3/19/2004 5:57pm, #1
MMA Fighter Got His Start Doing Tae Bo
Part 1 of 2 of an excellent article about a amateur MMA event in Oregon. Written by an actual reporter, but appearing on www.maxfighting.com. The featured fighter got his start in martial arts taking Tae Bo to lose weight.
In less than eight hours, Josh Bennett will stand face to face inside a cage with another man determined to kick, punch and choke him to unconsciousness. But the husky 27-year-old doesn't seem fazed by that prospect in the slightest, as he and over a dozen other fighters, mostly clad in black jackets or hooded sweatshirts, their hair cropped short or shaved altogether, mill about a cinderblock basement beneath Portland's Roseland Theater.
They're here to weigh-in for tonight's Rumble at the Roseland, an amateur local mixed martial arts (MMA) spectacle in which competitors fight both standing up and on the ground, blending wrestling, Muay Thai kick boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and other forms of hand-to-hand combat.
As they wait for their turn on the scale, some fighters are taking the opportunity to scope out opponents, while others pose for promotional photographs, scowling for the camera. Overall the mood seems surprisingly relaxed and low-key given the fact almost everyone present will be throwing down by nightfall.
"We'll fight soon enough," Bennett says, when I mention the relaxed atmosphere. "There's no reason to get upset."
Looking around, I realize there's another reason why no one here has to act tough. They are tough.
Upstairs, on the Roseland's main floor, the arena in which they will battle awaits in semi-darkness. Twenty-five feet across, with chain-link walls rising 11 feet off the ground, the octagonal cage, affectionately dubbed "The Slammer," is an imposing sight, even with no one locked inside it.
Standing 6'4 and weighing 260 pounds, Bennett possesses a formidable silhouette himself, particularly if you factor in his ability to inflict excruciating pain in a zillion different joint-popping ways. But he's also friendly, down-to-earth, and -- at the moment at least -- more sleepy-eyed than menacing.
"I had to work last night, I was up till four," he explains. Bennett's a bouncer at a bar where the middle-aged patrons are relatively sedate. "I just kind of stand there … not smiling. That does it for me," he laughs.
"Bouncing," adds Bennett, "is just like babysitting."
He may be the only MMA fighter here -- maybe the only one in the world -- to get his start by taking Tae Bo, a mix of aerobics and high-kicking karate moves set to dance music.
While working as a long haul trucker in the late 90s, Bennett came home to Camas, Wash. one day, stepped on a scale, and realized he'd ballooned up to 360 pounds. He decided to quit trucking and join his girlfriend's new exercise class.
Punching his way through techno remixes of new wave hits brought his weight down, but it also stoked his curiosity. Bennett started practicing various martial arts, and the more he practiced, the more he wanted to actually test his new skills. Rolling around with fellow students wasn't enough of a challenge. He sought an arena with as few rules as legally possible, and in the Rumble, he's found it.
Across the crowded basement, and on the other end of the scale, Chad Nelson kicks back on a couch with fellow members of the Dog Pound Fight Team out of Eugene, Oregon, and their trainer, Marcus Lewis. Nelson is the Rumble's reigning lightweight champion.
"I had a bad temper when I was a kid, and my parents sent me to martial arts thinking it would calm me down -- and it worked," he says, explaining how he got into combat sports. "Maybe just getting rid of the extra energy, I don't know. I started out taking Tae Kwan Do and after doing that for a couple of years, I walked into a Thai kickboxing gym and I liked that a lot better. It seemed more real. It seemed like something you could do in the street if you needed to."
When I ask Nelson if he's been in many street fights, he politely downplays the issue. "Just a few. I try to stay clear of it. I got a couple of kids. It's just more trouble than it is worth, basically."
