Contender Asia

Who will be the next to go down?

Just How “Extreme” Is Extreme Fighting???

jfWidely 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.”

bxAccording to Vancouver 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.

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Martial Arts And Skiing: A Great Team

After standing in the Single Whip posture for two minutes, your right thigh starts to ache. After five minutes, it’s starting to tremble, as sweat trickles down your back. After 15, the rest of your body is relaxed, but your leg is shaking violently; “burning in,” your tai chi teacher calls it. This is good for your skiing.


So are other Asian arts like yoga and aikido, exercise systems that, for many people, smack of tofu and crystals more than bumps and steeps. “They all offer increased flexibility and balance,” says John Atkins, rehab director and athletic trainer at the Steadman Hawkins Clinic in Vail. “Martial arts help tremendously in sports like skiing that place a high premium on single-leg balance.”

In the States, we’ve got two images of martial arts. One is kick-ass, kungfu cool. Jackie Chan — style. The other is dumb-ass lame: A deluded dork makes Bruce Lee noises and then gets punched out by, say, Dirty Harry. But martial arts and yoga can also be awe-some cross-training regimens. As the head conditioning coach and trainer for the U.S. Ski Team during the glory years (`78-’84), Atkins taught ski racers like Tamara McKinney and the Mahre brothers tae kwon do, which he’d studied while serving in Vietnam. And PSIA, the instructors’ organization, has hired fitness consultant Adrian Crook, whose workouts are based on traditional Chinese exercises, to help train the nation’s ski teachers.

Atkins and others say these practices help develop not only balance and flexibility but also strength, body awareness, and aerobic capacity. In other words, just what skiers need. Here, then, is a look at the different Asian disciplines worth considering for ski fitness. Leave the crystals at home, though — you’re going to sweat.


In yoga, which originated in India, practitioners go through a long progression of stretches, moving smoothly from posture to posture and breathing deeply throughout. “I believe yoga keeps me in the mental and physical state necessary for my work,” says Gary Ashurst, 42, a ski guide and climber in La Grave, France. Besides the mental benefits, like being able to stay focused in precarious situations, Ashurst says yoga has helped prevent injuries: “With greater flexibility in the hips, the knees are not asked to do something they are not designed for.” Namely, twist. Ashurst says yoga gives him a healthy way to warm up before a day of skiing and builds endurance. Others agree. “I go out snowboarding on a powder day from 9 to 4, and I’m still ready for more, when other people are dropping,” says Jill Barr-Laggis, 4, a snowboard instructor who teaches Ashtanga, a dynamic, strength-building form of yoga, in Crested Butte.


“Balance in movement,” says Aspen ski instructor Tom Crum when asked how aikido helps skiers. “Skiing requires balance within action, spontaneously responding to a patch of ice or a bump field, and so does aikido.” At 51, Crum has been teaching this Japanese martial art for 25 years, and teaching skiing since the early `80s. Aikido has an overtly spiritual side, but what you see at a dojo, or practice hall, might look more like people getting slammed into mats and pinned. In fact, they are. Then again, learning to fall safely could benefit skiers. Practice aikido, says Crum, and you’ll end up with a “heightened sensitivity from foot to ski, and ski to snow.”


“Tai chi trains you to relax in the heat of the moment,” says Bruce Carlson, 44, a dentist and telemarker who lives in Lansing, Iowa. The ability to stay balanced and relaxed while moving is key to skiing, but not much you do at the gym works on the skill.

Tai chi usually sparks an image of senior citizens performing slow moves in the park at dawn. But this Chinese martial art includes moves that can build incredible leg strength. Tai chi demands smooth weight shifts from one foot to the other while the upper body remains quiet. Sound familiar, skiers? Carlson says it even makes his transition to altitude easier: “I go to the Rockies every winter, and I don’t gasp like I used to. I ski longer days and really hit it hard.

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Black Belt Techniques For Disabled People Do Work

maYou don’t have to be strong or even fast to learn self-defense. Gene Rife, a martial arts instructor, teaches a class aimed at people who use wheelchairs or have other physical limitations.

“You only need the strength of a seven-year-old to use these techniques,” explains Gene. “You can bring somebody down just by striking, rubbing, or touching certain pressure points.”

Gene, who holds a first-degree black belt, says that most of the techniques he teaches are from the martial art of small circle jujitsu. “Most of the moves are done close to the body, and nearly everyone can learn how to do them.”

