Widely known as “Ultimate Fighting Championships” (UFC), such brutal bareknuckle tournaments usually pit two basic types of fighters–grapplers and punchers–in bloody combat against each other in a 30-foot-wide octagonal ring, surrounded by a five-foot-high chain-link fence. There are virtually no rules: head-butts, elbow smashes and choke holds are common. Also known as “reality combat,” the contests are featured on pay-per-view and satellite TV. And each new UFC championship is a hot video store item.
One of the fighters featured in a video entitled Clash of the Titans (UFC VI), is David “Tank” Abbot of Huntington Beach, California. Watching a replay of himself punching his opponent’s bloody face while kneeling on his throat, Abbot tells the ringside announcer: “You better cut it right there. I’m getting sexually aroused.” The scene is highlighted by colour commentator Jim Brown. “The guy is evil,” remarks the renowned former Cleveland Browns running back. “He loves pain and violence.”
Trevor Wallden, the promoter of the Agrodome’s Extreme Combat, has ordered the fighters to wear leather “grappling gloves.” All of the Vancouver contestants will be amateurs, however, with winning competitors receiving sponsorship and a shot at a future UFC event. To modify the contest to make it “safer and more entertaining,” Mr. Wallden added a few rules: 15-minute bouts, a three-minute limit on floor fighting (too much grappling on the canvas gets boring), and three fights to win. A winner is decided by three judges; one is the spectators collectively.
Extreme Combat fighters will be allowed to do anything except bite, gouge eyes, stomp a downed opponent, or use techniques that might cause spinal injury. About can be ended if a fighter quits by telling the referee or tapping any object three times. The fight will also be stopped if a combatants’ handler throws in the towel, or the fighter is knocked unconscious.
Agrodome management defend the decision to allow the violent spectacle on their premises. “Extreme Combat is just a glitzy name for an amateur martial arts competition,” says Jack Epstein, director of facility events. “It’s the promoter’s responsibility to satisfy the requirements of city bylaws and the Criminal Code. Promoter Trevor Wallden brought us a permit issued by the City of Vancouver before we executed a contract.” The Agrodome also was told, Mr. Epstein adds, that the event “falls outside the jurisdiction of the Vancouver Athletic Commission, which is responsible for professional boxing and wrestling events, because all the combatants are amateurs and it’s a martial arts competition.”
According to the BC Athletic Commission chairman Dave Brown, a former boxer and referee, neither the commission nor the B.C. Amateur Boxing Association were consulted about Mr. Wallden’s application. “He told a clerk at city hall that it was an amateur event, and that person took him at his word and issued a licence,” says Mr. Brown. “If we had received the application, it would have been turned down…This is nothing but back-alley street fighting. Somebody’s going to get badly hurt. This sort of event gives legitimate boxing and wrestling a bad name.”
Mr. Brown expected Vancouver city council to take steps to cancel the event but Councillor George Puil says the contest caught council by surprise. “I’d like to see it stopped,” he says. “But our legal department said we haven’t grounds for a show cause hearing and we don’t have time to pass a bylaw.”
The Kahnawake event was held on the Mohawk reserve on April 26 specifically to bypass Quebec provincial regulations banning extreme fighting. However, while the band government defied provincial demands that it stop the event, the Peacekeepers arrested the nine participants afterward, thereby provoking the Mohawks’ internal squabble. But a similar ruse is unnecessary in B.C., since there are no comparable regulations prohibiting the bloody spectacle here. “We’ve tried three times to get the B.C. government to set up a provincial boxing commission,” complains Mr. Puil.
“I suspect Extreme Combat is not an amateur event,” he adds. “Where do all the profits go? If we find out the fighters are getting paid under the table, we can go after Wallden after the competition is held. Meanwhile, I’ve instructed our lawyers to draft a bylaw that bans future events like this, the same way we’ve banned certain animal acts in circuses.”
Professor Rick Gruneau, a sports sociologist at Simon Fraser University, believes North Americans will have to come to terms with Extreme Combat the same way they did with boxing in the early part of this century. “Illegal underground blood sports have always existed in our culture,” he says. “Right now, promoters are doing everything they can to find legal loopholes that allow them to heighten interest in bareknuckle hand-to-hand combat competitions. Eventually someone will get killed, there will be a major investigation, and regulatory bodies will be set up to control this kind of entertainment which is moving from the margins of our culture into the mainstream.”
In the meantime, extreme fighting contests are “exposing us to a deep contradiction in our society,” says Prof. Gruneau. “On the one hand, attitudes toward violence have hardened to the point that corporal punishment is outlawed in schools, the V-chip is seized as a means of controlling exposure to television violence, and police brutality is abhorred. On the other, many North Americans are demanding less government regulation and more personal freedom, including the right to bear arms, defend oneself by any means necessary, and indulge vicariously in various types of violent behaviour.