With his busy schedule, it's hard to see how Nelson could find the time to get into trouble, even if he wanted to. He typically rises at 5 a.m. to run and lift weights for two hours before going to his job installing and maintaining electronic security systems. When he gets off work eight-and-a half hours later, Nelson does more exercises and takes a brief nap before hitting the gym around six, where, he explains, "we go over submissions and wrestling for about an hour, kickboxing for about an hour, and then just full contact everything. We fight pretty much every day."
On top of all this, he's also going to night school, studying to improve his electrical skills, and has those two children to raise, "a 3 year old and a 4 month old, both boys. The 3 year old," he notes with a laugh, "already wants to fight."
With all that, how does he find the energy to keep going?
"I ask myself that sometimes," he laughs. "All I know is, when I sit around, I feel like a piece of crap and I want to get back into the gym, no matter how tiring it is." Nelson figures he'll keep competing "until my body gives out. I've been a fighter since I was a kid."
His family, he says, is for the most part proud of his MMA career. "They see me basically going after my dreams. I know that I'm good enough, that I want to see how far I can go with it." If he quit now, Nelson fears, "I'd pretty much regret it, for the rest of my life. …"
Like many fighters, both he and Bennett hope to one-day turn pro, which could mean the chance to actually earn a living at what has been strictly a labor of love. The odds however, are stacked against them. There are very few openings on the pro shows, with thousands of athletes all over the world competing for them. No matter how good or tenacious you are, it still might not be enough to kick down the right doors.
Last edited by Punisher; 3/19/2004 6:02pm at .
3/19/2004 5:58pm, #2
This is still "Part 1", the whole article was too big to put in one post. "Part 2" has not been posted yet.
Even so, both men know another victory tonight could inch them closer toward that goal.
Sitting next to him, Nelson's teammate Gary Olson is a soft-spoken bartender and former college wrestler who has only been training with the Pound for four months. Tonight he will be stepping into the cage for the first time.
"Fear is a bad word for me," he says, when I ask how his nerves are holding up. "But anxiety, yes, there is that. You just have to block it out and get yourself ready. Mentally you don't want to sit there and go 'Okay, this guy is going to kill me.' You just have to work your game. Ultimately you want to do what you do best, you don't want to think of the bad things. … As soon as you start thinking negative, it just tears you down."
Olsen says his friends and colleagues have a typical response when they find out he's fighting in a cage.
"A lot of them go: 'you're doing what?' But after that goes away, a lot of them want to come watch, and see what it's about."
Like all the fighters I spoke to, Bennett, Nelson and Olson are adamant they fight because they love the competition, not out of any ill will toward their fellow combatants.
"You don't want to seriously hurt anybody," says Olson. "Like any sport, things can happen, but you don't want to do anything that will seriously affect anyone's life."
When people discover he's an MMA fighter, Bennett notes, they jump to certain conclusions. "People who have never done hard sports just think you're a bully or a thug; they associate negative things with you. … Other than some parking and driving tickets I've never been in trouble. Never been in street fights."
"You know what violence really is?" he asks me. "It's when one person doesn't want to be there, like a bully picking on someone in the street. We're not mad at each other. This is just a game to us."
The biggest misconception most people have when it comes to MMA, Nelson feels, is "that it's a blood bath, or that the fighters hate each other. It's a sport. I think it is probably one of the most difficult sports out there."
While other fighters might not like it, there's at least one person here who is happy to have MMA labeled barbaric.
Promoter and fighter Chael Sonnen, along with his partner Kevin Keeney, started the Rumble in October of 2001. Tonight will mark their eleventh show at the Roseland.
"I would have to consult a dictionary and find out what that word exactly means," Sonnen says, "but it is an ass-whooping contest in a cage, and I have a college degree and to me that's 'barbaric.'"
"We don't apologize for the sport being 'barbaric,' he continues, one eye on the box office. "We don't apologize for it being a 'human cockfight.' … I'm promoting those descriptions. … I've been in a lot of bars when two guys go outside and there's not too many people who stay inside the bar. Everybody wants to see the fight. So we just let people know there is an ass whooping show in town, and they show up."