Quick reactions are not necessary to master the moves. “It doesn’t matter how fast you are,” says Gene. “It’s just a matter of knowing where the pressure points are and how to attack them.”

Pressure points are located on the meridians of the body, and according to the art of jujitsu, hitting or touching them stops or redirects the flow of energy from the body. The application of force to these points causes pain or discomfort in the nearest joint of the body.

There are 362 pressure points located throughout the body. Some are easier to get to, like the one located a quarter of the way down the hand between the third and fourth finger. The little finger is another sensitive spot – it’s the weakest finger on the hand and can cause the most pain.

Another easily accessible pressure point is found an inch and half from where the elbow bends from the wrist on the outside of the arm.

Gene demonstrates moves for his students and then lets them practice. “You learn to use the person’s energy or force against him,” explains Gene. “For example, if someone grabs you head-on, you can reach over, grab the attacker’s hand, and twist it vertically, pushing it down while squeezing the hand. You execute the move close to your body, which allows you to exert more force.”

These moves involve pushing and pulling at the same time, which makes them particularly effective. For example, in one of the moves you push the attacker’s little finger back while pulling the person’s hand toward you.

Another move can be used if someone grabs you from behind. You tuck your chin, rub the pressure point on the attacker’s arm, grab his little finger and push his hand toward his body – all in one motion. Practicing the moves helps them become automatic responses.

Another technique allows someone to deflect punches from a seated position. You put up your hands (as if you’re afraid) and lean back with your palms open. Then you grab the attacker’s fingers and use the pushing/pulling motion to bring him to his knees.

JoAn Magemeneas, a 27-year-old retail worker, is one of Gene’s students. “I was rather skeptical at first,” she admits. “I use a wheelchair a lot and figured that I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of the moves, but I was wrong. The class is really useful – you learn how to use the person’s strength against him and how to protect yourself.”

Magemeneas recommends this type of class to others. “It’s good to know that you can defend yourself if you have to,” she explains. “I feel much more secure now.

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Martial Arts: Beating The Crap Out Of Flab!

btcAerobic kickboxing and martial aerobics strengthen the body and mind, decrease stress physically and mentally, define and quicken reflexes, increase endurance and enhance cardiovascular power, according to Dave LaPorte, a second degree black belt in Shaolin Kempo Karate and the head instructor at Rick Wilmott’s Karate Academy in Keene, New Hampshire. LaPorte has found aerobic kickboxing has a value to everyone who tries it. “It is an aerobic fitness program with a dual purpose,” he says. “It provides an aerobic workout in addition to gaining and honing martial arts skills. It helps foster physical strength, increases endurance, tones muscle groups, burns calories and builds confidence.”

Confidence building comes from the fact many people, women in particular, who have never studied a defensive art such as karate, are learning for the first time how to execute an accurate punch or kick that they may need to use someday if ever placed in danger. “What people tell me is that they feel they can throw a strike or kick with power behind it,” LaPorte says. “This makes them more sure of being able to defend themselves if they ever need to.”

Aside from the self-defense aspects, kickboxing is also highly effective in controlling and maintaining weight. While the average step aerobics class helps burn between 200 and 400 calories per hour, the typical intense kickboxing class burns from 500 to 800 calories. As a method of weight control, aerobic kickboxing can be highly effective when performed routinely two to three times per week.

Aerobic kickboxing class is quick paced and strenuous, so it’s definitely better suited for advanced exercisers. In fact, it’s easy to overexert yourself, warns Nancy Gillette, lead consultant of the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA). “The workout can be anaerobic, even for an advanced participant,” she says.

With music pumping out various rhythms to provide a solid beat for strikes and kicks, classes can range from 45 minutes to an hour. “The classes begin with basic stretches, which loosen up the muscles and prepare them for work,” says LaPorte. “Next, a light cardiovascular warm-up, such as jumping jacks and push-ups, slowly builds into a rapid routine.”

