This was their night, their fight.
UFC – or Ultimate Fighting Championship – brought its Fight for the Troops to the Crown Coliseum and to thousands across the country watching it live on cable television. Music blared as each competitor walked to the Octagon, the eight-sided caged UFC ring. The sport’s biggest stars, Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell and heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar shook hands and signed autographs for Fort Bragg soldiers.
By the end of the night, fans phoned in $4 million in donations for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, an organization that will build a Bethesda, Md., facility for the treatment of traumatic brain injuries experienced by troops fighting overseas. Bill White, president of Intrepid, said it was the most money the organization had ever raised in three hours.
“We’ve got to be there for these troops,” White said. “They fight for us, and we’ve got to fight for them.”
It’s just one sign of how popular mixed martial arts has become among soldiers and civilians alike. MMA is a full-contact combat sport. It earned a It
Mixed martial arts had a reputation in the 1990s for violence and limited safety rules, but more recent mainstream acceptance has brought about tightened guidelines and leagues like the UFC. But make no mistake, players do not pull any punches – or kicks, throws and pins.
"This is the style of fighting we do on a daily basis,” said Curt Fincher, a soldier in the sea of soldiers cheering on the UFC fighters at the Crown. “U.S. Army combatants consist of so many martial arts. It means a lot for UFC guys who use those skills to come to Fayetteville and give back to us."
Fayetteville even has its own famous mixed martial arts fighter. Tim Kennedy is a Fort Bragg Special Forces soldier who just returned from serving in Afghanistan. He also holds a record as an undefeated player in the now-defunct International Fight League. Within days of his homecoming, he was back in the training ring at Team ROC off Reilly Road.
On a recent night after work, Kennedy bounced off the cage and lunged at his training partner, landing a punch in one smooth motion. He had been a successful amateur mixed martial arts competitor before he decided to fight professionally. Then, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, inspired a different call.
"I think every American, at some point in their life, should do something to serve their country," Kennedy said. "I went to a recruiter two weeks (after Sept. 11) and told him that I wanted to be in Afghanistan tomorrow."
Kennedy’s military career comes before the one in mixed martial arts. He cannot compete in the UFC because the league requires athletes to work full time. But he still has several matches scheduled and hopes to recruit for Special Forces so he can represent the Army in the ring.
“With my family’s encouragement and the Army affording me the opportunity, I could get every middleweight belt there is,” Kennedy said. “I know I’m better than the guys who have them.”
Opponents better get ready. Kennedy is ready to pounce.
At Elite Training Center, Hakim Isler gives mixed martial arts an entire new meaning. He teaches a street survival class at his downtown studio. Students start out in the classroom, learning practical methods to stay safe if they are attacked. The class gradually moves through three phases, eventually making their way to the actual streets for final practice.
“We’re proactive,” Isler said. “If somebody has a gun, knife or bat, or is trying to choke you, what do you do? I try to train people for these things.”
At a recent class at the Hay Street studio, students practiced escape holds for chokeholds and headlocks with elbows to the sternum, crotch and chin, leg sweeps and side slams. They threw punches and kicks at padded classmates. Isler showed them how to knock weapons to the side, injure the attacker and flee.
Dauphine Sisk is one of Isler’s students. She says she often walks by herself for exercise; now she feels more confident exercising solo.
Sisk says she likes the cardio benefits of the class, too. "It is really fun and a great workout.”
Brian and Kalyn Dukes, husband and wife, attend the class together. He had studied martial arts several years ago and wanted to come back. Combining ancient forms of martial arts with modern situations intrigued him. “The street survival class is a great application for today’s world,” he said.
Extreme sports may seem like a boy’s club, but twice a week at the Round-A-Bout skating rink, behind the Eutaw Shopping Center, it’s strictly ladies first.
Guys watch out, Samoa Pain, Evl Grl, Leif Mia Lone and Shady Sadie are in the house.
The Rogue Rollergirls – not rouge, thank you very much – Fayetteville’s roller derby team, is fast, tough and not afraid to fight. West Coast Ma Fia came back after breaking her leg in three places; she now skates with a steel rod in her leg. Leatherneck is a Marine Corps veteran. Hard Mod Mo is an Army staff sergeant. When they’re not skating, Leif Mia Lone and Crystal Chaos compete as wrestlers at Ring Warriors Carolina in Hope Mills.
They are housewives, mothers, students and professionals. But come game day, they don fishnet stockings, face paint, rainbow-striped socks, knee pads, helmets and their signature camouflage uniforms. No one calls them Mom, ma’m or even by their Christian names. Their game names are splayed on the backs of their shirts, the more colorful the better.
The Rollergirls participate in a fast-paced competition called a bout with three 20-minute sessions that feature two teams of five players skating counter-clockwise around a thin oval track. Here’s how it works: players are either blockers or jammers. Jammers force their way through the pack of skaters and score points when they do. Blockers do their best to stop the opposing jammers, but they also have to help their own jammers move through the pack. The jam is over either when it is called off by the lead jammer or when the jam time reaches two minutes. Then it starts all over.
“Women have very little choice in organized sports once they get out of college,” says Rachel Sumja, a team founder. “Rogue Rollergirls gives women in Fayetteville and the surrounding areas a competitive sport to participate in.”
For a town the size of Fayetteville, Mary Achey says the team is as large and competitive as those from bigger cities. “I think the military has a lot to do with it,” she said. Some service members or military wives know they’re not here long so, “They make an impact as soon as they can.”
She says they also come equipped with discipline and a drive to set goals and accomplish them. Maureen “Mo” Bak says the women who play derby are competitive, but off the rink, there is a sense of camaraderie. “There’s a sisterhood,” she said. “It’s an aggressive, tough sport, but it’s still very feminine.”
The Rollergirls usually attract several hundred fans, women and men, for their bouts. The Rollergirls have a bout set for Feb. 15 against the Soul City Sirens, their Augusta, Ga., rivals. Fans will stack the bleachers. A professional announcer will give the play-by-play. And a few brave souls will even step inside the rink for the “suicide seats.”
Watch out, it might get extreme.