{mosimage}This ain’t no video game.
    On Saturday, June 14, local fighters — amateur and professional — will be exchanging uppercuts and hooks, kicks and wrestling moves, some blood, a lot of sweat and possibly tears as they compete in Close Quarters Combat in the Cage at the Crown Arena.
    It’s called mixed martial arts, and in order to be proficient at this brutal and entertaining sport that harkens back to the days of gladiators battling for life and limb in the Coliseum, you have to be good in all aspects of the competition: boxing, wrestling and the martial arts.
    “You have to set time aside to work on different aspects of the fighting styles, but then you have to set time apart to blend them together,” said Jason Kwast, a 5-10, 155-pounder from Palm Beach, Calif., who will be fighting in front of Fayetteville’s fans for the very first time. Kwast is a professional fighter with a record of 5-3; he will be tangling with Alvin Decker, known as a Kempo karate expert.
    And why would Kwast want to compete in a potentially bone breaking, potentially (though incredibly rare) fatal sport.
    “I used to get picked on a lot,” said Kwast, smiling through a gap where there used to be two front teeth.
    Kwast certainly doesn’t get picked on anymore.
    And neither does 170-pound Rhomez Brower, who is fighting in the main event against Kendrick Johnson, a grappling expert also known for his sharp martial arts skills — skills that have earned him a 19-13 record.
    {mosimage}Despite the talent of his opponent, Brower, his ripped physique pouring sweat like a human waterfall, smiled at the prospect of the Saturday night fights.
    “Hell yeah I’m looking forward to it,” said Brower, a native of Winston-Salem who works at Kim’s Barber Shop on Yadkin Road. “It’s exciting. It’s right here in Fayetteville. I never thought I’d see the day that I’d fight before the hometown crowd.”
    Helping bring Brower and Kwast’s dreams of fighting before the hometown fans is Fayetteville’s Spartan Entertainment Group, which is responsible for assembling the Close Quarters Combat fighters from all over the world, from Maine to Vermont to Guam.
Will Clark, Jesse Drake and Jeremiah Lancaster started the organization to bring a new form of professional sports to Fayetteville.
    Clark, a soldier, has a unique perspective on the sport, as he himself has competed in the cage.
    “We love this sport — this is the fastest growing sport in the nation and we wanted to bring it to Fayetteville and bring another entertainment venue to Fayetteville,” said Clark. “In all honesty, Fayetteville is lacking in professional sports; we have sports, but we really needed to get mixed martial arts and combat skills sports here. We wanted to offer this warrior sport to this warrior city.”
    The Close Quarters Combat team had its first fight at the Crown on Aug. 12, which Clark said was a huge success.
    “The reception has been great, fantastic,” said Clark. “The walkup crowd to the Crown was the largest the Crown has ever seen. Fayetteville is a city full of fighters of one nature or another, and warriors like warriors.
    “We had a lot of compliments about the last show and our fans were on their feet the entire time,” added Clark. “I’ve seen other fights in North Carolina and I saw an absolutely different reaction here in Fayetteville.”
    And these proud warriors aren’t some punch-drunk bums from Palookaville or guys who like to get drunk on a Saturday night and wail on each other down in the parking lot of a strip club — there are champions among these bruisers.
    One fighter of particular note is Jason Palacios, a 155-pound scrapper from Guam who competed in the International Fight League and who recently flew to Japan and returned the lightweight winner of the King of Pancrase fight.
    There’s also a possible surprise for fight fans showing up at the Crown Saturday night: Rich Franklin, a contender for the 185-pound Ultimate Fighting Championship, will either be at Saturday’s match or at another CQC fight on Aug. 2.
    To spice things up, the first three fights on the card will pit local members of the Army against a trio of battling marines from Camp LeJeune, which should really get the juices of all local servicemen rocking and rolling.
    “The Marine Corps and the Army are brothers in arms and we fully expect to see the kind of friendly rivalry you see around the Army-Navy game or any time the services compete,” said Clark.
        Also added to the mix will be live music and the ever present and ever beautiful ring girls, who help out around the cage and also interact with the crowd.
Speaking of the crowd, don’t be intimidated by the old reputation of organized fighting; the sport has come a long way since the early days of no holds barred brawling when the first sanctioned event in North Carolina, a 1994 match in Charlotte, caused the banning of the sport in the state until Aug. 2, 2007. Since then, rules have been put in place to protect the fighters, and, as one of the fastest growing sports in the nation, it appeals to a wide demographic, including 55 percent women.
    “Our last show was featured on HDNET — national network,” said Clark. “How many sports get featured on national TV?”
    Gates open at 7 p.m. with the fights starting at 8. Clark says the fights usually take about 2 1/2 hours. Tickets are $83, $63, $43, $33, $25 ($5 off for 12 and under).
    “We have some great fighters, live entertainment and some pretty ladies,” said Clark. “Really, what more do you need for a great night out?”
    If you’d  like more information about the CQC, check out their Web site: www.cqcinthecage.com, where you can even sign up to be a fighter or ring girl.
    Who knows? CQC just might be able to release the inner beast or beauty in you.

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