Rage in the Cage XX
Rodeo Nights, Phoenix AZ: 6th December 2000

"Well, I've thinked we've cleaned most of the blood out of the cage..."

The first rule of Fight Club is: you don't talk about Fight Club. However, this didn't quite apply to Rage in the Cage, which is how we came to hear about it, since it was promoted on a local radio station, on the Internet and in the press. The venue was a night-club on the West Side of Phoenix, and the audience were largely white, blue-collar and overwhelmingly male, but trouble-free - perhaps in part due to the promoter threatening to throw anyone who caused bother, into the cage. This loomed large in the middle of proceedings, a chain-link octagon, some ten feet tall, raised above the ground. A couple more feet would have been welcome - even our 'ringside' seats (six or seven rows back in actuality) had problems following the fight once the combatants went to the deck; next time, we'll probably just go for the regular seating.

Before the first fight, promoter Roland Sarria introduced the event, and thanked his supporters, such as Dr. Haggard, the "official chiropractor of Rage in the Cage". This seemed a potential conflict of interests (I wondered if we would see him shouting "twist his neck some more!" at the fighters), but I have to say that the medical aspects were taken very seriously and covered every bit as well as at any boxing event I've attended. As a novice here, an explanation of the rules would have been welcome: there obviously were some, as the referee more than once stepped in to warn one or other fighter about an illegal tactic, but we were left to work out for ourselves what was and was not permitted. I was also curious as to whether the contestants were paid for their efforts, or if this was purely an amateur sport; hard to work out which was more likely, but I imagine any rewards would probably be of the token variety.

Following a rendition of the National Anthem (a concept which this Limey still finds a little strange, but then, the British National Anthem tends only to be heard after the odd Grand Prix), we got into the first of the evening's seventeen bouts. That might seem like a lot to get through, but most were over quickly -- even with two-minute rounds, only one match got beyond the first, and that one was so dull that the round girl probably put in more effort than either fighter. Happily, that was an exception; most of the rest were fast, furious and over in anything from 24 seconds. To the untrained eye (which includes mine), it might seem like no more than brawling, but over the course of the evening, the skill factor became more apparent. Submission holds, in particular arm-bars in which the arm gets levered back against itself at the elbow, proved most popular, and often it was the person who appeared to be being pinned, who managed to put the lock on and force his opponent to tap-out.

Match-ups seemed to be done largely on the basis of weight, which meant there were some uneven bouts, where a veteran who'd won eight of his nine bouts, was pitted against a debutant; unsurprisingly, it soon became nine out of ten. Most of the fighters had picked a nickname befitting their style, such as Ragin' Rhino or The Crippler - though one poor guy had gone for the somewhat lame The Bastard, which provoked the MC into commenting laconically, "Hey, they write 'em, I just read 'em". This provoked some thought about the name I'd choose: I quite like the idea of being Jim The Flying Scotsman McLennan. And, indeed, I could, quite literally, have been a contender. At the middle of the event, Sarria issued an open invitation to anyone who fancied trying their arm at a future event to come and sign up. For a brief second, I almost contemplated it (we were a couple of beers down the line by now - I imagine the response generally might have been somewhat fuelled by alcohol), but I suspect it would have been one of those things that didn't seem such a good idea the next morning. Reality delivered a sharp tap on the shoulder in this regard, with one bout during which they stopped to mop the blood out of the ring with towels. Okay...I think some training is in order before The Flying Scotsman makes his debut.

I generally prefer my violence well-choreographed and fictional, rather than in-my-face and real, but have to confess that by the end of the evening, I was beginning to get into the swing of things. What looked initially like two guys rolling around on the floor is certainly more complex, and my fears of a mindless punch-fest turned out to be totally unfounded. I left with a great deal of respect for all those who took part, and while I don't think I'm going to become a regular - either as a spectator or a participant - but I think that the occasional visit to future events is certainly not out of the question.

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