The Most Fun You’ll Have at a Cage Fight is the story of Chad Douglas, a Boeing scientist by day and amateur mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter by night. It has action. It has intrigue. It has wit. It has something called TURN ON: A Love Drink.
For two years, Rory Douglas wrote a column for McSweeney’s called Notes from a Spectator at Amateur Mixed Martial Arts Events tracking his brother’s career as a fighter. The Most Fun You’ll Have at a Cage Fight is an expanded memoir and MMA primer, exploring the world of amateur MMA in the Seattle suburbs.
Also making appearances in this book:
• A history of mankind’s quest to uncover the toughest person on earth, and how that quest produced mixed martial arts as we know it.
• The mothers who loyally watch their sons get punched in the face.
• The secret to losing 20 pounds in two days.
• A girl’s eye getting lodged a quarter inch deeper in its socket.
• Someone saying, “That foot stomp was monstrous. Gave me a hard-on.”
• Fighter Phoenix Jones, who retired from MMA to become a real-life, crime-fighting superhero.
All this—and more!—while pursuing the big question of why one person would volunteer to fight another person in a cage, for free.
The Most Fun You’ll Have at a Cage Fight is a real-life sports story about what happens when a normal person attempts to become a professional athlete, and an exploration of exploding interest and participation in MMA. This isn’t just Chad’s narrative—this guide also presents the stories of a community of fighters, coaches, and fans who have all been drawn to MMA for vastly different reasons.
Opening Chapter from The Most Fun You’ll Have at a Cage Fight
CHAPTER 1: My Brother Fights Another Man in a Cage
Tonight I’m going to Edmonds Community College in Lynwood, Washington to watch my oldest brother, Chad, age 25 and a well-paid scientist with the Boeing Company, fight another man inside a cage. The fight will end when either Chad or his opponent is unconscious or taps out, or when the three rounds end and the judges decide who delivered the worst beating.
No one’s making Chad do this. He’s not even getting paid. He’s been fighting guys in cages for a year or so, training two hours a day after work and fighting every few months. He’s been fairly successful so far, winning three fights and losing only once. There’s a chance that if Chad’s successful enough and keeps at it long enough he’ll advance to the low-level pro ranks, where he could get paid in the high three figures for showing up to a fight and even more for winning.
Chad’s fight is one of 15 fights this evening, all part of an event called Ax Fighting 24: Domination. No axes are involved. No one who organizes the fights has a good explanation for the name. It seems that “Ax” is being used as an intensifier, like “cool” or “awesome.” Let’s hope it catches on.
The name of the actual sport being practiced tonight is mixed martial arts or MMA, as it’s usually known. This is a sport that combines the most effective parts of all types of hand-to-hand combat—jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, wrestling, boxing, and so on—which means that it’s basically what you’d imagine: an all-out, few-holds-barred fight, in a cage.
AT THE GYMNASIUM
The line is out the door. I’m standing there with our youngest brother, Jake, a fifth grader at a local Christian academy. We’re in the line for people who, like us, wisely bought their $25 tickets ahead of time, a line that is somehow not moving. In front of me an adult male is wearing a T-shirt that reads, “I LIVE ON THE CORNER OF BITE ME BLVD AND NO FREAKIN’ WAY.” I’m trying to imagine a universe that makes this T-shirt a plausible wardrobe option—maybe he actually lives at the intersection of streets with these names—but I’m rescued by Jake, who’s using his 11-year-old powers to cut in line, and I’m not about to lose him in this crowd.
In addition to Jake, I’m here tonight with the rest of my immediate family: my brother Brady, 20, his girlfriend Emily, and my mom and dad who are trying to straddle the line between not really encouraging the whole mixed-martial-arts cage-fighting thing and supporting their oldest son. I have a pen and a notebook and I intend on using both, because I am the sort of person who carries a small leather-bound notebook in his pocket and writes in it during amateur sporting events.
The attendees are mostly white. Caucasian, yes, but more pasty, Washingtonians-in-January white. In the crowd of roughly 2,000, I count seven people of color. In sight range there are eight heads shaved to the skull. I’d estimate the crowd is 80 percent male. No matter how many spotlights and posters and amps you put in a community college gym it still looks like a community college gym: basketball hoops folded to the ceiling, plaques celebrating sad athletic accomplishments, wooden bleachers designed with a total disregard for the human sitting position. And it’s crowded. We had to get here an hour early just to grab seats for our cluster of friends and family. Somehow, despite the January temperature outside, inside the gymnasium it’s about 85 degrees and humid.
Before the fights proper, the lights dim and six people dressed in either black karate outfits or their dads’ bathrobes enter the ring. They each have a different type of weapon: nunchaku, sword-like objects, sticks. Music begins playing—fast-tempo angry dance music. One by one these people—can’t be older than 20, any of them—step to the center of the ring and perform a choreographed routine of what looks like karate combined with interpretive dance. The crowd is silent. This little performance art act seems out of place as an opening bit for cage fights. You can feel the word “pussies” hovering unspoken in the air. Someone behind me whispers, “Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.” The routine ends and the crowd erupts in applause.
