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Caged Rage on the Highveld

The Rage in Randburg

by Andrew Thompson / 03.08.2009

Finally! I thought, as the thick red blood pulsed out of the furious fighter’s right ear. Blood! I’d sat in this sweaty unlit gym hall for nearly 2 hours without so much as a drop of the red stuff. But now it was thumping out by the gallon-full, in time with his solid heart beat. He lifted his glove to his unprotected ear and let out a, “Fuuck!” loud enough for the whole crowd to hear, despite our cheers and jeers. But this skin-head bastard wasn’t swearing because he’d have to swing past the ER on the way home. No sir. He was pissed off because he thought it meant the end of his fight, that the over-zealous ref would call it right there. But his trainer in the corner quickly pulled him aside, diluted the gash with water, wiped it off with a sweaty white towel and pushed him back into the ring, ready to throw another punch.

I’d received the message at 5:30 PM. Cage fighting in Randburg. Pick you up at 6.45? Even for the softies among us, it’s an invitation that’s hard to refuse, especially on a Thursday night, when the alternative is falling asleep in front of 5 year-old Ultimate Survival reruns on the telly.

Cage fighting is big business around the world, particularly in the States, and episode after episode of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was forced onto me by my redneck American roommate earlier in the year. By the end, he’d damn near turned me into one of those blood thirsty assholes who wear stained ‘This Is My Beer Drinking Shirt’ t-shirts, who live to see near-death experiences right there in the ring. The kind of person I most despise.

But when I walked through the doors to this pseudo fight club in the ‘Burg, I actually chuckled. There was no massive barb-wire lined steel cage, no fancy lighting and lasers, and definitely no blood-spattered heavies slugging it out in the middle until they collapsed in pools of blood. Afraid not. All we had was a tiny boxing ring that looked more like the kind you’d find at a kids party, that usually come with those over-sized gloves, perched in the middle of a stark hall. In the middle of the ring, two kids, their heads only just higher than the ropes, were tamely slugging it out. Despite their feather-weight, with every step they took the whole ring shook and threatened to collapse, and the lights balanced above it, the only lighting in the entire hall, wobbled precariously. In the back, just in front of a stage fit for a school production and next to tables with stewing buffet dishes and tall-hatted chefs, were the organisers’ menacing, branded double-cabs.

When the school-yard scrap eventually ended, with only a handful of punches landed, a middle-aged man sporting a black bow-tie slipped through the ropes into the ring. He mumbled something inaudible into the budget PA system, and the ref raised one of the kids’ hands towards the darkness above. A sexy lady in impossibly high heels followed shortly after, embarrassed to be brandishing a cheap corrugated plastic board around the ring – the kind Pam Golding might use – that read Round One.

This went on for hours – fighter after fighter with egos bigger than their punches stood up to each other, sparred it out for a while, and then collapsed exhausted on their plastic stools after a couple of meagre rounds. Unfit fucks. Next to me a bloke sporting a K-Way jacket looked on largely disinterested, only occasionally glancing up to blurt, “DON’T STOP. DON’T STOP!” when he saw the fighters slowing down.

So you can understand that after all this I was vying for some action, a spot of blood. And when it came, the atmosphere soared. Proper punches started flowing freely, and deep-red welts that looked like cricket bat klaps started popping up on the increasingly heavier fighters.

Soon the gloves and head protection were dropped for the Mixed Martial Arts fights, and the sickening sound of fists hitting cheek bones and knees diving deep into solo-plexuses rang out between the whistling and shouting of the Joburg-wannabe-heavies in the audience. By the time the heavyweights took to the ring the thing damn near collapsed under their feet, and every time one of them was thrown against the ropes the crowd gasped, probably hoping, like me, that they’d land in a heap, WWE style, onto the cheap VIP tables at its base.

Now Joburg has its fair share of aggro – you just need to spend a Friday evening in Rivonia to find out that out. And nowhere else was it more on show than at this dodgy little hall. Blokes with gelled short back and sides hairstyles waddled around with their arms stiff at their sides, ready to box anyone that checked them skeef. It was ous like these who took the fights very seriously, often booming things like, “Come on BOY! KLAP HIM!” KLAP HIM!! YES! YESSS!!”. And while that was nothing short of hilarious, it was the fighters’ entourages who provided the most comic relief. There’s nothing better than laughing at people who take themselves too seriously, especially those who think they’re particularly tough, and the hoodied crew who trailed the fighters from what looked like a commentators box high in the shadows, provided the night’s ultimate entertainment.

Finally, some time around midnight, the last punch was thrown, or the last strangle hold was released, or the last fatty failed to get up from his stool – I wasn’t really watching anymore. The lights flicked on and the thousand or so spectators filtered through the double doors at the back; some excitedly reliving their favourite moments; most looking down at their feet, possibly wondering, like me, why the hell they’d forked up 120 bucks for an evening of violent, ego-fueled drivel.

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