"The Hurt Business" is a multi-part series that goes inside a professional MMA fight gym to examine the hidden lives of pro fighters and watch as fortunes rise and fall over the course of one calendar year. This is Part One: A Hard Winter.
* * * * *PART 1 [03.08.12]PART 2 [03.15.12]PART 3 [03.22.12]
Mar 22, 2012 - A few minutes before the first bout a woman walks up the steps to the cage and through its open doors, shedding her clothes effortlessly as she goes. She is in no particular hurry. She removes her top in one clean motion and hardly seems to break stride as she ditches her pants. By the time she’s in the cage she is completely naked. The sparse crowd whistles nervously, like they feel it’s expected of them, and the woman puts her arms up like a gymnast who has just stuck the landing. Look at me. I’m naked.
No one -- including her -- seems to know what to do next.
It is not quite 7 p.m. on a Saturday night in Denver, Colo. The spring rain has been falling in buckets all day long. Outside there are people still lined up in front of the National Western Complex box office, huddling forward to try and get under some sort of cover as they decide whether it’s worth it to pony up the extra 20 bucks and upgrade from general admission to the $50 seats up front. The fighters are crowded into one backstage area, trying to untie the knots in their stomachs and resisting the urge to look around the flimsy partition for a glimpse of their opponents. The ring girls on loan from the local Hooters jab at their cell phones with perfectly manicured fingernails.
No one has even had the chance to get properly drunk on seven-dollar beers yet, but somehow there is already a naked woman in the cage.
It’s a situation that the local security team seems unprepared for. What are you supposed to do about a female streaker, anyway? You’re not going to tackle her to the ground. That could easily be taken the wrong way. Besides, nobody seems particularly upset about her presence here at all. The naked woman pauses awkwardly inside the cage, as if she hasn’t thought even a second past this very moment. She leaves through the opposite door, walks a few feet to an open space in the floor and stops, as if waiting to be scooped up by smirking security guards. But no, still nothing. Might as well put her clothes back on and head out. The night is still young.
No one is in any danger of confusing Denver’s Fight to Win organization with the big time. It’s one of two regional fight promotions in the area, but thanks to the prevalence of MMA gyms throughout Colorado -- where the Grudge Training Center is still the juggernaut that other gyms despise and envy and emulate -- there’s now more than enough talent to go around. Tonight’s "Outlaws" fight card will feature 12 total fights, including at least one former UFC fighter and a female main event featuring a former Strikeforce women’s title challenger.
It will also feature a Johnny Cash tribute band that plays during intermission, and a horrible sound system that blares garbled club mixes the rest of the time. It’s the kind of event where, backstage, you’ll see one fighter warming up with a little shadow-boxing just a few feet away from another who’s getting his head stitched up after things didn’t go his way. It’s the kind of event where it’s not at all uncommon to see a fighter go straight from the locker room to the concession stand for a beer after his fight, then down it shirtless and with handwraps still on, grinning through the bruises and just waiting for some girl to happen by and say, ‘Hey, aren’t you one of those fighter guys?’ as if he could make it any more obvious. It’s the kind of event where tomorrow’s hangovers and concussion-related headaches take shape before your eyes. Where every winning fighter seems to have an after-party at a downtown bar that he can’t wait to tell the crowd about, despite a P.A. system that cuts in and out during his big victory speech.READ MORE