Picture the scene, the main event had just finished, the champion retains his belt. But rather than the elated crowd you’d expect, the venue is nearly empty. The defeated challenger hasn’t stopped badgering the referee and neither has his corner team, all while a lady (who I presume is romantically linked with the challenger) is being held back by security from breaking into the cage. The champion laps it up, acting like a true heel, simulating masturbation in the faces of the losing party’s friends. It’s an incredibly strange end to an incredibly strange fight card. That didn’t matter one iota though, as strange it was I was completely entertained throughout.
I’ve been involved with MMA for nearly five years now, mainly as a fighter, but also as an extra pair of hands that are always willing to help out promoters and friends at events. On this occasion, my closest training partners needed someone to host some pre and post-fight interviews. Not being one to turn down a free invite to watch fighting, I accepted. The event was Solid Impact, held in the Hilton Hotel in Bradford, and my what an event it turned out to be.
As we arrived the first fight was about to start. A cage boxing bout between two ladies in the flyweight division, who then spend three rounds brawling to high hell. The fight really set the tone for the rest of the card. Obviously cage boxing isn’t usual for a pure MMA show but the promoter had booked more “spectacle” fights than competitive battles. I took a seat and watched the ladies throw down. I scanned the fight card, there were a few names I recognised. The names of men who are well known for not trying very hard, all of whom were matched up against local boys who will have sold hundreds of tickets.
Having never been to a show at this venue, we had no idea where the changing rooms were. We walked around the hotel, checked every floor and eventually found the warm up area on the sixth floor (after checking every damn nook and cranny from the ground to the 5th). The interviews went without a hitch as every fighter we spoke to was courteous, well spoken, and humble. A true testament to the gentlemen that take part in this fighting business.
Once the first part of the job was out of the way I got the chance to watch some more organised violence. I watched as a bloke who’d declined an interview was pitted against a guy who lived five minutes away from the venue. The support the local fighter had was massive, his reception was electric. As his name was announced, he did the throat cut gesture and made it clear his foe was in for a kicking. Then the fight started. The man brought in to lose didn’t look like he was going to lose. His jab was lightning. His shots definitely stung. The local fighter was knocked down but saved by the bell and the look of desperation on his corner’s face was the absolute opposite of the ringer’s corner – who spent most of the minute between rounds laughing. The local fighter came out strong, he shot a deep double but pure grit allowed his opponent to get back to his feet. Back on the feet, the journeyman leapt in with a lead left hook that absolutely flattened the popular ticket seller.
One communal gasp lead to a minute or so of quiet muttering, punctuated by the rapture of the fighter and his corner. Fifteen feet or so away from me, two chairs get flung and security rushes to action. I back up to the wall and let the violence take its course. I see so many phones in the air trying to capture the ruckus and wonder how many Snapchats will be sent. Eventually, the mini riot is stopped and the winner is announced.
We follow him and his team out and get an interview with his cornerman, well known journeyman Reece ‘Coronation’ Street. He tells us that his fighter had only moved to the UK recently and spoke no English, he just turned up at his gym and asked for fights. He has a fight tonight so we talk about that. Reece is going to be the smaller man and he’s also going against a ticket seller.
There are more fights with more very local fighters on, team Fulinkazan is literally a five-minute walk from the venue and they bring an army of support with them as their fighters put on winning performances. There’s another instance of the favourite losing, causing another minor scuffle, which unfortunately results in the police taking someone away. Reece ‘Sesame’ Street gets manhandled by a very impressive looking local fighter making his début, and the crowd goes ballistic. It’s hard not to get swept up in it. I know Reece ‘Downing’ Street is the constant underdog and surely his losses outweigh his wins, but the way he was put away was extremely athletic and equally brutal.
Finally it was main event time. I’ve already spoilered you how it ends in the opening paragraph – now for some context. The fight was a heavyweight cage boxing title fight between the defending champion (from here on out referred to as The Honey Monster) and his opponent, clad in the claret and amber of Bradford City FC. The Honey Monster clearly had a big size, reach and weight advantage but the challenger had a secret weapon, a cacaphanous crowd of 20 or so very, very drunk people.
Thirty seconds into the fight I realise how this is going to go down. The Honey Monster absolutely swarms the challenger against the fence, giving him no space, landing blow after blow, some blocked, most not. He’s bleeding, he’s hurt, he takes a knee. Referee Danny Welsh steps in, however the challenger doesn’t take the count. Instead he springs to his fight and starts smacking ‘The Honey Monster’ in the back his head while his chorus of boozehounds scream bloody murder. Ref regains control and asks the challenger what he thinks he’s doing, he doesn’t seem to realise that he can’t do that and eventually calms down and answers his count with a very stern warning. They meet in the middle, both fired up, and trade. The Honey Monster is clearly breaking his foe down and he drops again. Ref comes for another count. Same thing again. Fight over. Champion retains by DQ.
The challenger, his corner and his inebriated fans go absolutely ballistic. The room starts to evacuate while they scream every word under the sun about how The Honey Monster cheated and it shouldn’t be stopped, and how he cheated and how the referee is a wanker, and how he cheated and how this was bullshit. The Honey Monster doesn’t seem to care and responds in kind, laying on the abuse as security try and do their job, and me and the guys I came with file out.
On the drive home we review the footage we’ve captured, all of which has come out OK, and go back over the entire fight card. None of us use the term ‘freak show’ but we all definitely think it. Are freak show fights and events a bad thing? Pride FC was a freak show organisation and was the best in the world at one point. Hell, Bellator loves a good freak show and they’re number two in the world right now! None of the punters today paid any more than £35 to get in, and they got way more than £35 of entertainment.
Thank you to Solid Impact and Kiru, Pav and Sal of Infamous Media.