I Ventured Into An Underground Fight Club. I’m Still Conflicted About What Happened That Day.

I am a fat, bald 32-year-old waiting to get my ass kicked behind a sports bar.

I’m not a fighter, nor an athlete. Growing up, I never participated in a sport. Actually, my dad told me to never try out for sports because he didn’t want to take me to practice. I just gave him a thumbs-up and went back to playing PlayStation.

I beat whatever game I was playing, and maybe 200 more, and that’s (tragically) a serviceable recap of the past 15 years of my life.

That’s why I decided to participate in STREETBEEFS (they spell it in ALL CAPS, so I WILL TOO).

STREETBEEFS is an amateur backyard fighting organization founded to quash interpersonal conflicts and quell street violence. STREETBEEFS’ creator goes by the name Scarface, and, as you might have guessed, Scarface has a checkered past. One day, Scarface got into a bar fight, during which he had an epiphany about the senselessness of street violence as he was being stabbed in the neck.

To provide a safer outlet for aggression, he eventually founded STREETBEEFS, and for years, Scarface acted like a storm tracker for street violence, seeking out the rumblings of hatred and drama, and coaxing would-be felons into his makeshift fighting ring to settle their disputes with gloves instead of guns.

Today, STREETBEEFS operates as an unsanctioned amateur fighting organization. All comers are welcome. Beef is rare.

I saw the opportunity to create a blip on the radar of my monotonous life, and I went for it. I signed up on its Facebook page and got an invitation three weeks before the fight.

Before I get into the flagrant insanity of participating in STREETBEEFS, it’s worth noting that there are four independently run STREETBEEFS branches. I would be fighting for STREETBEEFS DIRTY SOUTH, which is the newest branch and almost certainly the least organized. Quality and standards do vary.

Anyway, right. The insanity.

As a participant in STREETBEEFS, you don’t know who you’re fighting until the day of the event. Your opponent could be a 5-foot-tall kung fu practitioner or a highly conditioned kickboxer. They could be a young street fighter, or perhaps even a big, tall, inexperienced goober whose fighting skill comes from many years of throwing punches and kicks while watching UFC fights. You know, someone like me.

Mismatches are commonplace. One-sided beatdowns can and do happen. Some effort is put into matching fighters based on their experience, but again, standards vary. There’s no governmental oversight because no money is exchanging hands.

Despite signing up far in advance, I didn’t know I was selected until the month of the event. You know you’re confirmed to fight when the top secret fight location (it was a sports bar) is sent to the chosen participants. And that’s when I decided to begin training.

I tried to get into the mindset of a fighter. I wanted the mere utterance of my name to intimidate my opponent, so I signed up under the name Corpus Fisty. I started hitting the gym.

Three weeks passed quickly and there I was in Dallas, pulling into the gravel parking lot of a rickety sports bar flanked by a row of cars, fighters all. A few people were standing out front laughing and wrapping their hands as I walked inside.

The interior of the bar was a desolate corridor so unlit and unwelcoming, it practically ejected me out the side door, to the back, where everyone was gathering.

The author playing video games.
The author playing video games.

One half of the back lot was grassy, then it transitioned into sand and a string of volleyball courts. Dozens of people were gathered here and there on the grassy side. Some were sitting at tables, some standing around idly, others warming up themselves and each other ― hitting mitts, clinching, chatting about fighting techniques. The “Rocky” theme song was playing from a speaker on the wall.

I stood around stretching until STREETBEEFS DIRTY SOUTH’s head honcho, we’ll call him Caden Ross, called everyone to the center for matchmaking.

One by one, he called out weight classes: “155 … 165 … 175 …” and each time, the men in those weight classes (or perhaps I should say, the men who claimed to be in those weight classes, as I never saw anyone set foot on a scale) stepped forward and were paired up based on the martial art in which they wanted to fight. You can choose from boxing, kickboxing, or mixed martial arts.

Heavyweight came around, which Ross counted as everyone 205 pounds or more, and I walked forward. A friendly looking man clarified, by weighing exactly 205 pounds, was he being counted as a heavyweight? He was.

Ross asked us who wanted to box. All but a few raised their hands. He asked who wanted to kickbox. The friendly man raised his hand alone. Who wanted to do MMA? I and two others raised their hands. Ross looked at the friendly man and back at us and asked, “Would anybody else be willing to kickbox?” I thought back to my only actual combat experience ― a miserable year of jujitsu. I had come with the intention of fighting in MMA, to get the full experience of a fight, but I was being offered an excuse to not have to grapple.

I raised my hand. It was done.

