Ultimate fighting steps into the ring

The sport, mixing martial arts like jujitsu and Kung Fu, has been gaining support since its first championship.

Vincent Staupe

Amid blaring music and pulsing lights, crews prepped a circular cage filled with scantily-clad dancers for a round of ultimate fighting.

It was Thursday evening, and more than a thousand people piled into the Myth Nightclub in Maplewood, eager for nose-bleeding action.

Backstage, in the chaotic midst of promoters, fighters and coaches rushing in and out of the locker room, journalism junior Joe Halvorson, his face coated with Vaseline, prepared for his fight.

“I’m just trying to relax and keep a clear mind,” he said as he shadow boxed in the corner of the makeshift locker room.

Later that evening, Halvorson and other male and female fighters from across the region fought inside a cage before a rowdy crowd.

New Richmond, Wis., resident and Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College student Anna Owens said she came to the event, which was sponsored by night-life promoter EFX, to support several friends who were fighting.

“Plus, it’s fun to watch a bunch of guys and chicks beat the crap out of each other,” Owens said.

Halvorson said ultimate fighting – or more officially, mixed martial arts – is the new combat sport for today’s generation.

According to the Ultimate Fighting Championship Web site, mixed martial arts is a combat sport in which competitors use “interdisciplinary forms of fighting,” including jujitsu, judo, kickboxing and wrestling in a supervised match.

The sport gained popularity in the United States around 1993, when well-known fighter Royce Gracie won the first Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Since then, the sport’s popularity has continually increased, Halvorson said, due in part to cable and pay-per-view specials devoted to this type of fighting.

In addition, Halvorson said, mixed martial arts fans, particularly those who used to be boxing fans, see ultimate fighting as a newer, unique sport.

“They see in mixed martial arts a more open sport, a more exciting sport,” he said.

Halvorson, who said he usually trains three to four days a week before a fight, originally became interested in fighting after finding a photo of his grandfather in a 1940s issue of Ring Magazine, the self-proclaimed “Bible of boxing.”

He began his career with Kung Fu lessons at age 12, but when he started to take boxing lessons two years later, he knew he needed more diverse training.

“Despite that I had a black belt in Kung Fu, all that experience just went right out the window the first time I got hit,” he said.

The actual reason he continues to fight – besides the fact that it pays better than his day job – is complicated, Halvorson said.

“As a student of the game, I’m trying to explore all of the different interpretations of what it means to fight,” he said. “I think of each fight as a learning experience.”

And if Thursday night’s fight against opponent Brandon Foxworth was any indication, Halvorson learned a hard lesson.

The fight itself lasted only several minutes, ending when Halvorson was caught by a “heel hook” and slammed into a corner of the cage.

Although Foxworth won, Halvorson said he will continue to fight when opportunities arise. He’ll also start coaching jujitsu at a New Brighton gym in January.

But he has laid down the terms for his fighting retirement.

“I’ll quit when my nose breaks,” Halvorson said. “Until that happens, I’ll keep trying my luck.”