The first rule of “Fight Club” may be to never talk about Fight Club, but Peter Storm has no problems with people talking about his Underground Combat League. Since 2003, Storm has been promoting his UCL events in various locations in New York City – sometimes in boxing gyms, sometimes in martial arts schools, and even once in a mosque. These vale tudo shows and the competitors that have thrown down at them have run the gamut in terms of quality. A wrestler named Frankie Edgar had his first fight ever at a packed UCL in the Bronx, and now he’s the UFC lightweight champ; crazed busboy named Lamont Tareyton Williams had his debut at a sparsely-attended show in Midtown Manhattan, and now he’s doing 17 years in prison upstate for a bloody rampage in a subway station weeks after his fight. In the span of about 30 events, there’s been all of that and more. Clearly, though professional MMA may be illegal in New York, an illicit fight scene has flourished.
There’s a peek at the scene in today’s issue of the Wall Street Journal, with the article touching on the legality of the events as well as the sport’s impact on a few underground fighters. (You have to be a member of the WSJ site to read the article; however, the photo slideshow is free. That’s something, right?) Anyway, here are some choice quotes:
Today in New York, fighters are faced with a tradeoff: It is free to compete in underground fights (sanctioned bouts in New Jersey require medical tests that can cost hundreds of dollars), but potentially more dangerous. They can get essential practice in actual bouts, but can’t build up an official record that could yield more lucrative and high-profile matches. They have the ability to set their own rules, but those rules can backfire.
Mr. Storm said the ticket charges cover the costs of running the event, including renting the space – but he occasionally turns a profit, he said. Then, he said, “I eat steak.”
Still, he said he would happily shut down his fights if the sport was legalized in New York.
“Not everything that popular should be allowed, but definitely mixed martial arts is one of them,” he said. “It’s proven to be a safe sport and a popular sport and it’s what the people want.”
You can rail all you want about how these types of events are bad for the sport and how they can only hurt the efforts to get it sanctioned in New York, but you’d be wrong on both counts; the most serious injury I’ve seen in a UCL was when Storm fought a pro fighter named Kaream Ellington and Ellington popped his elbow with a kimura, and the “scourge” of underground shows in the State has been a talking point used by Dana White and a few pro-MMA politicians.
For some additional color, here’s what Storm said to me at the last show, which was right around when the New York State Assembly let the MMA bill die.
“When MMA is coming up for legislation and regulation, people look down on me and my show. I’m like the anti-Christ, you know? But when it’s disapproved or people just ignore it, all of a sudden I’m the Messiah. Honestly, I feel like what I’m doing should be more appreciated, but for the people that are here and the people that compete, they appreciate it. At least they appreciate it.”