The Rumbles, he says, routinely sell out. And he's not about to run out of willing competitors.
"We've got about 200 fighters on reserve right now, that have been there for about eight months, that we haven't been able to get into shows. … We used to do nine or 10 fights a show, now we do 12 to 13 just to give these guys an opportunity."
Because the Rumble is an amateur event, Sonnen's organization, the Full Contact Fighting Federation (FCFF), doesn't have to deal with a lot of the state regulations that can entangle professional shows. But it also means the fighters don't get paid anything. Despite sell-out crowds, Sonnen says he's not motivated by profit.
"We are in it for the love of the sport. We're not taking money from this organization, this is a hobby for us; it is a hobby for the athletes. As soon as the company has some money, we put it right back into the show. …"
Though quick to label his own event barbaric, Sonnen also points out that he has an Emergency Medical Technician, a nurse practitioner, and a board-certified doctor on hand just in case it gets too barbaric.
"We are not going into our first show, were going into our sixteenth; we are not going into our first fight, we are going into our one-hundred-seventieth fight -- that's 340 athletes, and of those 340, the FCFF hasn't had one injury. Not one," he stresses.
Asked if maybe he doesn't mean one serious injury, Sonnen is adamant he means what he says.
"Not one injury. I'm saying not one injury. No one has left in an ambulance; no one has needed help out of the ring. Anyone who fights in our show on Saturday can get up on Sunday and go to church. They can fight again on Sunday, for that matter."
Locking up his car not far from the Roseland an hour before the show is to start, 23-year-old fight fan Daniel Long says he drove all the way from Forrest Grove just to see it. Before he can explain what draws him to the Rumble, his friend Brad Clark interjects a word of caution. "Don't say the violence," he advises, only half-joking.
"They're like the world's best athletes and they don't get any recognition," adds his girlfriend, 23-year-old Kori Christley.
Standing in the middle of a long line of people waiting to pay $30 to $50 a seat, 33-year-old Portland resident Shannon Kuykendall reveals a slightly more salacious attitude toward the sport. "I'm a virgin," she says. "I've never been to one before." A customer service representative, she expects to see "Lots of blood. A lot of hot, sweaty men."
She thinks the sexual subtext is obvious: "Well, yeah," she says. "You get a lot of men, the adrenaline's going, you know. …"
As a member of the Roseland's black-clad security personnel, Dan Richards is stationed at one of two metal detectors just inside the theater's entrance, frisking those who pass through.
I ask him to compare the Rumble's audience to that of a typical concert's. "This is more mellow," he says, after thinking about it for a second. "Once in a while, there are disputes, but no fights." Families and businessmen tend to show up, he adds, along with military personnel and police. "Actually," Richards confides, "a lot of the off-duty cops come here."
On the main floor, young men in baseball caps form the largest contingent, but there are many women and older couples too, even some children. The crowd is clearly pumped up for action, but for the most part surprisingly polite. Step on the foot of some guy with a shaved head and weight lifter's build here and he's likely to apologize before you can. I find myself wondering if people are simply being friendly, or if -- with so many potentially skilled combatants concentrated in one spot -- they're just more prudent. As the only place beside the bar where security won't confiscate your drink, the balcony is slightly more boisterous and definitely more crowded. Plastic cups in hand, people stand shoulder-to-shoulder looking down at the cage, now bathed in a phalanx of spotlights.
In the basement, the mood is subdued and focused as the Rumble gets underway. One fighter practices round house kicks as his partner holds up a heavy pad, the thwack! as regular as a metronome. Through the ceiling the crowd roars as one of the preliminary matches comes to an end. Moments later, a fighter who looks to be in his late teens comes down the stairs, torso gleaming with sweat, face smeared with blood.
"How'd you do?" someone asks.
"Oh, he caught me in the second round," the defeated fighter says, as casually as if he'd just lost a game of tic-tac-toe.
