There is a place not far from Washington where people gather to settle scores, but not in the way you might think.
They can be found on a grassy lot more than an hour and a half from the nation’s capital. If you arrive at the right time on the right weekend each month, you’ll find a group of people who say they have found a way to fight gun violence that has nothing to do with studies, laws or protests.
Their solution, they will tell you, is much simpler: Let two people with a grudge pummel each other.
“I know that it probably sounds ridiculous from the outside,” Chris Wilmore says. “It’s hard to explain. But I can tell you that I have solved beefs with guys I hated before I fought them, and now we talk regularly.”
Wilmore, who is called “Scarface,” and sometimes just “Face,” created the fight club Streetbeefs in his Harrisonburg, Va., backyard in 2008. His goal at the time was to provide a safe place for people in his community to settle disputes. Like him, many of the club’s first members had criminal records and were aware of what could happen if they took their fights to the streets. The club’s motto is “Guns down, gloves up.”
“We don’t want anyone dying, and we don’t want anyone going to jail,” Wilmore says. “What we do is make them give their word that if this fight doesn’t solve it, they have to come back.”
He says he has seen men fight over borrowed money that wasn’t paid back, a lent car that was returned damaged, a woman, a tree stand, a tip given to a probation officer about someone’s marijuana habit. One dispute got so out of hand, he says, that the men tried to run each other off the road.
“I was stabbed in my throat in a street dispute years ago,” he says. “You may think your dispute is petty. I’ve seen people die over petty.”
In recent years, the club has grown in popularity. People in other states and countries watch videos of its fights, and sometimes they come to participate.
On a recent weekend, men traveled from California, Oklahoma and the Netherlands to gather in the bare-bones backyard of one of Wilmore’s friends. There, they stepped into a ring made from a chain-link fence and black-painted plywood bearing the scrawled names of other fighters: Iraqi Assassin, Russian Bear, Vandal.
Read the full story here: “For 8 years, he held a grudge. Could a 6-minute fight with his enemy end it?”
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