Please join us on July 6th at Literary Arts in Portland for a fantastic summer showcase of our authors and friends. All event details can be found on our FB event page. Featured authors Rob Gray and Wryly McCutchen will read from their latest and greatest; additional UHell Press authors and associates will also participate in this sure-to-be lively evening.
We’re thrilled to be part of the LitArts events line-up this summer.
We’re packing our bags for DC this week and heading to the annual AWP conference. Some of our fine authors will be reading in the booth we share with Write Bloody Publishing (aptly named Bloody Hell = easy to find at the publisher’s / book fair).
We’re also unleashing TWO NEW TITLES this week, so really, people, come visit us. Also, be sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram for our #AWP17 antics.
We’ve already had a busy fall with readings and launchings and retreatings with all sorts of amazing people! Next up: LitCrawl on November 4th. Get all the event deets right here. Teaser: Come listen to our very own A.M. O’Malley, John Barrios, and Leah Noble Davidson. We’ve also teamed up with Anvil Press authors Kim Fu and Chris Gudgeon, and Write Bloody‘s Derrick Brown. Muses from Bergerette will add that special spark to our evening.
Next up: A fab and fine UHell Press showcase on November 5th at Mother Foucault‘s. Brian S Ellis, Leah, Derrick, and other lit celebs will be reading from new work. Added bonus: Cult of Orpheus offers up fresh pentameter with tasty quavers from their latest work Songs from Time-wise Animals. (Exactly.)
If you’re in town for Wordstock (hell, we know you’re just in town, livin’ your lives), please join us the weekend before the world changes. We’d love to hear about what gets you hot!
For starters, Leah Noble Davidson’s Door just landed and after only three days, became the number one bestseller at Powell’s (small press, of course!). Join us as we celebrate with Leah and a few fine Portland lit celebs (Robyn Bateman, Brian S. Ellis, DeAngelo Gillispie, Brenna Twohy, Rob Gray, w/emcee Sean Aaron Bowers) at Circa 33 on Tuesday, September 20th. Get all the deets here.
Next up, we’ve got additional rad events happening in October and November, including LitCrawl, Moved by Words lit art fest, and a writer’s retreat in coastal Washington.
Learn more right here as we get closer to GO time!
Like many of you, we’ve been on summer vacation. It’s been a great respite, but we’re ready to get back at it soon. Fall 2016 will be chock full o’ fun antics including readings, releases, and retreats. Stay tuned for all the deets!
We’re super stoked to get to LA next week for AWP where we’ll be at booth #635 with our pals from Write Bloody Publishing. Aside from our newest releases (three amazing debuts this month!), we’ll have all titles from our current catalog, super hot tees, and a few author readings / signings events right there in the booth.
Our managing editor Eve is hosting a terrific panel – Women on the Verge – Authentic Voices from Outsider Lit – on Friday, April 1 with four of your new fave writers. We’ll also be co-hosting two rad author showcases that you won’t want to miss – the first on Wednesday, March 30 with our team and special guests from Moved By Words and Bergerette, and the second on Thursday, March 31 with three UHell writers and the exceptional crew from Punk Hostage Press.
Here are some juicy tidbits to pique your curiosity.
There are lots of other people on the University of Hell Press staff. Can you tell us a bit about who they are and what they do?
We boast a fantastic faculty made up of curious people who are each exceptional writers, thinkers, doers. Greg Gerding is the press’s founder, father, music lover, the reason we’re all doing this crazy thing. Tyler Atwood (UHell author) is creating a strong presence for the press in Denver, and editing the hell out of some great future work. John Barrios (UHell author) is using his social work, community outreach, and generally great guy / dad skills to vet new authors and host events in Portland with a giving back spin. Amy Chadwick is our masterful maven in San Diego. Tina Richardson is our latest addition as fact checker / copy editor extraordinaire.
Everyone’s cooler, smarter, more on-it than you could possibly imagine.
Our authors make the press what it is. Our indie punk / rock record label sensibility attracts the most creative, unique, wild and woolly individuals, each with something important to say about life and how we’re all muddling our way through it. While on different tracks, there’s certainly a common spirit. People notice this about the content we’re putting out there, and how we’re choosing to present it. We couldn’t do it without the writers. Obviously.
Our exceptional artists and graphic designers have helped honed the look and feel of the press. People always comment on logo and name, our amazing covers, interior artwork, and interesting layouts. Our current catalog enjoys definite supermodel status.
