Saturday, February 24, 2007

Taking extreme measures

By Cassondra Kirby

The world of ultimate fighting operates on two planes: lucrative, sanctioned matches and unregulated amateur matches.

The fight began slowly, with two men exchanging a few sharp punches as they bounced about in ankle-deep grass on a Georgetown farm.

About 150 people surrounded the two shirtless fighters that July evening. Some quietly drank beer; others shouted obscenities at the fighters, demanding more aggression. Many had bet on the outcome.

But winning money was not what attracted the crowd to the farm. Although this was Jeremy Centers' first fight, he knew they wanted blood.

In one swift move, Centers recalled recently, he lunged at his opponent's knees, knocked him to the ground. Centers straddled the man and landed several sharp elbow hits to his face. One of the blows ripped the skin above his opponent's left eye.

After less than three minutes of fighting, the injured man had had enough. Centers was declared the winner.

Ultimate fighting is a growing phenomenon, popular with TV viewers and lucrative for some fighters. Many states regulate the sport, providing protections for fighters.

But many amateur matches, held in barnyards and back yards, are a different story. Some promoters ask few questions of fighters and offer few safeguards.

And there's a fight just about every weekend somewhere in Kentucky.

Critics -- including some professional fighters -- want the state to regulate amateur matches.

"In the long run it would just make for a safer sport, and we are not against that," said Justin Moore, a Lexington fighter who turned pro in January.

Ultimate, or mixed martial arts fighting, is as controversial as it is bloody. Some have likened it to a human cockfight. A member of the Kentucky Sports Authority and some citizens say the sport should be banned.

After intense criticism in the late 1990s, the sport was banned in more than 40 states, said Tim Lueckenhoff, national president of the Association of Boxing Commissions and an administrator with the Missouri Boxing Commission. TV programmers called it too barbaric for decent society. Newspapers and magazines refused to write about it.

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