Before every fight, when each fighter walks out to the ring from a back door with his posse—usually his coach and training partners and gym mates—someone plays a song over the gym’s sound system. I don’t know what the songs are supposed to express—the fighter’s taste in music or worldview or just something to get him jazzed before the fight—but they’re usually angry rap or angry rock or an angry combination of the two. Jake states that his song would be “Our Song” by Taylor Swift.
It would be great if I could record the name of each song and then compare that fighter’s performance to his or her song. I have a hypothesis that the angrier the song the worse the fighter, or at least the fighter’s performance. It seems that the last thing a fighter needs before fighting is a jolt of anger, since athletic performance usually depends more on clearheaded judgment than on wild anger and since most of the fighters appear to have anger to spare regardless of their soundtrack.
I’m unable to note the songs because I’m distracted by someone I’ll call Franklin. He looks like Franklin the Turtle from the Canadian educational cartoon. He’s standing on the gym floor just below our seats. He’s wearing thick glasses and is chubby. He appears to be unaccompanied. As soon as each intro song begins playing, he immediately begins dancing, head bobbing, and generally just rocking out, even if the song doesn’t lend itself to rocking out. While dancing, Franklin looks around the gym, using the head bobs as a sprinkler-style way of moving his gaze. His expression is that of a young man looking for ladies. Except for those in my immediate family, Franklin is my favorite person in the gymnasium.
Because this is one of the first MMA events I’ve attended, I don’t know enough about what’s going on to give an accurate play-by-play of all the fights. So instead I spend the time until Chad’s fight assembling a list of moves the fighters use and what I think they might be called.
AN INCOMPLETE LIST OF FIGHTING MOVES AS I’VE NAMED THEM TONIGHT
1. The Go Fuck Your Mother, I’m Too Angry to Throw a Sophisticated Punch
The GFYM punch is most often seen from a fighter in his first fight. It’s basically an uncontrolled punch motivated more by the desire to throw a really, really hard punch that may or may not connect than to use any sort of fighting strategy, e.g., the holding of gloves in front of the face, the dodging of punches. It’s almost endearing in its simplicity. I suspect the GFYM punch is the result of listening to Insane Clown Posse or misogynist rap music before the fight.
2. The I’d Fuck My Mother, But I’d Have to Go to the Cemetery and Dig Her Up Punch
The IFMM punch is thrown in response or simultaneously to the GFYM punch. Equally angry, it often misses its mark. It seems like its owner is thinking, Nuh-uh, no one throws a wildly ineffective punch at me and gets away without receiving an equally wild and ineffective punch. I imagine that whoever runs these fights deliberately pairs up the GFYMers with the IFMMers. Neither of them would last long with a more strategic opponent.
3. The FYI, Your Elbow Doesn’t Bend That Way
I would need a protractor, a compass, and two well-made mannequins to properly diagram this one. Basically Guy One takes Guy Two’s arm and leverages it so that his elbow starts bending in the opposite direction from how an elbow joint traditionally bends. When done properly, this results in Guy Two tapping out, the mixed martial arts equivalent of crying uncle. I’ve heard that some fighters are so determined to never tap out that they will simply let the fight end when their elbow shatters. Fortunately, (I think) this doesn’t happen tonight.
4. The I Will Rip Your Fucking Head Off
During the first fight, a GFYM/IFMM bout, someone behind me encourages his favored fighter to, “Rip his fucking head off!” A bit excessive, I thought. But then, lo, in the next fight, in the first round, when they’re standing up, Guy One somehow shoves Guy Two’s head down so that he can python-wrap it with his right arm, and from there he simply lifts the body by the neck/head area, squeezing it in a way that makes me think of how the little yellow heads pop off of LEGO pirates.
5. The Spinning Roundhouse Kick to the Face
Turns out it’s actually quite effective.
6. The Raining Hammers of Thor
My personal favorite, the RHOT is simple: one guy sits on the other guy’s chest, punching the guy on bottom in the face again and again and again. Usually a fight-ender.
7. The Let’s Hold Each Other’s Heads While We Knee Each Other’s Bodies
Self-explanatory. Let me note that prior to tonight, I always considered knees the Segways of attack moves, neat but largely useless. I now know I’d rather be punched in the jaw than kneed in the ribs.
8. The Climbing the Cage, Straddling the Padded Top Bar, and Riding It as Though It Is a Horse or Perhaps a Woman
This one happens after the most entertaining bout of the evening, between two athletic African American males. The come-from-behind winner of this match, a man who quite accurately calls himself Flat Top, performs this move after his victory.
INSIDER’S VIEW OF OUR FELLOW AUDIENCE MEMBERS
Observation confirms that it’d be tough to find a natural female hair color in the room tonight. Brady comments that this place is full of the sort of girls who could do a number of simple things to improve their looks—go for a jog in the park, eat better, buy a flattering turtleneck—but instead get breast enhancements.