Aerobic kickboxing routines involve a series of repetitive punches alternating with other hand strikes, then kicks, and finally a combination of all three. This blending of techniques promotes balance, coordination, power, precision and speed. Knowing how to land a punch goes hand-in-hand with knowing precisely where it should go, so with each strike, punch or kick thrown, participants aim for a target on the body. Utilizing mirrors, each person directs the energy and focus of the strike toward his or her mirror image. Accuracy leads to power, so after throwing a few strikes and learning where the body must be positioned for the strikes to land correctly, the aerobic kickboxer starts to put more energy and force behind each movement. This increase in power expenditure leads to an even more demanding physical workout.

mabtcIn addition to mirrors and punching bags, hit pads for the hands and boxing gloves are used for the kickboxer to experience the force of actually hitting something with power. Jabs, cross-punches, upper-cuts and hook punches are basic boxing moves that make up the solid punching routine. All strikes, when performed and targeted correctly, can be highly effective in defensive control. Participants learn how to breathe correctly, and when to exhale and inhale with a strike. Kicks target large muscle groups and organs, and with a bit of practice, can be a solid basis for self-defense.

After the vigorous portion of the routine, floor exercises and stretches are performed as a cool down. “Leg stretches cool down the long muscles, and then the major abdominal groups are targeted and worked vigorously,” says LaPorte. The purpose of each repetitive abdominal series, which includes upper abdominal crunches, lower abdominal stretches and oblique lifts, is to tighten and strengthen the musculature of the abdomen. It’s also a time for the lower body to rest, since the exercises are invariably done in the supine position. The conclusion of each class is a five minute breathing exercise to internally cool down the body, bring the heart rate back to a non-stressful level and provide a calming time for the mind to rest.

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Behind The Scenes, UFC-Style

caOUR RECREATIONAL VEHICLE lumbers down Denver’s snow-slicked streets, but we travel the zeigeist as if it were a jet stream. Riding shotgun is one Tank Abbott, thirty years old, six feet, 250 pounds, a bar brawler extraordinaire from Huntington Beach, California, the sudden celebrity around whom we’ve gathered, each of us in some way an acolyte in his entourage as we careen toward a real-life comic book: a bare-knuckle pay-per-view event known as the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Tank’s fighting Saturday night. A purveyor of pain, he plays perfectly: His skill is nothing less than an American preoccupation. People just love to see the bad guy kick ass.

One of the boys–or would that be boyz?–is talking about “fucking dudes up,” like “that hippie motherfucker Tank tapped out in Park City, Utah.”

Shoulda seen it. Blood everywhere. We haddaa take off before the cops got there.

Drinks are served in the main cabin now: Coors Light and Cuervo Gold. For smokes, there are Marlboros and a reach of the good green, which helps one to visualize the blow-by-blow in superlative superhero exclamations–Pow! Bam! Bang! Since he is in training, though, Tank does not partake.

“Sobriety is making me very angry,” he says.

But the boyz are feeling no pain. Scarface is playing on the VCR, and we all have gat-busting renditions of the homicidal coke trafficker, Pacino’s Tony Montana. Deliverance is next on the double bill.

Tank’s cult is such that an Aussie camera crew trails the Tankmobile, which is on course for a gay bar. “We’re not gay,” he says. “We just don’t give a shit.”

There’s this feeling that wherever we go becomes an instant capital of lowbrow culture. The gay bar is closed. But there’s a strip joint next door. And strip joints, like gay bars, bring Tank as close as he ever gets to pacifism. “I hang out in titty bars because no one wants to fight,” he says.

The strippers flutter and fuss about him. Even now, in the infancy of his celebrity, these girls can spot a rising star With eager Aussies on either side, Tank takes his seat.

Various members of the entourage attempt to explain themselves and their leader: We all like w hurt people. It’s only natural, if you think about it. See him? He’s my brother. But that don’t mean I don’t want to fuck him up We’re all a little crazy, I guess, but Tank, man, he’s the craziest. I remember once in high school, we were at a party. This guy starts slapping around one of our buddies. Tank gets him on the ground, bites his ear off.

The scene that comes to mind is equal parts Fast Times at Ridgemont High and A Clockwork Orange.

He beef-jerkied a guy’s lips once.


Bit a dude’s lips off. The claim is punctuated with a slurpy sound effect.

You saw that?

No, that I only heard about

They speak of Huntington Beach as if it were Caucasian Compton. The evening changes as they mix their drinks, cocktails of beer, adrenaline, and testosterone.

Hey, if we fuck somebody up, you gonna write about it?

The boyz look like rambunctious gorgoyles now, but their leader seems almost serene. At the cusp of fame and fortune, Tank Abbott inspects his silicone angels like a Buddha of badass Zen.