What do you think the future holds for Hell Press? Are there any big plans or changes in the works?
Boy oh boy, do we have BIG PLANS. We’re thrilled about so many recent releases, successes, and collaborations, and excited to participate in various local and national events like AWP, small press forums, and more. We love to merge great writing with great art; marry smart, compelling content with music and performance. You’re going to see more mash-ups with these elements heightened in the future.
For those of you who may not know, Duotrope is a terrific resource that assists writers manage the submissions process. It’s super cool! Check it out.
Managing Editor Eve Connell was recently interviewed for the Editor Interview feature, another great part of the Duotrope toolkit. Here you’ll find some juicy excerpts. Be sure to read the full interview.
Q: What sets your publication apart from others that publish similar material?
A: University of Hell Press authors offer a raw view of their varied world experiences. They expose themselves intimately, completely, often with humor and always with irreverence. They provide snapshots of the horrific, the sensory, the mundane, with beautifully constructed linguistic imagery.
Q: Describe the ideal submission.
A: The ideal submission grabs our attention right away – and holds it throughout the manuscript. No matter the genre, no matter the style, it’s clear from the get-go that the author loves language and uses it to provoke, inspire, intimate, define, defend, entertain, feel, empathize, craft, build, suspend, and more. Work that catches our eyes derives from a strong point of view, offers a unique perspective, and demonstrates a voice or tone that perhaps is yet unheard. The ideal submission delivers interesting, well-developed ideas, is powerfully executed, is copy edited, and allows us to say WOW.
Q: What other current publications (or publishers) do you admire most?
A: Write Bloody Publishing, Punk Hostage Press, Civil Coping Mechanisms, HYPERtext Magazine, Nailed, Octopus Books, Black Ocean Press, H_NGM_N Books, Binary Star, Soft Skull, Manic D, TimberMouse, Elephant Rock Books, Dzanc, Akashic…and more.
We are proud to announce our six nominations for the 2015 Pushcart Prize. It was difficult choosing which pieces to nominate from among each of these six outstanding books. For the larger nonfiction works though, we figured it was best to submit the opening chapters from each.
Congratulations to our nominees and their nominations (click the arrows to read each piece):
Today I am staying in my T-shirt and underwear
with so much sadness
in every ounce of my body, like being cradled
in the achy arms of the flu, and because there is nothing
else to do, I might as well climb onto the rooftop
and think about flamingoes, whose wild pink wings have been flashing
across the white sky of my brain all week for no apparent reason. I might even
light a cigarette. I might even smoke it. I might even call
the first friend I made in college, the poet
who bought me wine and kissed me on the cheek, said I looked
just like his ex-girlfriend and wouldn’t I like
to be his supermodel? Why not be his supermodel
and traipse across the tightropes of his world in six-inch stilettos with a martini in one hand
and a silk necktie in the other, wear lipstick and make movies
in the living room of his dreams? I wonder if wearing lipstick
would make me feel older. Right now I feel like a living room
that needs to be rearranged. My knees keep knocking
into my nerves, which keep tripping
over my anorexia and into
my arms. I hate that I have to keep reminding myself
that I am an adult. I hate that I don’t know
what that means. If Victoria’s Secret knew everything about sexy
they wouldn’t be selling bras. Just white T-shirts
and mango-flavored chapstick. Movies of men cooking dinner while outside
an end-of-August storm creeps over the horizon like a bruise
on your spine you didn’t know was there but like
to press up against because it makes you feel like you’ve done
something. This morning I got the mail from the mailbox
and that was something. I got a letter and that made me happy
but then I realized I had to open it
and I was sad, like tearing apart the seams
that keep a secret, when I opened the letter I thought I heard the sharp
first cry of a newborn, and so from now on I want to keep all my letters
unopened and next to my pillow forever, so that even after I die
they will always be there, the little pile of envelopes
with their little heavens breathing inside.
When I think about heaven I imagine
walking naked into the field across the street where
it’s 1968 and I’m somewhere in Canada
taking pictures of all the small white flowers licking at my ankles so I can make postcards
to send to all the people who live far away, all the people
I’m always thinking of, which is everyone,
every day. When I think about heaven I feel
the way my daughter must feel when she sees
I’ve been crying and offers me her tiny body
to hold. When I think about heaven I think maybe
I should stop thinking altogether and move through the rest of the day
like the water that makes up more than half
of our bodies, how it moves
like a moan through the dark, curving
over the lip of a cup, holding on to itself longer than seems possible,
until the break, the spill, the tiny crash of the drip
of an IV next to the bed like the one that I’m in where
my veins are really no more
or less blue than yours, all these bruises
on my body from an ocean no one has named.