The epitome of this approach to beauty or attractiveness or sexiness or whatever it is they’re going for is the ring girls. These are the girls who do a lap around the cage between rounds holding up a sign noting (for example) “Round 2.” These girls wear nothing but heels and a tiny swimsuit. At least one of the girls went to my high school and wasn’t a renowned beauty even by the generous standards of 17-year-old boys. They’re not bad-looking girls, but now, with the spotlight on them, booty shaking around the ring with all these mostly male eyes on them, they’re in the unenviable spot of being not-bad-looking girls trying really hard to be model-caliber, Photoshopped beautiful girls.
And I don’t think it’s just me who thinks this. In the row in front of me is a group of guys who seem like they’d be in an Edmonds Community College frat if Edmonds Community College had frats. When one particular ring girl, who looks like she’s a perfectly healthy weight for her height, comes out to announce a new round, one of these guys quips, “She’d look a lot better on my bed.” No one really laughs or nudges one another and even the guy seems like he said it out of obligation, because this is the sort of thing people like him are supposed to say about girls in bikinis under spotlights, and not because he felt any real attraction for her. And I think the Edmonds Community College frat guys and I and everyone else at Ax Fighting 24: Domination would agree: the opposite of sexiness isn’t ugliness. It’s sadness, confusion, and pity.
A HEAVYWEIGHT FIGHT
In the red corner we have a guy who has a record of one win and no losses. His name sounds vaguely familiar—turns out he wrestled heavyweight for a rival high school around the same time I was a high school wrestler. His opponent in the blue corner weighed in at 300 pounds and has a record of no wins and four losses. Because of his size and his hair color I assume that everyone who knows him calls him Big Red.
Big Red’s record brings up the question of how many beatings a person has to take before he’s not allowed to fight anymore. One would assume that after a few losses most people would decide the whole fighting thing isn’t for them, or else the fighter’s coach would step in and have an uncomfortable heart-to-heart with the loser—what else could you call him?—about this maybe not being his particular cup of athletic tea. Or, if all else fails, you’d think other fighters would just stop agreeing to fight the loser, since there’s nothing to gain from beating someone who has never won a fight, and if you somehow lost to the loser you’d be the only guy the loser ever beat.
Franklin is still dancing to the intro songs. He pauses for a moment to text message. I can tell from the expression on Franklin’s face that the recipient of this text message is someone with whom Franklin is interested in having sex.
The fight begins, and within nine seconds Big Red has been thrown into the cage. For a moment he’s squished there, his fat squeezing through the squares in the fencing. Big Red is then thrown to the ground and punched in the face five or six times, and the fight is over. No one really cheers. The whole thing is just too depressing. One of the Edmonds Community College Frat guys in front of me says, “Let’s go drink beer and fuck people.”
CHAD’S FIGHT: 155-POUND MMA
Chad comes out with his posse, his coaches or buddies or whoever, people I don’t know, definitely not his Boeing friends. His song is by a band called Flogging Molly. Franklin is rocking. The fighters tap gloves at the beginning of the fight. I’m not sure how tough Chad’s opponent is supposed to be. Someone near me states that Chad is trying to avoid getting punched. After a few seconds Chad takes his opponent down by grabbing both his legs and charging until the guy falls on his back. Someone in our little cluster has distributed fruit snacks but neglected to give me any.
The other guy is on his back with Chad on top. Apparently you can do plenty of terrible things to your opponent while on your back. Most of these things involve depriving your opponent of oxygen or bending him in undesirable ways. Chad’s opponent has his legs wrapped around Chad. Neither fighter can do much from here. They’re grappling for position with slight hip shifts and a game of who-has-whose wrists. If someone gains decisive control the crowd will stand up, since most of these people are educated enough MMA fans to detect the subtle difference between a stalemate and an imminent shit beating. No one is currently being punched or bent. The gym hasn’t cooled off at all. The sweat on my arms might be other people’s sweat that has evaporated and condensed onto me.
A large part of the audience stands up. Chad somehow tucks his opponent’s arms under his (Chad’s) legs, leaving my brother perched on his chest with nothing between Chad’s fists and his opponent’s face. Thor’s hammers begin to rain. My brother is in a cage in front of hundreds, maybe thousands, of people punching another man in the skull again and again and again. The ref blows a whistle. The fight is over. Chad wins by technical knockout in the first round.
When people find out that my brother is a mixed martial arts fighter, they tend to ask, “Why? Why would someone volunteer to fight another person? In a cage? Why would anyone spend their Saturday evening giving or receiving a not-very-many-holds-barred beating?”
It’s an interesting question, and I never have a great answer to give. Since I’m more or less fraternally obligated to attend amateur MMA events for the duration of Chad’s career, I plan on pursuing this question, figuring out why exactly Chad or anyone else would take up amateur mixed martial arts.
But at the same time it seems it might be more interesting to withhold judgment of MMA and its people as much as possible—sometimes it’s just not possible—and observe, enjoy, and keep this question in the back of your mind, What the hell is going on here?