He knows what’s up, one of the boyz says admiringly. He’s gonna be huge.

DAVID LEE ABBOTT is more than a street fighter. He’s the first villain of the Ultimate Fighting Championship an event entering its third year, and a resounding success by every measure except good taste.

The UFC matches men representing various martial arts in an octagonal cage. As for rules, the only concessions to that dead Scottish fop, the Marquess Of Queesberry are prohibitions against eye gouging nd biting. Other than that, anything goes. Elbows and knees and head butts, and, yes, feel free to kick the other guy in the nuts.

Ultimate fighting was designed to look very much like that most stupendous American farce, professional wrestling. The difference, of course, is that it’s real, as is the blood. And that’s the biggest part of the sell. There’s a lot of fighting on pay-per-view, everything from World Championship Wrestling to sanctioned professional boxing. But UFC promoters envisioned a production to change forever the consumers of stage-managed violence. They considered it like pornography, the theory being, once you’ve seen X, you’re not going back to R.

More than a few critics–most notably, U.S. Senator John McCain (a Republican from Arizona) and State Senator Roy Goodman (a Republican from New York)–have called for the abolition of such no-holds-barred fighting. Prosecutors have threatened assault charges. The press releases rail against “human cockfighting.”

But the pols are way out of their weight class. They’re up against a behemoth–a culture that’s long been primed to accept the likes of Tank Abbott as both sports and entertainment.

In little more than two years, have been more than seventy UFC bouts. Fighters are examined before and after each bout. There’s usually some blood, but no broken bones, no aneurysms. The only fighter admitted overnight to a hospital was a kickboxer named Pat Smith. And he wasn’t hurt in a bout. He was jumped as he got off an elevator in Casper, Wyoming. At least one witness says Tank and the boyz did it. Still compare this with boxing, a confederacy of dunces and pimps that routinely allows the most grievous of mismatches. Boxing deaths average five a year, to say nothing of those it leaves with punchy neurology.

casSo for all the talk of “human cockfighting,” ultimate fighting is not the most dangerous sport, just the most enthusiastically grotesque. By its very design, ultimate fighting peddles some awfully unsettling images: The very first fight featured a savate champion literally kicking the teeth out of a sumo wrestler Then there was the American ninja pounded silly with a hailt of fists and elbows, a twenty-second beating good for thirty-four stitches to the face. And don’t forget that other sumo wrestler, this one a 616-pounder from Rahway, New Jersey, down on all fours, his tits jiggling while a low-budget Chuck Norris stood over him, delivering thirty-five consecutive right hands to the head. As for our man Tank: There was the moment he was born as a bad guy to the world, his knee like a vise on the opponent’s head as he mugged for the crowd.

But the man whose head that was, a three-hundred-plus-pound former football player named Paul Varelans, is not nearly so offended. “What about when Lawrence Taylor snapped Joe Theismann’s leg? They didn’t stop showing that on TV, did they? This kind of fighting is a lot safer than football. What’s the first thing a football fan reads in the Sunday sports section? The injury report.”

“Why do people go to auto races?” asks Bob Meyrowitz, whose company, Semaphore Entertainment, produces UFC. “To see the car cross the finish line? Or to see the car crash? Everyone knows about violence in hockey and how the announcers put the fights on the evening highlight package. And why does the NFL put out a video called Greatest Hits?”

To bear Meyrowitz tell it, his event only eases the hypocrisy. He doesn’t have to pretend the violence he’s selling is coincidental. And if nothing else, Meyrowitz understands what sells. TWO decades ago, in the aftermath of Altamont, he came up with the feel-good King Biscuit Flower Hour, rock radio’s first syndicated show. Eventually, he got into pay-per-view. He did the first pay-per-view concert, with Ozzy Osbourne, the former Black Sabbath singer who occasionally bit the heads off live bats; then later, and most profitably, he scored big with New Kids on the Block. That concert still boasts the biggest buy rate of any pay-per-view entertainment event–though it would’ve been dwarfed by Meyrowitz’s ill-fated attempt to put on O. J. Simpson days after his acquittal. Ultimate fighting is just another well-calculated anticipation of popular taste. Tank Abbott happens in a video dimension where Marshall McLuhan meets Vince McMahon. The pay-per-view audience–what Meyrowitz calls a “hall with twenty-six million seats”–has been weaned on vulgarity and violence. We keep getting our dosage upped until we have the attention spans of chimps, until Hulk Hogan and Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal seem as benign as Sleepy and Sneezy and Grumpy. Tony Montana now qualifies as a “classic,” and compared with, say, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Pacino’s rendition comes off like Jimmy Stewart. The UFC is perfect for kiddies raised on video games like Mortal Kombat. After all, what is ultimate fighting but Mortal Kombat come to life? Real blood, not virtual, that’s where we’re headed. It’s only a matter of time before what we know as “sports” looks suspiciously like that old James Caan flick Rollerball.