During the live matchmaking, there was no discussion of our STREETBEEFS fight record, nor our fight experience. I had included that information in the original sign-up, but now I was being matched up with some friendly man I outweighed by 40 pounds, and neither of us had a clue as to what the other was capable of. He never stopped smiling.

Some time passed. We had been given our official fight numbers: I was fighting ninth out of a possible 25 or so. A young, portly guy with bright blue eyes was standing next to me. He had on a blank black T-shirt and he was slowly miming punches.

“Man, I just can’t wait to get in there,” he said, without turning toward me. I paused, trying to figure out if he wanted to talk.

“Yeah,” he responded. He was still facing forward. “Last time, I got knocked the fuck out.”

“Oh shit. That’s cool that you’re back at it,” I offered. “Have you been training?”

“Yeah, I go to a boxing gym.” He turned to me then.

“Nice. I’m Chris, by the way,” I told him.

We shook hands. He said his name was Jacob and told me the main reason he wanted to win was to prove something to his roommate, Luke. His roommate, apparently, was quite muscular, popular with women, and just generally — Jacob felt — exceeded him in every way but one. Fighting was Jacob’s thing. The thing Luke didn’t do. Jacob’s one source of pride.

Jacob was talking about what he wanted to do differently in this fight when Luke approached us. He was indeed muscular. On his Instagram, which I looked up later, he calls himself a personal trainer, entrepreneur and weight loss specialist.

“Oh, here he is,” Jacob motioned. “Luke, meet Chris.”

Luke shook my hand and looked at me and I did not like the way he looked at me. Luke handed me a promotional flyer for his personal training. I let him know that I don’t live in Dallas and he took back his flyer.

“We were just talking about what I plan to do differently in the fight,” Jacob said.

“Like, not getting knocked out?” Luke responded. He smiled at me and his eyes seemed to want to give me a high-five.

“Heh … yeah,” Jacob said. Luke soon excused himself and left. I struggled not to reveal my inner dialogue.

“Your roommate kind of … seems … like a douche.”

The author training for his STREETBEEFS match.
The author training for his STREETBEEFS match.

Jacob said he really wanted to win this time. I wanted Jacob to win more than I wanted myself to win.

I stretched some more. I tried to spot my opponent in the crowd and I saw where he was resting with his family. He was still smiling.

Fight No. 8 began, and I was next at 9. Jacob had helped me wrap my hands, and I was jumping up and down trying to get the blood pumping. I wasn’t sure what mindset I was trying to get into. In fact, my mind was blank, and I wasn’t watching the fight. I didn’t know what happened until I saw a fighter being physically carried out of the cage, wincing and shaking. Apparently he broke his leg when he threw a kick into his opponent’s shin.

“All right, you’re up,” I heard. No time to think about that now. I was waved into the cage. I went in.

I knew what I should be feeling. I should be terrified. My heart should be pounding. My mind should be racing. My adrenaline should be “dumping,” whatever that means.

It wasn’t. I was calm. The main thing on my mind was the acute awareness that I was being stared at and judged by a crowd. I think the complete lack of experience sparring or fighting had me unaware of how nervous I really should be. I felt like I was good at punching and kicking, so I thought maybe my smiling opponent wouldn’t even land a single blow. I was too delusional to be scared.

After some pre-fight instructions, the “cameraman” (he was using a cellphone) brought the “camera” (phone) up close to me and I shouted out my social media in a silly way I had rehearsed. I had more to say but the cameraman took his phone away from me and Ross signaled the start of the fight.

We touched gloves and I began circling a bit. The first blow I threw was a front kick directly to my opponent’s groin. I gestured in apology and we continued. Next, I threw a leg kick, which he perfectly blocked with his shin. The pain was acute and instantaneous. By being too calm for an adrenaline dump, there were no helpful hormones masking my misery. I felt everything. I remembered the previous fighter breaking his leg. I stopped throwing leg kicks.

I tried throwing some jabs and right hands, which he blocked. I threw an occasional kick to the body. When he backed me up against the cage, I tried to use head movement to avoid any punches and then circle out back to the center. I tried to stay as active and evasive as possible. Lots of big movements. Lots of big strikes. I felt like I was actually doing well.

And then I gassed. I don’t think a full minute had elapsed before my body violently slammed on the brakes. One minute. That’s all I had in the tank. It hurts to admit, but it makes perfect sense. Sure, I had done all the cardio I could muster for three weeks straight, but, needless to say, you can’t undo a decade of inactivity and drinking in less than one month.