Over by the couch, the Dog Pound is running through their paces. Lewis leans in toward Olson, speaking in a low, hypnotically urgent tone, as the two practice standing grappling moves. Lewis is trying to boost his fighter's confidence in the remaining minutes before the cage door slams shut and Olson is on his own. The novice nods and bobs his head in a quick, nervous tempo, repeatedly glancing up at his trainer, then back down at the floor. They're surrounded by other Pound members, but there's something so private, so vulnerable about the moment, it's hard not to look away.
"Just do your thing, man. Just keep moving, it's all going to be good. …" Lewis promises.
The music above kicks into a thundering martial beat. A Rosewood employee appears at the top of the stairs. "Gary Olson and Jarred Freeman," she calls in a loud, apathetic voice. It's time.
The next Rumble at the Roseland will be held this Saturday, March 20, in Portland.
James Reid Harrison is a freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon
3/21/2004 11:58pm, #3
Part Two is now up. Althoug it contains fight details, frankly I don't think it is as good as part one.
Olson strides up the three flights and into the arena, the rest of the Pound right behind him. In the shadows behind the cage Lewis massages his fighter’s shoulders as they watch the waning seconds of the current match. After eating a series of vicious knees, a pony-tailed man in his mid-40s drops for good and now it’s Olson’s turn. The music is so loud the floor is literally shuddering beneath our feet as he steps into the cage. Compared to his ripped physique, his opponent looks just slightly soft, but the announcer gives Freeman’s record as an intimidating 20 wins with only one loss. Olson of course, has no record to give.
As soon as the round begins he shoots in and tries to take Freeman down, but ends up getting slammed backwards against the chain-link fence. The two trade knees to the midsection, then Freeman tries to throw him to the ground, but Olson twists as they go down and lands on top.
Freeman immediately escapes out from under him and -- in less time than it takes the two of them to scramble to their feet -- catches Olson in a front standing choke or guillotine. Seconds into the first round, with his oxygen cut off and no hope of escape, Olson might as well be at the bottom of the sea. He bows to the inevitable and taps out, disappointment pulling on his face as Freeman’s hand is raised for his twenty-first victory.
Outside the cage, the two are interviewed by UFC superstar Randy Couture. In a gesture as graceful as it is magnanimous, Freeman (like Couture and Sonnen, a member of Team Quest) puts his arm around Olson and both fighters grin as they discuss their match for the cameras.
Back downstairs a short time later, Olson pauses to commiserate with another fighter, Ryan Newton, an elaborately tattooed heavyweight who fights under the name Big Chief (“I’m half Indian,” he cheerfully explains). Newton broke his little pinky punching his way to victory in the match prior to Olson’s and is now seated on a couch, gingerly examining the swollen digit.
“It’s busted. Aaah … ****,” he concludes with weary resignation. “I was hitting that guy hard, man. Well, it’s better than last time, man. Last time it cost me $1300!” Big Chief is referring to a previous bout with Bennett, in which his upper lip was split open so badly it had to be surgically repaired.
Olson is trying to take his own loss in stride. “It’s just a stupid mistake on my part. Usually, I can get out of those, but he cinched it up pretty good. … I would like to have that one back again,” he adds under his breath, referring to the instant before escape became impossible.
When another competitor, 155-pounder Adam Matlock, comes downstairs from his own match, Olson asks, “What happened?”
“Ah, I got choked,” answers Matlock.
“Oh, damn it!” Olson says with real emotion, genuinely dismayed that a compatriot has suffered the same fate.
“Hey, it’s going around,” the smaller fighter quips, deadpan. “It was a good fight. That’s all I ask for.”
3/21/2004 11:59pm, #4Upstairs, Bennett is strolling toward the cage to the twangy voice of Merle Haggard, crooning “Good Old Boys,” the Dukes of Hazzard theme song and a Bennett favorite. He’s moving with the slow, easy pace of a big man comfortable with his size, in no particular hurry to get where he’s going. The crowd shouts its approval when his name is announced. Trent Standing, his opponent, moves more quickly, entering the ring with nimble steps.
