts the warlike hug earlier, only this time it's a hug of warm brotherhood.

There is another huge, manly Gallic roar. The arena's giant screen is now tuned to the locker room; a rangy young blond fighter with a skinhead has peeled his shirt off, revealing a well-oiled fighting machine. The light behind him and his piercing blue eyes gazing into the camera, not to mention the low position of the locker-room cam, give him the cast of a demigod. It's Georges 'Rush' St.-Pierre, the handsome, stylish 26-year-old local Montreal boy who tonight is hoping to seize back his UFC Welterweight belt from Matt 'the Terror' Serra, 33, the no-nonsense Long Island master of Brazilian jujitsu who dispossessed him of it last year with what some people said was a lucky punch.

We've only been watching the hors d'oeuvre. All this blood has just been so much foreplay.

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