By Kevin Brady
Were he alive today, Julius Caesar would probably be ringside at a mixed martial arts cage-fighting match.
In a 21st-century version of a Colosseum scene, cage fighters punch, kick, slap and generally batter their opponents to a pulp in an enclosed ring — a scene Roman gladiators would recognize.
“It’s not staged,” said David Joseph, a promoter with Florida Championship Fighting. “It’s full on, and these guys are really going at it. The blood is real, the punches are real and the broken bones are real. They are trying to knock each other out and trying to protect themselves from being knocked out as well.”
Fans will get a chance to see the action up close, Feb. 17, when the Florida Championship Fighting kicks off its 2014 MMA cage-fighting season at 7:30 p.m. at the Dallas Bull, 3311 N US 301.
Brad Taylor, a Fort White, Fla., resident and star of the History Channel’s Ax Men show, will be the featured fighter on the night’s amateur card. He’ll fight Eugene Feliciano of Brazil, who has won four fights and lost one.
When not logging Florida’s Withlacoochee River, Taylor trains at the North Florida Academy of Martial Arts. The reality TV star has 29-9-1 record and holds four titles: World Cage Warriors (205 pounds), Proving Ground (170 pounds), Fx3 Cagewars (185 pounds), and Breakthrough MMA (185 pounds). Taylor will meet and greet fans before the fights, which are expected to attract 1,000 spectators.
Mixed Martial Arts, once banned in some states but today the most popular event on pay-per-view TV, is one of the fastest growing sports in America.
According to a report by the Simmons Research Database, Ultimate Fighting Championship, the major leagues for mixed martial arts, is the fastest-growing sports league in the country, increasing its number of fans by 10 percent yearly.
Not surprisingly, male fans dominate the fan base of this testosterone-fest that is MMA with a 75-to-25 ratio of male to female fans. The sport is even nipping at the heels of the National Hockey League in terms of popularity in this country. It’s already more popular than NASCAR and the NHL among 18-to-34-year-old males, according to the report.
The lack of theatrics and the raw appeal of two men fighting also add to the appeal, Joseph said.
“It can be extremely brutal and hard to watch at times,” he said “but people are always attracted to these kinds of things. It’s almost like a modern day gladiator sport.”
Former UFC fighter Corey Hill also will be on hand to meet fans, sign autographs and pose for photos. Hill, a collegiate wrestler who suffered a horrific leg break during an MMA fight, is currently training for a ring comeback.
While the sport is popping up all over cable TV, the live experience of watching two men battling it out in the ring can’t be compared, Joseph said. “You hear all the sounds, there are lights and music, it’s just all part of the experience.”
Tickets start at $30; reserved cage-side seats are $40. VIP tickets, $65, include reserved seating in the first row, early entry at 6 p.m., an appetizer bar, a laminated souvenir pass and a program.
Tickets are available online at www.fcfighting.com, or at Buddy’s Home Furnishing, 6608 Adamo Drive, (813) 621-9767; and Abby’s Bail Bonds, 2512 Orient Rd., (813) 231-8520.