They touch gloves as the round begins and immediately shift into high gear, Standing throwing punches and Bennett countering with a knee that appears to land directly on his opponent’s chin. Unfazed, Standing bulls Bennett against the fence and nails him with two vicious uppercuts.
Bennett’s whole face shakes from the impact as if made of Jell-O. But before Standing can hit him again, Bennett suddenly takes him to the ground where he drills Standing’s face with lightning fast elbows and hammer fists.
Now blood is running down the side of Standing’s head, pooling in his ear. Bennett rears up on one knee, trying to gain more punching leverage, but Standing has wrapped both his legs around one of Bennett’s, tying him in place. As Bennett catches his opponent’s arm and tries to hyperextend it, the crowd roars approval. But Standing gets free.
The round ends with the bleat of an air horn. The referee restarts them on their feet where Standing immediately unleashes a furious volley of punches, elbows and knees. Bennett is stunned, blood streaming down his face, but still upright. Suddenly Standing pauses and looks back at the ref, pointing to where Bennett’s right eyebrow has split horizontally, raw flesh popping out like the stuffing in an old couch. The ref takes one look and 37 seconds into round two, it’s all over. Bloodied but unbowed, both men embrace, then Standing raises the championship belt high above his head
Earlier, Bennett had described his fellow combatants as a kind of community, bonded by the exclusive and extreme nature of their sport.
“There’s a saying in Fight Club: ‘You don’t know somebody till you fought them,’ and I can say it’s fairly true,” he tells me. “One of my losses was to Josh Haynes. He’s the current champion. … Me and him, we fought a real hard match and I held him down for a good four minutes and I beat on him as hard as I could and he never once quit. He never showed any sign he was going to give up.”
In the second round, Haynes caught Bennett in a choke and forced him to tap. The two had never met before, but when he learned afterwards that Haynes’ 4-month-old son had been diagnosed with brain cancer, Bennett wanted to help.
“After Josh and I fought,” Haynes tells me later, clearly still touched by the memory, “he opened an account for my son, just out of the blue, and tried to collect some money.”
Both men agree combat can reveal an individual’s inner nature.
“You get to see into a person’s soul when you fight that person,” says Haynes, a computer network engineer for a non-profit hospital. “You learn a lot about who a person is and what they’re willing to do to get by in life, whether it’s in the ring, or on a day-to-day basis.”
Now, downstairs after his loss, Bennett proudly introduces me to Haynes and his son, Thor, now 2 years old and -- following seven brain operations and eight months of chemotherapy -- cancer free.
Bennett is disappointed but stoic in defeat, his face starred with strawberry-colored welts, his eyebrow taped shut.
“Well, you know, Trent’s a good guy. He worked hard. I got cut,” he shakes his head ruefully. “I’m probably going to need about eight stitches.” Bennett’s hoping someone here can sew him up otherwise he’ll have to wait around in an emergency room, when what he really wants to do is get a cheeseburger.
“I’m hungry,” he explains. “I haven’t eaten since two and I’m used to eating four times a day.”
On the main floor, Nelson stands in the shadows, championship belt in hand, awaiting the latest threat to his title and the last fight of the night. He hops lightly from foot to foot, his face impassive beneath the hood of his boxing robe, eyes unreadable. His challenger, Anthony “ICEE” Hamlett, a former Rumble referee with a formidable fighting record of his own, stands just a few feet in front of him. Both men are facing the cage. Neither acknowledges the other, intent on the battle ahead.
“Keep your fuckin’ hands up,” Lewis exhorts Nelson.
