Thursday, April 5, 2007

Fight club will quell carnage -- Says martial arts would teach kids discipline

By Dave Wedge

Extreme brawlers whose shocking sport has been banned in Boston want to help stop the bloodshed on city streets by getting kids into the gym for mettle-testing hand-to-hand combat.

Mike Varner, who waged a battle against City Hall after his so-called “reality fights” were banned in 2005, wants to start a mixed martial arts program for at-risk teens in Dorchester in hopes that the sport’s strict disciplines will translate onto the streets.

“Once people know how to fight, they no longer want to fight,” said Varner, who is also an active combatant. “They no longer have to stand their ground and prove to people how tough they are.”

Varner is putting together a group of investors and scouting locations, vowing to bring the wildly popular but controversial fighting style into the very neighborhoods where more and more youths are choosing semiautomatics over old-fashioned fisticuffs.

“I’m going to go as far as I can go with this until it’s successful,” Varner said, adding that he’s been in touch with Sen. Brian Joyce (D-Milton) about the program.

The push comes as Boston confronts a spike in killings, which have left 16 dead. The soaring death toll has led to emergency meetings between Gov. Deval Patrick and Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

Varner made headlines two years ago when city officials canceled a fight card he had planned at the Roxy, citing the sport’s violence. Mixed martial arts, which combines boxing, wrestling, judo and other fighting styles, has been slammed as “human cockfighting” but has emerged as one of the nation’s most popular sports, thanks to raucous “Ultimate Fighting” pay-per-view events.

The sport, which pits combatants in one-on-one fights wearing just thin leather gloves, is legal in most states, including Massachusetts. Varner, who regularly hosts events in Revere and other Bay State cities, is still fighting to overturn Boston’s ban.

Varner’s not alone in his view that controlled fighting can save kids from the streets. Bill Newcomb, co-owner of Boston Muay Thai Academy in Uphams Corner - one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by violence - said he’s creating a martial arts program for kids 14 and up.

“I grew up in Dorchester, and I’ve been doing martial arts since 13. I never went to jail or nothing like that because martial arts teaches discipline, and respect,” Newcomb said.

“When I was a kid, if you had a problem, we would fistfight and settle it like a man,” he added. “Nowadays kids just shoot, and it’s cowardly to use a gun. Anyone could pull a trigger.”


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