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5/30/08 2:03 PM
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JKING
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Police becoming some of the world's toughest fighters

The Wall Street Journal

 

 

Updated: May 28, 2008, 6:23 PM EST

 

From the beginning, cage fighting has had a fundamental challenge: Where to find the toughest, meanest, most violent people in the world who aren't already behind bars. Increasingly, the answer is the police station.

Some of the biggest names in this sport, whose main league is the Ultimate Fighting Championship, are police officers. Sean "the Cannon" Gannon, a Boston police officer, achieved notoriety when he defeated street fighter Kimbo Slice in a bare-knuckles, backyard brawl. "Big John" McCarthy is the most well-known referee; he just retired from his day job as defensive-tactics instructor for the Los Angeles Police Department.

On a recent Saturday night, Utah Highway Patrol Officer Travis Marx, 30, stepped into the cage in front of a few thousand spectators at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City. The 5-foot-6, 153-pound lightweight was trying to bolster his winning record of 10-0. But in the second round, with a black eye and a bloody nose, he tapped out, or conceded, after getting caught in a devastating choke known as "the triangle" — his head and arm lodged between his opponent's legs. On Monday, he went back to his job, doling out speeding tickets.

The former college wrestler and father of two also has to combat his reputation. Other fighters tease him with names like "Johnny Law." Officer Marx says he knows that "some of the guys that fight aren't the most clean-cut, straightforward individuals," and may have criminal records. "Unless I come in contact with them in a law-enforcement realm," he says, "I couldn't care less."

Part of the reason officers are becoming contenders is that they're more skilled in fighting. Police departments are training their ranks in aggressive martial arts, like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, to combat crime, boost morale and cut down on the use of weapons. In Utah, most law-enforcement agencies still teach techniques based on Aikido, a defensive Japanese martial art that doesn't address hand-to-hand combat on the ground. But last year, the West Valley City police department in Utah enlisted professional fighters to teach moves from a range of martial arts, including punches and submission holds. Since launching the new program, the department says it has cut the use of Tasers by about one-third and the use of pepper spray by half.

Sergeant Chris Dunn, Officer Marx's supervisor, is supportive of his cage-fighting hobby because "he's just a little guy." It's boosted his confidence, says Sgt. Dunn, which deters violators who might think: "Oh, we can take this guy."

Still, there are some concerns in the department about Officer Marx's personal safety and his appearance after fights. "He gets raccoon eyes, and there's the question of how the public would perceive that," says Sgt. Dunn. "But he usually wears 1970s sunglasses to cover them up."

The attraction between law enforcement and cage fighting is mutual. Officers get to use their skills and add to their salaries. (Top fighters can earn more than a million dollars per match.) Forrest Griffin, who ranks among the top six light heavyweights in the world, quit his job as an officer in Augusta, Ga., four years ago to become a professional fighter. He first became interested in fighting in 1999, when he trained at the police academy.

Though Mr. Griffin, 29, misses some things about being a police officer — like high-speed chases — he says quitting was an easy decision. "It was like, do you want to play in the NBA or do you want to be a cop?" he says. "Everyone wants to make lots of money to be on TV."

At the same time, the sport is trying to grow and become more legitimate. When it began 15 years ago, the UFC was marketed as a bloodier, more barbaric organization, with hardly any rules. It was likened to "human cockfighting" by Sen. John McCain, and allowed hair-pulling, head-butting and strikes to the groin. In 1997, UFC fights were banned from nearly every state and dropped from pay-per-view television.

After two Las Vegas casino moguls bought the UFC in 2000 and sanitized the sport with a long list of new rules and regulations, fights have returned to pay-per-view, rival leagues have bloomed, and live audiences have grown. Saturday night's UFC fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas has sold out, with 14,000 expected to attend. Later this month, cage fighting makes its debut on network television.

Fighters still tangle with the law. In the past year, the California State Athletic Commission has enlisted local police to shut down about 25 unlicensed amateur fights — known as "smokers" — including at least one organized by a church pastor.

For sponsors, signing straight-edged cops can be a gamble. Charles Lewis, chief executive of apparel company Tapout, has discovered and sponsors some of the UFC's top talent. The tattooed 30-year-old from Huntington Beach, Calif., calls himself "Mask" and attends matches with dark face paint around his eyes. His two business partners are also tattooed from head to toe, and are always by his side.

Last week, the three were deliberating whether the clean-cut Officer Marx would be a good fit to promote clothing decorated with skulls and bullet holes. "If you're a cop and you show up at a bar, everyone's like 'Ugh, mom's here,' " says Mr. Lewis. But he eventually promised to support Officer Marx, even after the losing fight, if the policeman decides to start training full-time.

Officer Marx hopes to turn pro. His four-year contract with the police corps is up in November, and he estimates he could make at least several times his annual salary per match fighting in the big leagues. "I could always get back on with a police agency," he says, "but in fighting, your life span is only so long."

5/31/08 12:31 AM
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pfsjkd
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Unfortunately, a lot of departments/agencies frown, if not forbid pro or even amateur MMA fighting by their officers.  Just ask cyklops.

They'd much rather have super human Aikido masters who can slap a nifty wrist lock on any ol' time they want to anybody they want.

What I mean to say is that most administrations don't operate in the real world.

6/3/08 10:59 PM
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chadk
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One thing I get whenever I have to justify using force on the job is the misguided belief that experience means you can subdue crooks without causing them any discomfort.

"Given your years of training... seems to me that you could've easily have handled this without resorting to THAT level of force."

Its as if they've watched too many episodes of "Kung Fu" or something and have no idea how real physical altercations go.
6/5/08 10:38 AM
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Joe Maffei
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Lawsuits and Liabilities, No one wants a civil suite, and no one wants to pay out sick days if the officers get hurt in training. And if the top guy is close to retirement, well "nothing "rocks that boat.

No officer wants to pay out of pocket for something that might pertain to the job.

The sport will go no where in LE, and 1 out of a million will be a real MMA fighter.
9/23/08 11:15 PM
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GladiatorGannon
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Joe Maffei - Lawsuits and Liabilities, No one wants a civil suite, and no one wants to pay out sick days if the officers get hurt in training. And if the top guy is close to retirement, well "nothing "rocks that boat.

No officer wants to pay out of pocket for something that might pertain to the job.




LOL, joe knows a lot of cops i see. we have the biggest collection of "T-Rex arms" on the planet...nobody can reach down to their wallet.

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