Campbell McLaren, an executive vice-president at Semaphore Entertainment who studied film and video at Berkeley and MIT, qualifies as the brains of this undertaking. His conception drew from all sorts of high kitsch. The logo was inspired by “the comic-book superhero milieu.” The stage was designed by John Milius, director of Conan the Barbarian. A mere ring would not do, so Milius introduced the Octagon, thirty feet across, enclosed with chain-link fencing and wired for sound. The effects–smoke, strobes, and icon lights–come “straight out of a rock ‘n’ roll show,” he says.

The first UFC aired November 12, 1993. At a price of $14.95, there were eighty thousand buys. Now Semaphore asks $24.95 and routinely draws more than three hundred thousand buys. And it’s spawned a host of imitators: contests called Global Heat, World Combat, and Extreme Fighting, the last being hyped by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione. The UFC has its own Web site and goo number, its own line of logo-bearing merchandise. The champion’s purse has risen from $50,000 to $150,000. The videos are on sale at Blockbuster. And the odds are posted in Vegas.

Welcome to the future, where sports are produced as entertainment, where merit melds with schlock and athletes are marketed as action heroes. First, there’s the class of professional fighters: Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, and Oleg Taktarov. Gracie is a scion of a Brazilian jujitsu dynasty who defeats men twice his size with an assortment of choke and submission holds, all for the family’s honor. Shamrock, a troubled kid who became what sportscasters call a “well-adjusted individual,” is a Good Guy. In Japan, where UFC-type fighting is the rage, you can buy Ken Shamrock dolls. Taktarov is from the former Red Army, trained in sambo, Soviet jujitsu. The Russian Bear, as his T-shirts advertise him, bleeds like a stuck pig. But he never gives up. A couple of years ago, Taktarov couldn’t pay for a meal. Now he’s got a green card, $53,500 custom-made suits, and star-spangled ambitions.

“To play in movies,” he says.

Most of the fighters are gentlemen, exactly unlike some of the prima donnas you’ll find in most major sports. A good many of them actually have to work for a living: a cop from Nebraska, a paramedic from Ontario who heads his union local. Then there are bar bouncers, refugees from the kickboxing circuit, and an assortment of flakes. Like Fang, a wrestler who had an oral surgeon implant a pair of wolf canines in his mouth. And how about Kimo? A tae kwon do black belt from Hawaii, Kimo was collecting money for drug dealers and smoking crystal mediamphetamine when he found the Lord Jesus Christ. Now Kimo fights for the greater glory, his theology as subtle as his tattoos–elaborate crucifixion across his broad back and the word JESUS spanning his stomach. Freckle-faced kids clamor for autographs he signs: “All things are possible through Jesus Christ, Aloha.”

Of all the fighters, though, my favorite would be Paul Varelans, the former lineman at San Jose State who makes computer chips for a living. Varelans can tell you all about plasmic beams and silicon wafers. He’s just finished the collected works of Kafka and can’t wait to get started on Howard Stern’s Miss America At six eight and more than three hundred pounds, he’s the Baby Huey of the bunch; there’s something endearing, even awkward about him. Then again, in his first UFC bout, he knocked an ex-marine cold with a single elbow to the back of the head. Lately, he’s taken to dyeing his spiky tuft of hair midnight blue and promoting his persona, the Polar Bear. “Hey,” he says, shrugging, “I’m positioning myself in the public eye.”

They’re all marketing themselves. One of them could be the next Mr. T.

“We’re in the star business,” says Meyrowitz. And there’s no question who among his cast possesses the star’s gifts in their purest form: the Tank. “Tank is a natural.” Meyrowitz pauses, producing a Cohiba cigar. “You know who he reminds me of?” The promoter begins to puff, making a show of his Cuban while waiting to answer his own question. “Tank reminds me of Roseanne.”

