Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Bleachers' Brew #358 The cage (about that MMA cage of the One FC)

This appears in the Monday, February 4, 2013 edition of the Business Mirror.

The cage.
prose and photo by rick olivares

The cage. It draws a person the way the flame does to a moth. Only the cage is a massive beast of steel that demands a bloody tribute.

There’s a prenatural calm at the Putra Stadium at the Bukit Jalil National Sports Complex in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In seven hours, the One Fighting Championship: Return of Kings will begin. The expected capacity crowd of 9,000 will roar, cheer, jeer, and howl for blood as 20 different fighters from seven different countries wage combat in measured violence. Only 10 fighters will emerge victorious. Everyone fighter will leave a part of himself behind in this cage that they will decorate with their blood and with either memories of glory or failure.

The maw, or the gates – there are two of them – beckon. I enter the cage filled with wonder and then trepidation. I snap a couple of pictures and have one taken of myself in the center of the ring with One FC public relations manager Loren Mack. It’s the only one I’ll take and I quickly clamber out. The cage – to my thinking -- is only for the worthy who wages modern day gladiatorial combats. And I am like someone who stumbled upon a drive by shooting and have to take some cover.

Mohammed Rasuul, is the One FC’s Director for Operations and Facilities. He is very particular about the cage. “It must be respected,” he says. Prior to the fight, no one is allowed to step on to the cage with their shoes on so as not to scar the canvass.

Rasuul is most happy when fighters climb atop the stage in celebration, drop down to kiss the canvass, or when they pose inside as if it were some tourist landmark.

“She’s a beauty and a beast,” adds Rasuul who oversees the construction of the cage. This six-ton beast is composed of 322 different pieces that covers 71 square meters with a diameter of 9.5 meters. It requires 30 men to set up the cage that will take approximately five hours to set up and to dismantle. A 40-foot container van transports this beast in and around Asia. One FC: Return of Warriors is the seventh staging of the continent’s rapidly growing Mixed Martial Arts organization and this is the second time the event will be held in Malaysia. “When the night is done, there will be more memories for people in this cage. What kind – good or bad – is up to them.”

At 7:00pm, right before the preliminary bouts get underway, Rasuul has a total of 140 lights flashing and probing the energetic crowd that cheers on every fighter who is introduced. A brief fireworks display adds to the kaleidoscope as the fans erupt in applause. Rasuul’s staff quickly rushes inside the cage to clean up the canvass to prevent any fragments from the pyrotechnics from burning the stage. “You can’t have a fight if your cage goes up in flames,” laughs Rasuul. “I prefer that the fighters leave their own mark on the canvass.”

Rasuul is a prophet and it doesn’t take long for the cage’s canvass to be smeared in blood as American Jake Butler, fighting out of Evolve MMA in Singapore, cracks open Indonesian Antoni Romulo’s head with 10 consecutive hammer fists. Romulo sits up his face in disbelief that the fight is over in the first round. Butler celebrates his very first MMA win by throwing up his arms in victory. This night and this cage will be very memorable for him.

Later in the fight, Japanese Shooto champion Shinichi Kojima pulls the rug from under Filipino Rey Docyogen who is winning if not leading the fight with his striking and ability to confound his opponent. Docyogen is looking to power bomb Kojima when the Japanese reverses the move into a guillotine choke. Kojima rushes up the cage wall and puts a hand to his ear – “I can’t hear you,” he mouths.

After the surprise ending to the main event where the hitherto undefeated Eric Kelly was forced to quit after bring struck by fellow Filipino compatriot Honorio Banario near his previously injured right eye, the latter celebrated with the gold and silver One FC Featherweight Championship belt adorned around his waist. He’ll remember this night, this place, and this cage for Banario is the first Filipino to win an international Mixed Martial Arts title.

Kelly forlornly left the cage wincing. He took one last look at the cage where he dreams of glory went up in smoke. Perhaps the result of a mix of tentativeness during the fight and fighting too quickly with the recovery time from the previous fight not enough.

Kelly bowed his head. He made a silent promise to bounce back. The cage, at once the source of this terrible defeat is also his fountain of redemption.

One hour after the fight with the fans long gone home, Rasuul and his gang of 30 will begin the long and tedious task of dismantling the beast. It will be close to dawn by the time they’ll be done. She will go back to her very own cage in the container van. She too can’t wait. The eighth One FC event will be back on her home soil in Singapore this April. There’ll be more memories to share.


Above: With One FC's PR Manager Loren Mack at the center of the cage. Below: One FC Operations and Technical Manager Mohamed Rasuul going up to fix something in the scaffolding seven hours before the fight.

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