Traditional martial arts are worthless
Cage fighting is back
Sellouts are typical, despite the efforts of well-known critics
By Kevin W. Smith
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 02.22.2006
Heroes or heathens? It depends whom you ask.
Since the late '90s, the controversial sport of cage fighting has collected critics such as Sen. John McCain and the American Medical Association.
McCain even called it "human cockfighting."
Cage fighting involves two people fighting in a fenced ring using a combination of skills such as martial arts, boxing, wrestling and sheer strength to defeat an opponent, commonly by knockout or submission. Fighters usually are placed in weight classes and subject to a variety of rules, which can vary depending on the level of play.
The sport is legal in Arizona — it is regulated by the Arizona Boxing Commission — and a card will take place Friday in Tucson.
"I think they think it's just a dogfight," said Roland Sarria, founder of the amateur cage fighting organization "Rage in the Cage."
Sarria started promoting cage fighting events in Arizona nightclubs in 1998, about the time local fighter Shane "Battlecat" Johnson was dodging shin kicks underground in bars and in Mexico.
"I'm 33; in boxing, I'd be too old," Johnson said.
Rage in the Cage pits amateur fighters in a 24-foot chain-link-fenced octagon structure that is 6 feet tall. The allure for lower-level fighters can come from moving into the Ultimate Fighting Championship association, like former Rage fighter Joe Riggs, 23.
"You get paid," Riggs said, citing one of his motivations.
One of the unique aspects of cage fighting is that many of the competitors have higher educations, Sarria said, like Dominick Cruz, 20, who is studying physical education at Pima Community College.
Cruz said his goal is to make it to the level of Ultimate Fighting. A college degree is not required to understand why: a Rage in the Cage fighter can make from $100 to $10,000 per fight. Riggs said he makes $100,000 per year.
"Those are some of the best athletes in the world," Cruz said.
In the meantime, Cruz said he is working three jobs. He is a paint mixer, a Flowing Wells High School wrestling coach and a personal trainer. This is in addition to his training for cage fighting, which is twice daily, six days per week.
Johnson said he works in the windshield repair business to support his fighting — and his subsequent medical bills.
"It's a small price to pay," said Johnson, who has suffered a separated shoulder and cuts to his face while competing.
Cage fighting is supposed to incorporate a mix of martial arts, but Riggs said you only need to know a few techniques.
"Traditional martial arts are worthless," he said, adding a foundation of boxing, wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is all a fighter needs.
James Pumarejo, master and fourth-degree blackbelt at J. Kim Martial Arts in Tucson, which teaches a Korean form of karate, said cage fighting uses some martial arts, but the goal is different.
Pumarejo said he teaches respect and consideration for opponents, whereas the goal of cage fighting is to do as much damage and be the best fighter possible.
"I don't think kids should be subjected to watching those things," he said.
The Arizona Boxing Commission's assistant director, John Montano, said regulated cage fighting works within the rules, has random drug testing, and to his
knowledge, there have been no deaths from the activity reported in the state.
"All they have to do is have one fatality and the whole thing shuts down," he said.
Regardless, local fighter Ed West, 22, said audiences attend for one reason.
"They just want to see blood," he said.
The last time Desert Diamond had a Rage in the Cage match, it was a sellout.
What Sarria said he wanted for cage fighting was mainstream acceptance.
A recent step in that direction was Spike TV's reality show, "The Ultimate Fighter," in which participants compete for an Ultimate Fighting contract. And the sport has been mentioned in songs by rapper Method Man, as well as on "Friends," a former NBC comedy.
Sarria said cage fighting is a misunderstood sport where injuries are seldom and action is addictive — sort of like an extreme version of boxing.
For West, any perceived brutality is just part of the art.
"It's physical poetry," he said.