TANK ABBOTT is not what you’d call a classical beauty, though he does possess that je ne sais quoi, in sufficient abundance for the action-adventure circuit: bushy goatee, blue eyes so hauntingly pale as to suggest that old blind dude from Kung Fu, and a row of removable teeth, which he disengages as we sit down at a diner, just me, him, and the boyz.

He shakes his head with mock regret, trying to make some sense of his new vocation. “My modeling career just wasn’t going anywhere.”

Actually, for this job, Tank’s is practically a perfect portfolio. He has the look, that hint of blood and menace. He’s a Henry Rollins lyric, a House of Pain video, a field marshal in the war on William Bennett. He’s the white guy in the holding cell, that badass, that bar fighter, but brighter than the rest of the boyz.

The son of a football coach, Tank grew up in Huntington Beach, Orange County. He played football and wrestled in high school. He’s done some boxing and some back-alley brawling for bucks. Built like a monster truck, Tank can bench-press 625 pounds–steroid-free, he says–and binge-“blackouts,” the boyz call them–guzzling vodka by the bottle. But mostly, Tank’s preoccupation has been fucking dudes up. Mostly in bars. And mostly, except for run-ins with. ass-hole cops, it it was a blast.

Abbott has been arrested a bunch, but the most time he ever did was six months for an assault and battery he committed while on probation for public intoxication and fighting. He got out of the Orange County jail in January 1995 and six months later received his bachelor’s degree in history at Cal State-Long Beach. “I’m very into wars,” he says. “You know, ‘Nam . . .”

Hanoi, Huntington Beach, who cares? Long as there’s blood and guts. “I been fighting all my life, not like these other guys,” he says, referring to the other conspicuously well-mannered ultimate fighters. “They’re just poseurs, especially these jujitsu guys. I mean, in a bar fight, I’d rip their eyes but. You can’t lay on your back like a bitch in a bar fight. You get hit with a bottle.”

He pauses, almost wistful. “I wish bar fighting was legal.”

Yes, what a wonderful world this would be.

Tank’s been talking about snapping guys’ necks and such. He’ll go so far as to describe that special moment when he’s got the other guy down and is “punting his face” as ecstasy. Like coming,” he says.

But make no mistake. This is no simple sadist. By way of clarification, Tank declares, “I’m not homophobic. And I’m not into that white-supremacist shit. It’s just that I’d rather fight than fuck.”

He’s a man for the times, a man for the media, intuitively gifted. He can sell even his ugliest utterances with humor, intelligence, presence, and an absolute fluency in the lexicon of popular culture. He calls himself a cross between Frank Booth–the homicidal, ear-slicing, gas-sucking sicko played by Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet–and Tony Montana. He quotes from Barfly and from Raging Bull. Each chuckle is amplified with a double chuckle from the boyz. Heh… heh, heh. Sounds like Beavis and Butt-head on steroids.

After a while, you understand why they want Tank as a guest on KROQ’s Loveline or as a “celebrity spokesman” endorsing a line of surfing wear. To spend quality time with Tank is to comprehend the comparison to Roseanne. He has that capacity for stardom, a great talent, an American talent, accessible, exploitable, as cunning as it is crass, vulgar by purpose and predilection, a singular, superlative knack for shock value; in all, those gifts that quicken the blood and the breath of producers and promoters. As Shakespeare would put it, he so offends to make offense a skill. Tank’s madness is blessed with method; attempts to locate the source of his pathology are immediately undone.

“You want me to tell you my mother burned me with cigarettes, right?” A measure of satisfaction scurries across his toothless smile. “That’s what you want me to say, isn’t it?”

Of course, it is.

“Nope. It’s just in here,” he says, tapping his temple with an index finger. “I’m the all-American boy.”

The other fighters, they’re into martial arts, the disciplines–karate, judo, jujitsu, Muay Thai, kung fu, tang soo do, tae kwon do.

“Me?” says Tank. “My discipline is Bar Can Do.”

The boyz chuckle.

“I’m the Grand Master.”

And there you have it, Tank Abbott, a B movie waiting to happen.

