Thursday, March 22, 2007

Adrenaline bash

By Chuck Slothower

Sky Ute hosts night of kicking, punching, slamming and kneeing

M att Young of Durango tightened his right arm around his opponent's bulging neck, squeezing increasingly desperate gasps of air from fighter Randy Blackwell of Aztec.

Blood oozed from Young's nose as he and Blackwell clenched in a sweaty embrace on the mat. Each combatant struggled to win his pro debut in the second round of a St. Patrick's Day mixed-martial arts bout at Sky Ute Pavilion.

Blackwell pulled on Young's arm to no avail. Finally, he signaled surrender by tapping on Young's arm. Young released the man's neck to breaths of fresh air. Blackwell kneeled on the mat, exhausted.

Young hustled out of the arena amid cheers and backslaps to the parking lot, where he promptly vomited. Minutes later, the 20-year-old fighter emerged from Room 102 of the adjacent hotel, looking tired but victorious.

"It feels amazing," Young said of his match, as he checked his nose to make sure it had recovered from its first-round collision with Blackwell's knee. "It was my first fight ever."

It was also the first mixed-martial arts bout hosted by Sky Ute Casino. The casino and its owner, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, occasionally feature boxing, but six fights under the white-tent Pavilion on Saturday were its first under mixed-martial arts rules (the under-construction Sky Ute Casino Resort will feature an events center capable of seating 1,500 fight fans).

Mixed-martial arts fighting has exploded in popularity in recent years as televised Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts and "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show brought charismatic warriors such as Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell and Randy "The Natural" Couture into living rooms.

Mixed-martial arts rules are among the most permissive in fighting, allowing kicking, punching, kneeing, wrestling, slamming and all manner of holds.

The rules prohibit hair-pulling, hits to the spine or back of the head, forcing submissions by bending small joints such as fingers, toes and wrists and a few other no-nos.

With those rules, and nothing but his lightly protected hands and feet to fight with, Young entered the ring against an opponent who was 9 pounds heavier and a few inches taller.

Unlike the world-class bouts in Las Vegas, there were no cable TV cameras in Ignacio to catch every glimpse of the fighters' blood, sweat and tears. But an estimated 800 to 900 fans paid a minimum of $35 each to watch the six bouts.

Three 5-minute rounds determined the winners. But only two of the six fights went beyond the first round. Other fights were stopped after punishing barrages of fists left a fighter defenseless; and in two cases, after a fighter tapped out rather than endure a painful submission hold known as the arm bar.

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