Within seconds after the match has begun, the FCFF lightweight champion is exactly where he doesn’t want to be: on his back, with Hamlett on top of him. “Move, Chad, move!” someone in the audience shouts. Then in a spectacular maneuver that rivals anything from professional wrestling, Nelson, still flat on his back, somehow manages to get both feet under Hamlett and launch him flying through the air. He barely has time to stand before Hamlett is on him again, Nelson firing off a few punches before the two lock up. This time it is Hamlett who ends up on his back when they hit the ground.
“Yeah! Bring the pain down, Chad! Bring it to him!” someone shouts. Then -- it isn’t clear why -- the ref abruptly steps in and suddenly the fight is over. There is a smattering of boos at the confusing conclusion, but as Hamlett rises unsteadily to his feet, grimacing in pain, the reason behind it becomes obvious: his arm, hanging limply by his side, has come completely out of the socket.
Back downstairs, with his arm reset (the dislocation was related to an older injury) Hamlett and Nelson discuss their match and trade compliments. “And Anthony,” Nelson says, “all that smack talk you see on the forum … that’s not me.”
(The FCFF has a website where fighters -- and some who like to impersonate fighters -- discuss past and upcoming events, occasionally taking written jabs at each other.)
Meanwhile, Bennett has been told he must go to the ER, but wrangles permission to eat first. Upstairs, he reunites with members of his family who were in the audience, including his mother, Sandy.
Watching him fight is “kind of scary,” she acknowledges. “But it’s what he does and he loves doing it, and I support him 100 percent. It takes a lot of dedication. … And you know,” she adds, one hand on her son’s broad shoulders, “he’s pretty no matter what.”
Bennett turns away, a sheepish grin on his battered face, and they head out into the night in search of that cheeseburger and afterwards, an ER with no waiting.
Inside, the cage has already been dismantled, the audience satiated and long since departed. Monday is just around the corner, and with it, the start of yet another workweek. For a brief period tonight, some, fighters and fans alike, found respite in a spectacle whose roots stretch back all the way to ancient Greece.
I think those roots are part of the event’s appeal. There’s an elemental aspect to combat sports, something that defies the disconnected nature of modern life, the minutia built up layer by layer over the decades, the bank statements and mortgage payments and traffic jams, the monotonous curse of the every day, obliterated by the roar of the crowd, reduced in a flood of bright light to a single, primal conflict.
“While you’re doing it,” Bennett had told me almost wistfully, “the rest of the world goes away and your only problem … is the person in front of you.”
Josh Bennett’s cut took 10 stitches to close. He was told not to fight for another six weeks but began training two days later. Gary Olson is working full time as a bartender but may eventually return to the cage. Chad Nelson will once again defend his FCFF title May 15 in Medford, Ore. The next Rumble at the Roseland will be held this Saturday, March 20, in Portland.
James Reid Harrison is a freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon
3/22/2004 12:42am, #5
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- Street Yoga
Great article. Well written too. So many focus articles like these are terribly written in order to make them conform to some sort of idiotic standard the reporter thinks they should conform to in order to make them more interesting to the general public.Deluxe247 tells it like it is:
you ninja fags just got owned in a bad way. this thread should go to the classics and mega thread forum due to the sheer size of taebo_master and gajusceaser's penis. (with which they just smacked across these ninja's faces)
This Classic Thread - http://www.bullshido.net/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=9653&perpage=15&pagenum ber=14
3/22/2004 2:37pm, #6
Thanks for posting that, Punisher. I very much enjoyed reading it.
3/22/2004 4:13pm, #7
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I started my own thread about the article before I saw this one. I just wanted to say thanks for all the compliments. I originally wrote the article for more of a general audience, so I didn't know what people who were already familiar with MMA would think about it, so it's good to know you guys found it interesting too. Thanks again.
3/27/2004 4:21am, #8
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Very good article. At first i thought i would be the whole blood and im the best type article. But it was very well written and placed a better light on the relationship fighters in the cage bouts have. they arent fighting each other the next day unless its in the ring.