If you've ever wondered what it would be like to take a sumo wrestler, a world champion kickboxer, a jujitsu master, a cruiserweight boxing champion, an undefeated karate expert and a handful of other top martial artists, put them in a ring with no rules and let them beat one another senseless until only one is left standing, you'll get your answer Friday night.
Such freestyle fights have been staged in Brazil for decades, and they have served as the climax for numerous Hollywood action movies.
But "that's what's sort of ridiculous about present society: Everything is a movie, nothing is real," complained John Milius, the writer of "Apocalypse Now" and the director of such films as "Red Dawn" and "Conan the Barbarian."
Milius designed the stage and consulted on "The Ultimate Fighting Championship," a pay-per-view event with a price tag of $14.95. The no-holds-barred contest, where punching, kicking, elbow strikes, chokes and bare knuckles to the face are permitted, will be carried live from McNichols Arena in Denver--because Colorado is one of the few states without a boxing commission whose permission would be required for such an event.
"Everything is virtual reality, or something like that," Milius shrugged. "This is real. This is the real thing."
But what about all those Hollywood movies that teach martial arts as a peace-keeping skill, a last line of defense against bullies who just don't know when to stop pushing?
"This competition is not about that; this competition is about reality," said Rorian Gracie, 41, founder of the North American Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Torrance. Gracie's father put on at least a dozen of these brawls in Brazil--Gracie says his family of nine brothers and sisters has never lost--and now Gracie wants to bring them to America.
"The best scene in the movie is not when the hero's walking away," continued Gracie, who has served as a consultant on such action films as "Lethal Weapon," "but when he's beating the other one up and showing him how strong he is. The crowd in the movie identifies with that, because they wish they could be that effective."
Milius and his sons study with Gracie, who is so confident in his family's methods that he has a standing $100,000 offer to anyone who will match his money and face him in a similar no-rules contest for the cash. Even Campbell McLaren, general manager of SEG, the pay-per-view company putting on the event, is caught up in the act.
"There's a power to real fighting," McLaren said. "You go to a football stadium and if a fight breaks out in the stands, people turn away from the game to watch the fight. These are real men, real athletes, going at it full speed ahead with no rules. This in some ways is what sport was 2,000 years ago."
SEG saw that a similar pay-per-view "Tough Man" competition earlier this year turned a profit. The Showtime Event Television contest was a sort of amateur punch-fest to determine who was the toughest non-professional fighter.
The New York company began actively looking for a similar fighting event, a new form of programming dubbed "combat television" by Paul Kagan, a media research and consulting firm. SEG considered a limited-rules boxing match and an event with the Professional Karate Assn. before coming across Gracie, who has his own promotion company.
A contest was devised, taking place in a 20-foot octagon pit surrounded by a 5-foot padded chain link fence so the fighters cannot escape if they get into trouble. Fighters were recruited from ads placed in martial-arts magazines around the world, and eight were chosen from different disciplines based on their attitude and record in competition.
On Friday night, the fighters will be paired off in single-elimination bouts, fought in five-minute rounds. The winners advance, making for a total of seven matches. No protective gear is allowed, except for a mouthpiece and a cup, and fighters must refrain from eye gouges and groin shots.
Other than that, anything goes.
A win occurs only in the case of a verbal submission, a knockout, a "choke-out" (in which the windpipe is cut off), when a corner throws in a towel or a doctor's intervention. The champion receives $50,000, plus additional money earned for winning the preliminary matches.
"There's a certain amount of violence, if you want to look at it that way," Gracie said. "But there's violence in football, car races and boxing. Violence is a part of life. These people are professional fighters. They claim to be effective in their discipline. Now they can show just how good they are. People can watch the Disney Channel, or they can watch the 'Ultimate Fighting Championship.' "