Service arrives first.
It’s six a.m. in Old Town
and I have to ask a sleeping body
to get out of the doorway.
The Client is the Air Jordan Marketing Team.
Getting out of the office
for the yearly game plan.
Breakfast and Lunch. I count flatware,
make coffee. Chef makes frittata.
Plates at eight.
Marketing picks at the food
like birds, like professionals.
is on the other side of the half-wall.
The team’s director is talking about
elevated narrative. Peak performance
experience. I bus silently in the dark.
I change tablecloths unseen.
I am surrounded by blueprints
of million-dollar sneakers.
The word Jordan means Success.
The word Jordan means Lethal Agility.
The team is confident about moving
into Eastern Europe but they’re worried
about the brand in Chicago.
Sales are down in the very base
of the flight club.
A member of the team says, One of our problems is that all our young J’s are getting shot. What can we offer them if it’s not safe to step on the court?
I am pouring house-made
lemongrass soda when the question
is asked. I wonder what the person
who thought of the phrase Lethal Agility
looks like. The director clears his throat Love of the game, he replies,
as if that answered anything.
i want love so great it makes Nicholas Sparks cream in his pants
i want love so great it makes Nicholas Sparks cream in his pants
I know so
because my mom
tells me so.
My mom says
I’m the most handsome guy
She tells me constantly
and as nice and flattering
as it all is
I’ve gotta say
it’s never really
The love of friends
is like having Cap’n Crunch
every night for dinner.
Sure it’s good
and it’s filling
if you have a lot of it
and it will keep you
but it will leave you
It will leave you
It will leave you
and you know there’s better
I want love so great
it makes Nicholas Sparks
in his pants.
I wanna fuck the woman
of my dreams
on top of the Eiffel Tower
as the sun sets
and I don’t mean
the top platform
Ohhhhhh no …
I mean the needle-like thing
that diddles the sky’s
I’m not sure
of the mechanics
or how it would all work
but I’m pretty sure
the only thing better
than coming on the face
of the woman of my dreams
is coming off the needle
of the Eiffel Tower
and onto some poor bastard’s
head down below.
that’d be awesome.
That would be
really, really awesome
and I’m not going to settle
for anything less than that either
And to clarify
I don’t mean people
who migrated to America
and colonized it
because they were
I just mean people
and live their lives
because fireless people
are sloppy, wet,
and the last thing
I’d ever wanna be
is a sloppy, wet,
When I do fuck
the woman of my dreams
on the needle of
the Eiffel Tower
and then come off the top
onto some poor bastard’s
I hope that poor bastard
is a settler.
Then after all that
I’ll probably go home
with the love of my life
and we’ll just nap with our cats
I met him in fifth grade. He had moved from Seattle. We were in the same class. We were on the same soccer team. And we went to the same church.
I walked up to him and asked how he liked playing soccer.
He stared up at me from his desk.
“I don’t play soccer,” he told me.
I saw him that night at practice.
* * *
We began a casual conversation at soccer games. Nothing that I would have expected to lead to a friendship. I was content with the friends I had and didn’t think I needed any more. Talking with him was just something to pass the time.
The coach played the same boys every game, for the entire game. He and I would stand on the sidelines, restless, and eventually get bored and wander away from the sport we were supposed to be playing.
One day we were on a shed. Not for any particular reason; we just realized we were big enough to climb on top of it. It wasn’t tall, but seemed like it was at the time.
An Elderly Man walked up to us and said, Hey get off that shed, you two shouldn’t be up there.
I’ve always lived the life of a coward. I began to step down until I noticed him.
He stood tall, looking down at the Elderly Man. He wasn’t attempting to get down.
You guys need to get down, the Elderly Man repeated.
I continued my way down.
He stared the man in the eyes.
“No, you bitch.”
The conclusion begins its downward slope.
* * *
When he first moved here he sat with the cool kids at lunch. He was becoming one of them in the first two weeks.
He played footsie with the cute girls.
He played tag football at recess with the boys.
Then we started talking and he sat with me and the other self-declared rejects at lunch.
I wonder if he ever regretted this decision.
* * *
When did we grow up?
