Ul­ti­mate fight­ing ex­pands to in­clude younger chil­dren

Some kids as young as 6 fight with par­ents’ bless­ing

The Covington News - - Sports - By Mar­cus Ka­bel

CARTHAGE, Mo. — Ul­ti­mate fight­ing was once the sole do­main of burly men who beat each other bloody in any­thing-goes brawls on pay-per­view TV.

But the sport of­ten de­rided as “hu­man cock­fight­ing” is branch­ing out.

The bare-knuckle fights are now at­tract­ing com­peti­tors as young as 6 whose par­ents treat the sport as ca­su­ally as wrestling, Lit­tle League or soc­cer.

The changes were ev­i­dent on a re­cent evening in south­west Mis­souri, where a team of sev­eral young boys and one girl grap­pled on gym mats in a con­verted garage.

Two mem­bers of the group called the “Garage Boys Fight Crew” touched their thin mar­tial-arts gloves in a flash of sports­man­ship be­fore be­gin­ning a re­lent­less ex­change of sucker punches, body blows and swift kicks.

No blood was shed. And both com­peti­tors wore pro­tec­tive gear. But the bout re­flected the de­cid­edly younger face of ul­ti­mate fight­ing. The trend alarms med­i­cal ex­perts and sports of­fi­cials who worry that young bod­ies can’t with­stand the pound­ing.

Tommy Bloomer, fa­ther of two of the “Garage Boys,” doesn’t un­der­stand the fuss.

“We’re not train­ing them for dog fight­ing,” said Bloomer, a 34-year-old con­struc­tion con­trac­tor. “As a par­ent, I’d much rather have my kids here learn­ing how to de­fend them­selves and get­ting pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment than out on the streets.”

Bloomer said the sport has evolved since the no-holds­barred days by adding weight classes to bet­ter match op­po­nents and ban­ning moves such as strikes to the back of the neck and head, groin kick­ing and head butting.

Mis­souri ap­pears to be the only state in the na­tion that ex­plic­itly al­lows the youth fights. In many states, it is a mis­de­meanor for chil­dren to par­tic­i­pate. A few states have no reg­u­la­tions.

Sup­port­ers of the sport ac­knowl­edge that al­low­ing fights be­tween kids sounds bru­tal at first. But they in­sist the com­pe­ti­tions have plenty of safety rules.

The sport, which is also known as mixed mar­tial arts or cage fight­ing, has al­ready spread far be­yond cable television.

Last month, CBS be­came the first of the Big Four television net­works to an­nounce a deal to broad­cast prime­time fights. The fights have at­tracted such a wide au­di­ence, they are threat­en­ing to sur­pass box­ing as the na­tion’s most pop­u­lar pugilis­tic sport.

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