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Cage fighting matches pit ‘man against man’

Saturday, September 22, 2007 | 9:35 p.m. CDT; updated 10:46 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Ring referee Ron Cook pulls apart Mike Dey and Michael Johnson during the sixth fight at the Battle at The Blue Note III on Friday. The event featured 11 rounds of amateur cage fights.

The battle at The Blue Note III on Friday night was 11 fights, four titles, two ring girls, one ejection, a little blood and a massive amount of intensity.

The main event

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Roy Babcock — hood up, reclined on a couch in the basement of The Blue Note and surrounded by his teammates — tried to stay calm four hours before the welterweight title fight against Will Burns.

“You’ve got a million things running through your mind,” Babcock said. “Try to push out the crap. You’ve got a million what-ifs.”

At fight time, Babcock solemnly strode to the cage and jumped his way to the blue corner. Burns kept his headphones on until he entered the cage.

It was an even matchup, punctuated by the collective oohs and aahs of the crowd. With each pain-inflicting blow, the crowd groaned sympathetically. With each textbook choke hold or well-executed strike, the crowd roared with admiration and energy.

At one point, Babcock overpowered Burns, attempting a rear naked choke, a move that looks like a couple cuddling — painfully — in the spoon position. Burns worked hard to turn it around, and with seconds left, fought to end the second round on top.

Burns defeated Babcock in three rounds by a split decision.

Bloodthirsty

As Babcock and the other fighters psyched up, fans lined up at the doors in anticipation. According to The Blue Note box office, 300 of the 533 tickets available were bought in advance. Fans also showed up on fight night to buy tickets at the door.

Suzi Shiverdecker, 22, and her date, Devin Benke, 21, wanted action.

“I hope to see some good fights,” Shiverdecker said. “I want to see them go all the way, and that last round, you just get the adrenaline rush hoping something will happen.”

“I hope to see blood, teeth, broken bones, hospitalizations, reconstructive surgery. Or moves pulled off, done perfectly,” Benke said.

Richard Craig, 26, watches cage fighting on TV, but this was his first live fight. Craig shelled out $45 to sit at a table about 30 feet from the cage.

“It’s reminiscent of gladiator days: man against man,” he said.

Many people in the crowd came out in support of family and friends.

Michael Johnson of the Springfield Fight Club beat Mike Dey in the welterweight division. Michael’s mom, Therese Johnson, other family members and an army of high school friends showed up to support him.

“At first I didn’t like it,” Therese said. “But it keeps him focused and off the streets.” She rooted for him to win, but not to hurt anyone.

As Therese watched her son force Dey to tap out during an arm crank, she pumped her fists in the air and yelled. She blew kisses when the referee raised Michael’s hand in triumph. Michael’s brother, Alvis, jumped from the crowd up onto the cage in victory.

More than a fight

Inexperienced fighters were desperate and anxious in the cage, wanting to strike first and fast, while veteran fighters concentrated, making calculated moves. Fighters like Babcock and Burns prove that cage fighting is about technique, control and endurance — things that take time and training to perfect. It’s not about violence and blood.

Respect and camaraderie are also vital parts of the sport. At the end of every fight, competitors embrace before and after a winner is announced. Backstage, minutes after pummeling each other, they mingle and share a laugh.


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