* * *
He came to stay over one night. It was the first time we were spending the night at one another’s house. He had packed a bag with all the necessities.
I used to go to friends’ houses in jeans, a T-shirt, and with a toothbrush.
My Cousin was there. We were watching movies and getting rowdy.
My Cousin jumped on his back when he was bent over.
Tears came to his eyes as he packed his bag, preparing his exit.
My Cousin apologized.
He made his way to our front door with his bag in hand.
“How are you going to get home?”
“Walk,” he told me.
He looked at me. Dropped his bag. And followed me back to the living room.
“Sorry,” I said. “We’ll calm down.”
* * *
I woke up to a phone call.
* * *
He told me he was so near a tornado he saw a floating house.
He told me he was in an earthquake where the earth burst and split open. That His Mom purposely drove the car in front of them into the crack. That His Mom killed a man.
He told me he had a half-brother.
I still don’t know if I believe him.
* * *
We lived a fourth of a mile apart. It was the same suburban neighborhood. We would ride our bikes to each other’s houses.
Our desires matched more closely than I had originally anticipated.
When we rode in our parents’ cars no one could understand what we were saying.
But we understood each other’s mumblings.
* * *
In his basement there was a crawl space behind the furnace. It was under the stairs.
We crawled back there with a flashlight.
Girls, from the previous owner, had left the names of the boys they liked scrawled on the drywall.
We also found a crude felt-pen replica of a famous piece of art.
We both decided it was the Mona Lisa.
* * *
It’s like that Boy Meets World episode where Cory gets married.
* * *
Kids from another team stomped on my water bottle and put bits of dirt and grass in it.
Our coach patted me on the shoulder and said, Just wash it out at a sink, good as new.
I watched the kids from the other team run to their rides home.
“I hate our coach,” he said, “he’s a dumb asshole.”
We didn’t want to play soccer anymore.
* * *
We sat at the counter waiting for the macaroni and cheese to finish cooking.
My Dad asked him what his family was eating that night.
You’re picking this over steak? My Dad asked, Why?
All he did was shrug his shoulders.
I would’ve rather had macaroni and cheese at that age, too.
* * *
I convinced him to join my music club. If I brought them new members I got five free CDs. He would get seven for joining.
He didn’t have money to pay for shipping and handling.
He woke up one morning to His Dad on the phone telling the club’s customer service that they couldn’t enter into a contract with an eleven-year-old boy.
I never asked him to join another club.
* * *
He liked playing computer games. I never understood why he would pour hours into these virtual worlds.
He tried to get me to play once.
I was content watching him play over his shoulder.
* * *
Our group of friends used to play out court at recess sometimes.
I was always the defending lawyer.
The Blond-Haired Boy was the judge. The Blond-Haired Boy always had a pocket Bible. We would all swear upon it before we started the trial.
Our Redneck Friend was the prosecuting lawyer.
The Leftovers were the jury.
Whoever was the defendant would get banished from playing with us for a certain amount of recesses.
He was banished for a day.
He called me that night to see if he was still banished.
Would Jesus banish someone? My Mom asked.
I called him back.
* * *
He told me years later he didn’t know why he was such a dick that day.
“I must’ve woke up and thought, ‘I’m going to be an asshole today.’”
It was a half-day and I went to school excited because of that fact. I arrived to him spitting in my hair. Pushing me over when I went to tie a shoe. Calling me mean names. And I had no idea why.
During recess I snapped and punched him. That was the first time I was angry enough to punch someone.
When he saw the rage on my face he ran. I tackled him and pummeled the back of his head.
I ignored the whistle and shouts from the playground supervisor. I only wanted him to feel pain. I hated him in that moment.
Two days later we were back to understanding each other’s mumbles.
* * *
We rented Can’t Hardly Wait. We watched this movie at least two times a year after that.
No one has ever laughed as hard as us when we watched it together.
It’s not as funny when I watch it by myself.
* * *
He got his braces taken off. His teeth still didn’t look quite right.
A year later they put braces back on.
* * *
Have you seen Dirty Harry? His Dad asked.
“No,” I replied.
Come on, His Dad said, you’re a movie guy, that one is a classic, you need to watch it.
He and I never did watch it.
* * *
They found him in the backseat.
* * *
His parents got an aboveground pool you could fill with a hose.
The water was freezing.
His Dad wouldn’t let us swim during the rainstorm. There had been thunder.
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?