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At the Armory, Family-Friendly Fisticuffs

By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 13, 2007

So it's date night, family night, boys' night out. You've got your movie options, the bar down the street, dinner out, the Nats game. Lots of options. And then there's the D.C. Armory, where the beer is flowing and it's all hot and smoky and in the center of a boxing-style ring, some guy in what looks like white boxer briefs has his head in the crotch of another guy, who is pretty much hanging upside down. Upside-Down Man -- whose upper body is about 60 percent tattoo -- is in trouble. Not only is his head squashed, but his arm is trapped between his opponent's thighs and Underwear Guy is twisting it, and twisting it, and twisting it.

Ringside, a woman with serious cleavage and three-inch spike heels screams her approval.

Welcome to the world of mixed martial arts, a loose combination of boxing and wrestling and martial arts and jujitsu. It's the kind of sporting event where ambulances line up outside the arena, (real) blood is known to be spilled, and the contenders can get seriously hurt, though through the first half of the card last night, the combatants remained largely intact and there were no bloodstains to speak of. It's a rapidly growing sport with a diverse following that turned out last night to fill around 2,100 seats (ringside tickets $100) at the District's first-ever live MMA event, the Mixed Martial Arts Championship.

"This is her Mother's Day present," said Patrick Stoner, nodding to his wife, Mary, as their 7-year-old son, Christopher, caught a nap between them before the festivities began. The couple, who are in the Army, drove in from Fort Belvoir to support a buddy in the military police who was competing.

"We watch the fights on Friday on Spike TV so we knew what to expect," Patrick said.

Then there was the D'Angelo family -- mom, dad, two boys -- who turned it into a group outing. And the two buddies from Rockville who were trying to scalp tickets to the Nationals game down the street, saw the crowd headed into the Armory and just decided what the heck. And the martial arts junkie who is trying to get his girlfriend to like the sport, so he dragged her along for the second time. ("Some people come for the blood," confided the woman, Tanya Marsh.)

Then there was the guy who brought his three kids -- and some of their friends -- because even though he dislikes violence, he figured it would provide a good life lesson.

"The more you expose them to things like this, the better off they are in making decisions," explained Roberto Pacano, whose family lives in Olney.

Those looking for a circus atmosphere didn't really get one -- it didn't help that event officials couldn't get a license to use the "cage" that bouts are usually fought in, so there was only a ring -- but there was a bit of a crazy, boxing-ring atmosphere, though much more tame.

"In Vegas, it's way crazier, but this is good for the first time" in the District, said Johnny D'Angelo, a security guard from Fort Washington. "It's better than a regular boxing crowd. It just seems like a nicer crowd."

Nice, perhaps, but not entirely normal. "I came for the whole venue," said Hank Greene, a software developer from Annapolis. "I came to see the cast of characters, and there have been quite some characters floating around."

Mostly, though, that was all about cleavage and stilettos, dark glasses indoors, lots of diamond this and gold that. Dresses that looked like they belonged in Vegas. But then again, look one row over and there was daddy and his little boy, or a suburban mom snuggling up to her husband. The only category that seemed to be totally absent: little girls. Apparently, mixed martial arts isn't that big with the "Hannah Montana" set.

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