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The street fight is dead, killed not by a societal bent toward civility, but because of America’s failure to control gun violence. The threat of catching a 9mm slug while slugging it out now keeps all but the most steroidal or soused douchebags from throwing their haymakers on the street corners or in the mall parking lots that hosted informal Friday Nights at the Fights back in the day.
The demise of the bare-fisted brouhaha has, for better or worse, left a void in our culture. And into that void steps the Fearless Fighting Challenge (FFC).
The FFC is the creation of Magic Dane, a 33-year-old Falls Church resident. Dane has for years promoted bodybuilding and fitness shows in the area. But his latest venture is one of the new breed of “extreme” sporting events geared toward helping American males satisfy their primeval urges, in this case to get into a good scrap. And to watch one.
Next Saturday, the FFC will sanction the latest of a series of what it calls “submission grappling tournaments” at the Total Sports Pavilion in Woodbridge. These are few-holds-barred, single-elimination brawling competitions in which two participants get in a hexagon-shaped ring and just plain go at it until one goes limp or cries uncle (“taps out” in the parlance of extreme fighting). If both combatants still have a pulse after 25 minutes, a panel of judges decides who advances. Bouts rarely go the distance. Winners in the three weight brackets will split $10,000.
Dane has high hopes for the fledgling FFC, and understandably so. Over the past several years Americans have thrown hundreds of millions of dollars at pay-per-view productions put on by groups such as the New York-based Ultimate Fighting Challenge. Those events have tapped into and expanded the bloodlust market, which is made up mainly of guys who’d love pro wrestling if it weren’t so fraudulent and boxing if it were less Marquess of Queensberry and more Marquis de Sade.
But Dane insists his federation’s competitions aren’t as barbaric as the UFC bloodfests that litter pay-per-view. He points to a rule that the other group doesn’t enforce: No kicks or blows to the face are permitted once an opponent goes down. That distinction won’t likely put Dane in line for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, but anybody who has seen a UFC event can tell you that’s a big difference.
“But we’re still a lot more brutal than those Toughman competitions of a few years ago,” Dane adds. The ruthless reputation of extreme fighting, engendered mainly by the pay-per-view extravaganzas, have hindered the launch of the FFC. Last year, Arlington County school officials canceled the group’s first tournament just two days before it was to take place at a county-owned facility, the Thomas Jefferson Community Center. County officials said they didn’t know what they were getting into when they agreed to host the event in the first place. Dane claims the county knew exactly what it was getting into but caved in after the FFC got some unfair and inaccurate press. He’s suing the county, hoping to recoup some or all of the $70,000 he lost as a result of the late cancellation.
Dane gets most of his fighters through ads in weightlifting and martial arts magazines. No FFC participant can rightly claim he didn’t know what he was getting into. The release that all fighters must sign before taking any knees to the solar plexus or throwing any flying back kicks to the groin states: “I hereby understand that it is highly probable that I will sustain personal injuries in the event.”
Chris Heflin is entered in the lightweight (180 pounds or less) division of this weekend’s tourney. He has never fought professionally before, though he says that throughout his life “scrapes have had a way of finding me.” Heflin is a strong, quiet, humorless type who comes off a lot like the Charles Bronson character in Hard Times, the best movie about street fighting ever made. He describes his day job as “personal protection trainer,” but declines to go into what that entails.
Heflin, who grew up in Fauquier County, admits to having some nostalgia for the good old days of his adolescence, when street fighting was “just a form of recreation” for him and his friends. At 34, he seems a bit old to be throwing punches or taking kicks for kicks. But Heflin won’t admit that the FFC appearance is evidence of any sort of midlife crisis. “I’m fighting now because I want to fight,” he says. Nothing more.
Kelly McCann is Heflin’s trainer for the FFC tourney. McCann, like his fighter, makes his living as a personal protection trainer—Personal Defensive Measures is his company’s name. In that capacity, McCann advises clients (who include Donald Trump’s security staff) that they’re better off not trading blows with an adversary.”In class, we teach everybody that you win most by not fighting at all,” he says. “Because if you fight, you lose something, either a little dignity or a little hair.”
McCann admits that those teachings are in direct opposition to the FFC doctrine—he refers to extreme fighting as “human cockfights”—and he’s not overenthused about his involvement in the project. But Heflin is more than just a fighter to McCann; he’s also a friend, and the Marine in McCann couldn’t turn down his buddy when the request for training assistance was made.
“When Chris first came to me and said he wanted to fight, I told him right away that I was against it,” McCann says. “But he said this was something he really wanted, and that his wife’s OK with it, so, well, I’m on his side, and I’ll do what I can. And no matter how it looks, this is something where the more you know, the better off you are. Fighting’s like calculus; it’s not instinctive. If nobody’s taught you how to do it, you shouldn’t do it.”
Without much pressing, McCann can be made to confess that his instincts tell him that hand-to-hand combat is nothing to celebrate, and that he should probably just stay away from UFC or FFC events. But he’ll also insist that he pays to see extreme fighting contests whenever they’re available, and that he intends to continue watching them.
“I think the rise of all this extreme fighting says a bad thing about where we’re going as a society. A very bad thing, like we’ve got not a shred of innocence left,” McCann shrugs. “But I watch them, and I like them! It’s a male thing, maybe. I was watching a hockey game with my wife the other night, and there was this fight, and my wife turned to me and said, ‘Do you really like that?,’ and I could tell she was disgusted. But I said, ‘Well, yeah, I really like watching guys fight.’ And I meant what I said. That probably says something not so great about me, huh?”—Dave McKenna
The Fearless Fighting Challenge will be at 7 p.m. March 22 at Total Sports Pavilion, Woodbridge, Va.