MMA: There are many reasons why these competitors fight
By Sam Mellinger
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The 21-year-old man has a red Mohawk and an arrest record, so this is why he fights. He wants a better life. Some of the girls from his local gym will be cheering him on.
He once ran away to Florida with the money he made at KFC but ended up arrested for gas-and-go.
"Fighting made me want to live a better life," Danny Tims says.
The 34-year-old man has a pregnant wife and a growing business, so this is why he fights. He wants the credibility. Some of the parents of the kids he coaches cheer him on.
He is a former teacher who picks up his 10-year-old stepson from school every day. About 250 kids are signed up at his place to learn martial arts.
"I want to expand my school here," Brian Davidson says.
This is not a column about the arrival of mixed martial arts, because that would be like a column about the arrival of the Internet.
This is a column about two of the men involved in it, two guys from Kansas City.
Tims apologizes. He does this a lot. He's sorry for missing an appointment the day before, and sorry for mixing up a few facts. It's just that his mind is skittish right now.
He is dehydrated from trying to lose 18 pounds in 25 days and distracted from what he calls the biggest night of his life.
"Everything I've done is for this fight," he says. "Train all day, every day. That's all I do. I wake up, I run. I train. I go to sleep feeling like (garbage)."
Tims just turned 21. He's still a kid but has packed a lot into those years. There's a scar underneath his left eye from a fight, and nine tattoos on his skin. The one on his chest means the most. It's over his heart, the picture of his mother who died in a car wreck last year.
He's been a fighter all his life. The first one he remembers came seven or eight years ago, at the Abercrombie & Fitch store at Independence Center. He's not sure why he and his older brother fought, just that they went after it right there in the store. Someone called security.
Tims has been arrested a few times already. He once did a Marine-style behavior boot camp as punishment. The thing lasted two weeks, and the worst part was doing army crawls back and forth through sand and rain for what he remembers as three hours.
He used to smoke pot, or get in fights for no reason. He skipped school a lot. When he'd go to school, sometimes he and his friends sneaked video cameras and boxing gloves into the bathrooms and held tournaments there for money.
Tims was a wrestler in high school, and a pretty good one. He says a few Division I schools were looking at him before his other problems took him away. He dropped out of school and by pure chance received an invitation to train at the gym of Rudy Bears, who also fights for Bellator. He says that changed his life.
Fighting and an ex-girlfriend convinced Tims that there was a better way. He likes the solitude of it and the primitive matchup of one man against another. Mostly, he likes that it's kept him on a productive path. He went back for his high school diploma because of fighting and now thinks about nursing school.
"Fighting made me not focus on my problems," he says. "It took away from my time in the streets. It felt good to win. I liked it. I was good at it. It feels good to learn something every day."
Davidson sits behind his office desk. There are two computers in front of him and awards on the walls. Thirty feet away, in another part of his Lee's Summit school, dozens of kids begin to file in to work on their tae kwan do.
Some of them bow as they walk through the door.
"I love it here," Davidson says. "This is what I always wanted to do."
Davidson's 35th birthday is coming up. He's in terrific shape but knows he won't be fighting forever. This is all part of his business plan. He likes the competition, and the money is fine, but he says the benefits to these kinds of events are in the image building.
He's a coach by trade, not a fighter, but to be a coach you need to fight.
"I could do it full time," he says. "But this is something I want to do to transition into some other goals I have."
So Davidson fights, not because he has to, but because he sees it as the best way to expand his business. He has visions of a 6,000-square-foot space dedicated completely to coaching mixed martial arts. His original school is called Kids 2 Leaders, but some of the MMA kids think that's corny, so they train as K2L.
Davidson brags that most of the city's better MMA fighters spend at least some time training at his gym, and he thinks he can be part of helping the area's younger generation reach national prominence.
He is excited about the growth of his sport. He knows it is legit because he sees it televised by major networks, covered by major outlets, and sponsored by major corporations. Suburban families want to talk fighting with him, sometimes even at church.
That's the kind of sport he wants to be involved with full time. Putting on gloves and punching another man's face is a way of building his business.
"It'll give me a little prestige," he says. "If I'm claiming to be some martial-arts guy, Billy badass over here, teaching this stuff but none of my people are competing, it makes my school look a little weak and soft and fake."
MMA is here now, whether you like it or not. Every day that goes by, there are more of you who do.