So I started taking damage. Throughout the fight, I had forgone the fundamental defensive strategy of blocking in favor of evasive movement. As soon as the lethargy settled in, I couldn’t move out of the way anymore, yet I still wasn’t blocking with my hands.

The first solid punch he landed to my jaw sat me down. I stood up in time for the 10 count, and then got beat up some more before the round ended.

The shortest one minute of my life ensued, as I desperately gasped for air and got pelted with advice from various members of the crowd. The common thread seemed to be that I should breathe. I tried, but something was wrong with the air. It was just … empty. It was Diet Air.

I can’t recall the play-by-play of the second round but I don’t think it took long for him to knock me down again, and this time I called off the fight. I knew I had it in me to stand up again, but I didn’t have it in me to defend myself anymore, so I didn’t see the point in making him finish me off.

I was relieved it was over and happy neither of us got hurt, and I decided to stick around for Jacob’s fight. He wasn’t fighting for at least an hour so I rested in my car and thought about what I could have done differently. When we met back up, Jacob had distressing news.

A selfie the author took after his STREETBEEFS match.
A selfie the author took after his STREETBEEFS match.

His roommate Luke had fought ― and won. Apparently he was standing around looking muscular when a fighter withdrew from a fight that was about to start. Luke agreed to fill in and won by submission.

“Now I have to win,” Jacob said.

Soon, Jacob’s turn to fight came up. He asked me if I would corner him (be there by the cage to give advice between rounds). I agreed.

Jacob entered the cage with the intensity of a deranged animal. He never broke eye contact with his opponent, and on his face he wore the expression of a wrestling heel cutting a promo. He was delirious with violent intent. I was riveted.

The fight started and Jacob’s opponent came swinging wildly. Jacob covered up and swung back when he could, equally wild. And so they went for an entire round of boxing both manic and sloppy, yet totally thrilling.

Round 2 was more of the same — fists flying every direction the human shoulder allows. Both men were exhausted, though, unlike me, they just kept going.

After Round 2 I could see Jacob was running on fumes, but I also could see his opponent was really struggling. I knew he might give up soon.

“Jacob, I know you’re tired, but look at him! He’s way more fucking tired than you!” I told him. In this moment I was his grizzled coach, spiritually yoked to my young protégé and desperate to live on through his glory. “You’re outlasting him Jacob, don’t give up! You’ve got this!”

He did. Jacob found some final hidden store of energy, and less than a minute into Round 3, his opponent quit. He just walked right out of the cage. No más.

I was ecstatic ― consumed by happiness for him. Totally inspired. His intensity, his tenacity. He did it.

And that’s why I’m conflicted in condemning STREETBEEFS. I witnessed firsthand the camaraderie and personal triumph emblematic of competing in such an absurd, high-risk endeavor. Everyone there, for the most part, understands what they’re getting into. They know there’s no real reward for winning; their own perceived glory is enough.

On the other hand — and I’m not sure how to say this nicely — it’s a stupid fucking thing to do. Even when highly regulated, with sanctioned referees, with anti-doping measures, with proper weigh-ins, with professional matchmaking, (and I could go on), fistfighting is highly dangerous. To choose to fight someone for no reason, for no pay, with none of the above safety measures, and probably with no health insurance, is ludicrous to me.

And I knew all that when I signed up. So why did I do it? Because I just wanted to fight. And why did I feel that desire?

Possibly for the same reason most other people do. Because at some point in our past, someone made us feel weak. Someone made us feel helpless. I don’t think very many well-adjusted people feel any desire whatsoever to prove they’re good at punching people. It’s clear that “Fight Club” got it wrong. The truth is, most people would not join a movement if the sign-up bonus was a punch to the face.

It seems like an interest in fighting is almost like your psyche victim-blaming you for being mistreated in the past. Like, maybe you deserved it, for being so pathetic. Maybe if you get better at fighting, no one can ever make you feel as helpless as you once felt. Then you nurture that reaction too long and before you know it, you’re throwing 1,000 uppercuts a day in the mirror because, what if your dad comes back from the grave and has a tendency to duck his head down as he delivers his skeleton slap? You’ll need a solid uppercut, right? Maybe that’s my own thing.

But I’m done with all that. Dispelling this entry in my grimoire has left me looking for new forms of magic. Corpus Fisty is retired, 0-1. He is defeated, but I am not. He is done fighting, but for me, at 32, it feels like the fight has finally begun.

Note: Names and some identifying details have been changed in this piece to protect the privacy of the individuals mentioned. STREETBEEFS is now featuring videos of some of its matches, but the author’s match has not been made available.

Chris Hollis is a writer currently residing in Austin, Texas.

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