LIVE, FROM DENVER, it’s Saturday night. Tonight’s champion will be undefeated, though probably not unbloodied, the survivor three single-elimination brawls–eight fighters in four brackets, and all but one a previous champion or finalist. Ultimate Fighting Championship VIII, billed with typical subtlety as “the Ultimate Ultimate,” was originally scheduled for one of those municipal convention centers. But after the politicians started bleating about human cockfighting; Meyrowitz moved the show to the Mammoth Gardens, which is as dark and dank as a beer hall an erstwhile roller rink. The new site seems entirely apropos, not just as a venue but as a destination. Mammoth Gardens is situated on a strip where contemporary sensibilities breed like germs in a petri dish, right there with 7-Eleven, Wendy’s, the Gold Nugget. Country Disco, and Kitty’s Adult Entertainment.

The fans arrive early and in droves, their brains blurry but eager. The line gets a little testy; you have to get through these cops at the door before you can get your seat or your beer or your twenty-eight-dollar sweatshirt. What a pain in the ass, these cops, patting everyone down for weapons. Gimme a break, man. The way these cops are, messing with everyone’s buzz, it’s easy to understand why the crowd pulls for a guy like Tank.

The homemade banners are already up: WACO, TX. SAYS SIC ‘EM TANK. The chanting cheer–Tank! Tank! Tank!–has already begun. They’re wearing Tank sweatshirts and Tank caps and Tank tank tops. Like delegates at a political convention, each fighter has his frantic patches of support. But Tank’s got a whole goddamned section. He’s got the biggest, baddest dudes. And the best-looking chicks, too.

Check out the redhead with the black boots and the leopard-print blouse. She says she’s an actress. But little else. She’s more than cute, though; she’s the pure drug. Once, her name was tattooed on Tank’s calf. Then he tattooed over it. Hey, love stinks, dude. They’ve known each other since high school. Sweet hearts. Of course, I think, it had to be this one. Either her or Camille Paglia.

“He’s always been the same–1,000 percent psychotic,” she says. “I think it’s pretty sexy.”

At that moment, one of the boyz stumbles in disheveled, high on adrenaline, his chest still heaving, fresh blood on his shirt. Just fucked up some dude outside.

The vibe is spreading though our strange assembly, this heavy-metal pep rally Kimo, the tattooed tenor who gave up crystal meth for Christ, says, “Remember in high school when somebody yelled, ‘Fight!’ and, like, everybody went, ‘Where? Who? Then they all ran to the cafeteria, or the parking lot. Well that’s still how it is. Nothing’s changed. This is just high school all grown up.”

The chant–Tank!–grows more fervent and frequent. He’s got the first match of the evening, and he’ll be the first into the Octagon. Soon, the boyz are backstage, warming up their Grand Master, hassling the black-shirted security guards and the cops trying to keep order, hassling the opponent’s entourage and, of course, the still photographer. Smacking cameras qualifies as the first prerogative of American celebrityhood. The second would be blue smoke and flashing lights, through which Tank and the boyz pass amid great cheers on their way to the Octagon. Tank loves the chance to “hurt people without going to jail,” while his opponent, Steve Jennum, is here for “the competition.” No, really. “It keeps me sharp,” he says.

Tank’s boyz are California’s version of soccer hooligans, but Jennum makes good with a few guys from back home, Omaha, Nebraska. They don’t even curse. Not that Jennum can’t fight. He’s 2-0 in UFC matches, a third-degree black belt in ninjitsu, and one helluva nice guy. “I always got along with everybody real well,” he says.

But more than that, much more, he’s a cop. The fans appreciate such deliberate brilliance in the matchmaking, such yin and yang. They boo Jennum when he’s introduced.

The fight will be quick but not nearly as violent as, say, Tank’s very first UFC fight, when he opened up this big four-hundred-pound Samoan dude’s face, knocking him unconscious and sending him into convulsions in twenty-one seconds. This match will take all of seventy-four seconds, as the cop endures a brief clutch at his Adam’s apple and a couple of shots to the body. Omaha’s finest signals submission with Tank on top, trying to push the cop’s head through the chain-link as if it were Play-Doh. No blood. Still, a murmur of satisfaction wafts over the crowd, even as Tank refuses to shake hands, as the fans reach out to touch him.

Didja see? Didja see him kick the cop’s ass?

The next three fights go fast, too. Paul Varelans, the Polar Bear, is bloodied and choked out by Dan Severn, a wrestler from Coldwater, Michigan. Varelans is slow in getting up. Later, in the triage room, he tries to tell the doctor he’s okay. But he’s not. The Polar Bear has become a teddy bear; he’s trying to hold back the tears.

