Columns & Blogs

Extreme fights didn't knock me out

Consider me unimpressed. At the risk of sounding — and perhaps being — tragically unhip, this is what all the fuss is about?

The Boise-based Extreme Fight Series (XFS) staged its first-ever event — First Strike — Saturday night at Qwest Arena and a young, rowdy crowd of almost 6,500 filled the place, eager for a night of guillotine chokes, arm bars and tap outs.

The moves are as vicious as they sound. And if you're not familiar with the lingo, then you're likely not among the growing legions of Ultimate Fighting Championship fans who have turned extreme fighting into a cultural phenomenon.

Saturday night's event, however, left a lot to be desired.

There were some exciting moments — Kyacey Uscola's devastating knockout kick in the co-main event being the most memorable after Katie Collins' remarkable national anthem — but most of the action was simply two guys wrestling inside a cage.

And not the WWE variety.

XFS and UFC fall under the mixed martial arts banner, but there was very little mix and almost zero martial arts. The fighting started standing up, but quickly devolved into two guys grappling for position. There was little sustained action and the submission holds — like the guillotine choke and the rear naked choke — happen too quickly.

The near-capacity crowd, however, didn't seem to mind.

Knockout Promotions, which owns XFS, rightly assumed that there are thousands in the Treasure Valley aware of — and supporting — the extreme fighting surge. There are several mixed martial arts (MMA) gyms in the area, and most of the fighters hailed from the area.

For Knockout Promotions, it's simply good business. The Boise-based promotion company has been staging Friday Night Fights boxing cards, but with aging local draws Kenny Keene and Cleveland Corder a fight away from retirement, promoter Kasey Thompson is venturing into mixed martial arts.

The hip crowd, a surprising mix of men and women, arrived ready for blood. The 20-somethings, having been raised on "Street Fighter" and similar video games, surrounded Qwest Arena, leading to long lines that delayed the start of the card for almost an hour.

Once inside, XFS gave the crowd what it wanted and has come to expect from mixed martial arts — loud hip-hop music, scantily clad ring girls and lots of beer.

These are not the Treasure Valley’s well-heeled elite, forking over $350 a ticket for a distinguished night of boxing featuring Roy Jones Jr.

This generation, the MTV generation, expects to be entertained every minute. They want professional wrestling’s antics and theatrics, but not its staged outcomes. Reared on reality television, they want — and expect — anything-goes entertainment.

The format allowed for vicious kicks to the midsection, relentless punching all over, tackling and takedowns, all inside a 20-foot cage. Basically any move you would see in a street fight, a bar fight or a big brother-little brother fight was allowed.

There just wasn’t enough of it.

It was too hard to see exactly what was happening, whether punches were being landed or deflected or how hurt a fighter really was. And there wasn’t enough sustained action, no chance for the crowd to really get behind a fighter.

It wasn’t extreme enough — not that I’m volunteering to get in the cage.

No doubt these guys were inflicting pain. Let’s just say that the fighters who emerged from one of those holds looked as if they’d been gasping for their last breaths and weren’t sure they were going to get it.

Still the crowd enjoyed every minute of it. XFS 2 is already on the schedule for December. Judging by Saturday’s crowd, it will be a success.

That few of the fighters held any name recognition mattered little. The fans came to see the action, not a specific fighter.

Good thing, because the closest thing to a household name on the card, former Boise State running back Lee Marks, didn’t fight. Marks, who is still pursuing a professional football career, said he would only fight with boxing gloves. But the Idaho State Athletic Commission would not allow it. Mixed martial arts fighters use four-ounce gloves. Boxing gloves are 10 ounces.

But if boxing suffers because of the perception that it’s boring — too much clinching, not enough fists flying — then MMA will soon find its fans turned off by the constant ground action.

On Saturday no one seemed to mind. The backyard brawl, it seems, isn’t returning to the backyard any time soon.