Imagine Chuck Norris and Mike Tyson in the ring. Who would win?
You can find out -- at least to some extent -- if you are inside Grays Armory in downtown Cleveland on Saturday evening. There will be no mercy that night as SM Fights, a new Mixed Martial Arts promotions company, will hold its debut event entitled "Without Mercy." First bell is at 7 p.m.
No, Norris, the former Karate world champion, nor Tyson, the infamous ex-world heavyweight boxing titlist, will be on hand in Cleveland, but some 30 amateur martial artists, boxers and wrestlers -- most of them from Ohio -- will be. Mixed Martial Arts primarily combines five disciplines into one sport. Two are Martial Arts like Karate and Tae Kwon Do, and boxing, disciplines done while standing upright. The other three are wrestling and Martial Arts Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai, disciplines done while on the ground.
Local entrepreneur Brian Singleton is the one behind SM Fights. "SM" stands for Sine Missione, a Latin term derived from the legendary ancient Roman duels between professional fighters called gladiators in which the combatants would fight each other, and sometimes even wild animals -- occasionally to the death -- for the pure entertainment of spectators. Translated literally, "SM" has two meanings -- "Without mercy" and "To the death."
"Two people would walk in, and one person would walk out," said Singleton, a 1994 Crestwood High School graduate. "Now I don't want my fighters fighting to the death, but I thought that (the name) worked well for the first event, captured the soul of it because it's the guys that are in the cage ... these guys are warriors."
Cage? Did he say cage?
Whereas the Roman combats were staged in such outdoor venues as the Roman Colosseum, Mixed Martial Arts fights are held in cages. No, wild animals will not be part of the picture but, still, there is no escape.
"Most of the fighters have one discipline that they practiced their whole life," explained Singleton, who returned to Northeast Ohio earlier this year to pursue his longtime passion after three years as an estate and financial planner in Scottsdale, Arizona, after graduating from the University of Akron School of Law in 2004. "You might have a guy who wrestled since he was little, he wrestled in high school and maybe in college. But when he decides he wants to get into Mixed Martial Arts, he begins cross-training in the other disciplines so they can be best prepared when they enter into the cage."
Bouts last three rounds of three minutes each. There are 10 weight classes, ranging from Straw weight (up to 115 pounds) to Super Heavyweight (over 265 pounds).
A two-time state wrestling champion in high school and a three-time national qualifier at Kent State University, from where graduated in 2000, Singleton has done his share of hard training and sweating. But that doesn't hold a candle to what the Mixed Martial Artists endure.
"The amount of training these guys do just blows my mind," he said. "These guys are in such good shape. And to be able to have the tenacity and the will to step into a cage that you can't get out of, and knowing there's no stopping and fight until somebody gives up, I wanted to try to capture that."
Singleton said ticket sales have been brisk and that he has had an overwhelming response, most notably from Northeastern Ohio business owners and their willingness to become sponsors and from the fighters themselves. Most important, perhaps, is the positive response received from the Ohio Athletic Commission, which has become the official sanctioning body for Mixed Martial Arts in the state of Ohio.
Many observers believe Mixed Martial Arts, which began gaining popularity competition-wise in the early 1990s, is too brutal of a sport, thus controversy looms over it at times. That's a fallacy, according to Singleton.
"The rules keep it from being brutal," he said, noting that fighters wear six-ounce gloves with open palms that enable them to partake in the grappling aspect of the sport. "It's not 'no holds barred.' It's not 'no rules.' We have judges there, we have a physician there. It's actually less brutal than boxing. You could even say it's less brutal than the wrestling I did for so many years. When somebody gets to the point where they're going to be injured, the fight gets stopped immediately. The referees keep an eagle eye. It's not like in boxing where boxers take beatings for 10, 12 rounds.
"These fighters and the people involved in this sport are also some of the most disciplined, well spoken and just all-around really good people that I've met or that you could ask for. They're really good for the sport. They're good people."
SM Fights' second event will be a professional card likely in the fall and possibly somewhere in Akron, where Singleton resides.
And what about the bigger picture?
"My ultimate vision is to grow this into a large organization like the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), the largest promotions company for the sport there is and what has made this sport really grow."