All Points West: Keeping track of club rules
     2016-02-26      By Frank Marquez    editor@geringcitizen.com
What’s the first rule of fight club?

“Do not talk about fight club.”

If that was a rule for Legion Combat Sports 22 Saturday night, everyone definitely broke the first rule. The question in my head was why. What’s the big draw? Why did so many drive so far to a small town in the Nebraska Panhandle just to see this kind of spectacle?

That’s like debating the merits of hunting for meat instead of buying it at the grocery store. In other words, where’s the thrill and meaning?

The first attempts to bring mixed martial arts, a full-contact sport “mixing” striking (kick boxing) and grappling techniques into the United States ended when Pennsylvania outlawed the activity in 1983, then a decade later, the Gracie family (well-versed in Jiu-jitsu) imported the precursor to MMA, vale tudo, with the founding of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

According the sport’s history compiled by Frank Shamrock and Mary Van Note, the style of hand-to-hand combat called Pankration (from the words pan and kratos meaning all powers) originated in ancient Greece. It had only two rules: No biting and no eye gouging.

Today’s MMA reminded me of the lethal shows put on by Roman Gladiators, minus weapons – swords and spears, but with just as much intensity in contesting an opponent with bare hands and feet.

Walking into the Events Center at Scotts Bluff County Fairgrounds, I found the place packed to the gills. The fighters of 14 bouts had just been introduced and the P.A. announcer requested that everyone rise for the national anthem. Fitting, because the song is after all about war. It’s about the defense of freedom, and sings the praises of a warrior culture.

The sport is visceral and brutal with its attacks. Thinly padded gloves beside a pair of shorts are all the fighters wear. Guaranteed, as certain as death and taxes, there’s bound to be blood, from noses, to cuts that appeared just about anywhere on the body. Unlike high school and collegiate wrestling, there is no stop in the action – something scholastics sports calls “blood time.” There are however pauses in the action to determine if a fighter is physically able to continue. These quasi timeouts occurred in more than a few bouts at LCS 22, which hosted fighters hailing mostly from the tristate area. The fighters seem to rise above being peppered by jabs and kicks, or being thrown to the spongy cage floor, or the octagon, for the geometrical eight-sided shape, adrenaline probably being the main reason, and pride a close second.

Expressions ranged through all existing emotions, anger being most prominent, but fear just as evident. In this era when football is on the stand for causing life-ending or ruinous concussions, how is this sport thriving and gaining a foothold in popular culture? Names like Rhonda Rousey, Meisha Tate, Spider Silva, Chuck Liddell, and Royce Gracie all ring a bell – each rising to challenge after challenge despite injuries.

I actually met Nate Donald Diaz, a lightweight fighter in the Ultimate Fighting Championship or UFC division and the winner of Ultimate Fighter 5. He was in Las Vegas with his girlfriend a few years back and frequently drew nods from admirers walking through one of the more popular hotels and casinos in City Centre. His brother Nick and he are considered two of the more outspoken figures in the sport – often described as going against the grain. It’s part showmanship and part attitude. Who in the entertainment industry doesn’t get that? Plus, the sport gives the added bonus of dividing the men from the boys. The sport demands that each fighter know more than one − ideally two or three – types of disciplines. Slipping seamlessly between martial arts, keeping opponents guessing during the match.

As the matches wore on in the outskirts of Mitchell, the quality of fighter improved, along with the age and grace of each one. The minutes and rounds increased. True to form, when the fighters for the main event – Mitch “DaMachine” Peterson and Joey Munoz – were introduced, deafening cheers blocked out even the thuds and scrapes of fists and bodies along the cage floor and the chain link fence enclosure.

At the end of every bout, the fighters, heaving from exhaustion, gave each other hugs after each match.

The fighters seem to bond even after inflicting such heavy handed trauma. They were happy to be tested. Complete strangers from half a continent away, charged at each other on a nearly circular red mat, measuring 32-feet in diameter, with only the referee to keep them apart.

Unlike the contest with gladiators, this fight is not to the death, and sometimes ends as harmlessly as calling uncle. Though being an athlete, I would say losing might hurt worse than a broken nose or thumb.

After leaving the events center, amid a range of sports critics guessing at all probable outcomes, I thought, it’s a good thing, there’s a third rule of fight club: “If someone says ‘stop’ or goes limp, taps out, the fight is over.”

A good thing, indeed.

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