Ultimate fighting expands to include younger children
Some kids as young as 6 fight with parents’ blessing
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.