Watching a Cagefight

Watching a Cagefight

Mike Wilkins MMA victory

I first met Mike Wilkins at Mad Dog Gym a few years ago. It’s a little gym in the back corner of a tattoo parlor. Inside, you’ll find mats, punching bags, and screaming death metal. I was new to the world of MMA, and in between getting slammed, spraining my neck, and being caught in bicep slicers on a nightly basis I met Mike. He was a friendly guy with an oddly likeable alpha-male persona. These days, we train together at the Renzo Gracie Pittsburgh Academy in Lawrenceville.

Two weeks ago, a bunch of us drove out to Altoona, PA on a chilly fall Saturday night to support the “Monongahela Miracle”. I made the two hour drive with two whiny teenagers, and was all too happy to arrive at the arena. As soon as I parked, I literally ran to the door of the auditorium.

I arrived 45 minutes late, but it was no big deal. There were a bunch of amateur fights on the card, and Mike’s fight was second to last. As I entered the auditorium, the first thing I heard was the sickening slap of a shin guard against another man’s cup. The crowd booed and groaned, and the hapless victim had a minute to recover. I surveyed the surroundings, looking for my friends. The seats were packed with folks from every walk of life. I saw casual fans, hardcore fans, nursing mothers, guys in XXXL Tapout shirts, and numerous old folk.

I found my friends from the Jiu-Jitsu Academy and sat down, getting cozy and catching up with the results of the previous fights. Only 8 feet away from me was the cage, and I could see two men locked in fierce combat. One man was pressed against the fence, defending the takedown, while the other man was working tenaciously to plant his opponent on his back. After a while, the ref broke them apart for stalling. Time to grab a beer.

Later in the event, they finally announced our teammate Mike Wilkins. We all stood and cheered–unbridled screaming, beer cans spilling, strobe lights inducing far away seizures… I could go on with this, but the English language has only two words which adequately sum up the experience: BUCK WILD. Yes, we ALL went BUCK WILD.

The fight started like I’d imagined. Mike was a ferocious southpaw, and immediately worked his clinching game. I’ve sparred with Mike in the past. He’s one of those guys that doesn’t hit you as hard as he can, but only as hard as you need to be hit. The high point of the fight was watching Mike and his opponent just a few feet from us, clinched against the cage. You could hear them grunting and trying to knee each other. I felt like Mike was the DJ and I had requested my favorite song, “Knees to the Head”. Mike must have worn his tin foil hat that night, because he instantly whipped those knees up in the face of his poor foe. In the second round, Mike got his opponent belly down and battered him like a lanky white blonde gorilla. He slipped in the choke, his foe tapped, and the ref stepped in.

As the fight ended, I could already imagine tomorrow’s updated Sherdog MMA profile: “Mike Wilkins-Win-Round Two-Rear Naked Choke”. I feel like those quick factoids we see on the profiles of our favorite fighters fail to capture the immense drama of two men (or women) locked in a cage in the fiercest struggle imaginable. It’s a glorious thing, this challenge of the human spirit we call a “cage fight” — to battle your equal in the most fundamental score-settling manner as humanly possible.

If you haven’t ever seen a cage fight live, you should.

– Casey