Next up, the Russian, Oleg Taktarov, catches Dave Beneteau, a paramedic from Ontario, with a leg lock. On the way out, a big bald guy from Beneteau’s crew smacks a catcalling fan. Finally, a Brazilian bare-knuckle champ beats on our lowbudget Chuck Norris before choking him out. Now it’s Tank time again.

Dan “the Beast” Severn arrives in the Octagon amid a red-white-and-blue entourage, whose members include a pro wrestler and a professor of martial arts (I kid you not: Grand Canyon University) who preaches as an ordained Baptist minister on the side. They announce their guy while waving a big American flag. A smattering of fans pick up the cheer: “U-S-A! U-S-A!” That’s Severn: the flag-waving patriot, good and God-fearing, the father of four. Outside the ring, he hasn’t had a fight since maybe second grade, when some kid tried to take his milk money. He is thirty-seven, about 240 pounds, and even with those old Bruno Sammartino-style shorts, he looks like G. 1. Joe. Again we have an exaggerated conflict, good and evil, the family man versus the street fighter. Tank’s sneer speaks for him: what a corny motherfucker.

As it happens, Severn is the superior technician. About forty-five seconds into the fight, he pins Tank against the fence and starts beating on him. There’s an eighteen-minute time limit, and this one will go the distance, though nothing much will change. Severn maintains his advantage, dropping these big, crashing elbows to the head, the base of the neck, punching, slapping, ramming his knee into the ribs, adding the occasional head butt, while Tank, facedown, just takes it. The give-and-take develops its own predictably perverse cadence–thud, thud … thud, Tank’s head against the canvas. It’s not what you might expect from watching those kung fu movies. There’s none of the quick, slick choreography, no ballet to this bashing. Rather, they’re like beasts of burden, low mammals fornicating. But the closer you get, what’s graceless becomes grotesque. A member of the production staff can’t bear to watch. And no less a booster than Meyrowitz squirms in his ringside seat, his face grave with concern. Not ten feet away sits Peter McNeeley, a bum who lasted eighty-nine seconds with Mike Tyson. He’s slack-mouthed, shaking his head in awe.

“Holy shit,” he says.

For all its offense, this one-sided stalemate achieves moments of drama and even, in some crazy, pigheaded way, virtue. As the pounding continues, there comes the question, What of Tank? What of his nerve endings? Does he, in fact, have any? For no matter the blow and no matter how many, Tank will not signal submission. Neither will the boyz. They can’t throw in the towel, for they’ve brought no towel to throw.

Rival cheers go up–U-S-A! U-S-A! versus Tank? Tank! Tank! Tank!–as the partisans make themselves known, though Tank’s guys are in greater numbers, telling him, asking him, begging him, to rise.

Tank tries valiantly, pulling himself up by the fence with Severn still at his back, still pounding. He seems unimpressed with the beating, urgent only as he searches the howling crowd with those crazy Kung Fu eyes. Then the object of his attentions becomes clear. Her face yields nothing so much as an expression. The chanting becomes euphoric as he raises himself, but she remains outwardly impassive, almost motionless, tilting her head, finally clasping her hands, as if she were eyeing something entirely familiar, or abstract, a hanging in a museum, perhaps.

With 2:53 left, Tank is upright and bucking, trying some sort of reverse head butt to no great effect. This will all end with his losing by unanimous decision, the first such verdict in the UFC. As Severn is proclaimed the winner, Tank climbs over the fence on the opposite end of the Octagon and just walks away. The crowd lets loose in his honor, and while his damsel will join in none of its fevered favor, the larger point has been proved. As it pertains to endurance, Tank Abbott would draw raves from any of his screen idols–Jake LaMotta, Tony Montana or Frank Booth–as a man to make a freak art of obstinacy.

I’M FINE. JUST WISH IT could’ve kept going,” Tank says, cutting the doctor’s examination short. “There’s no time limit in the street.”

“You hurt?”

“C’mon, these guys hit like chicks. Cuff me, start kicking me in the face. That hurts.”

Tank smirks at his police escort. “You guys know what I’m talking about.”

Sure they do. But the cops are as enthralled as anyone, asking for autographed T-shirts and hats. Meyrowitz offers congratulations on the way out. So does Jennum, the police officer from Nebraska. The boyz. gather in the parking lot. The high school sweetheart has been waiting for him.

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