Russel, 17, still doesn’t know what the fight was really about. It was just one of those instant high school hatreds that culminates in a promise to throw down. In front of 25 other kids from the largely middle-class Emerald Ridge High School in Puyallup, Washington, the two teens beat on each other for what seemed an eternity until Russel broke his right hand. Still, his foe looked like the loser. “His friends thought he was going to win,” Russel says, “so they videotaped it. And a couple of other kids filmed it too.” But no one stepped in to stop it, and the video was up on MySpace hours later. In Round Two, later that night, Russel got a beat-down from two of his opponent’s friends, an attack that was captured with a night-vision lens and also posted online. The clip ends with one of Russel’s assailants getting a shotgun, pumping a round into the chamber, looking straight into the camera and declaring, “Any of you-all want to play with me, we’ll play.”
From jihadi snuff videos to Iraq combat footage, the Internet has become the greatest library of human aggression in history. Enter the word “fight” in the search engine of youtube.com (78,397 hits) or Yahoo Video and thousands of street fights, brawls and a surprising number of girls ripping out each other’s earrings are just a click away. In England, there are the disturbingly named (and illegal) “Happy Slapping” videos – kids knocking the crap out of unsuspecting victims and sending clips of the attacks in real time to their friends. “Happy Slapping” has been connected to at least one fatality.
In the U.S., Web sites and DVD makers profit from the popularity of this reality violence. Realfights.com, home to Ghetto Fights DVDs, depicts street brawls from across the country. And like the rest of the genre, Ghetto Fights is looking to up the ante with more “authentic” footage. “We have people scouting areas for us, and we pay them for footage,” says Ghetto Fights producer Chris Monroe, who says he has sold more than 200,000 DVDs at $19.95 a pop. “Our footage is as raw as it gets.”
But is it legal? Fighting in public is typically a felony, but what about filming and distributing footage of a fight? In Arlington, Texas, one teenager will soon find out. Nineteen-year-old Michael G. Jackson – who says he began filming street combat more than two years ago and marketed his AggTownz Fights DVDs on a now-defunct Web site – is awaiting trial. (“Agg Town” is slang for Arlington.) Much of his footage appears to be of agreed-upon one-on-one bouts, but there are also brawls where willing participation is less clear. The police connected Jackson to one filmed assault that left a teen critically injured. When Arlington authorities discovered Jackson’s DVD business, they charged him with organized criminal activity. A police spokeswoman alleges that Jackson was an “active spectator” to the violence. He could face up to 20 years in jail.
“I’ve never even been in a fight in my life,” says Jackson, who claims he merely documents street life. “I just filmed fights because they were happening around here a lot.”
One martial-arts instructor in Florida, Phil P., who goes by the online name Roadkill, runs comegetyousome.com, where he has posted hundreds of fight clips. Roadkill claims the videos are for teaching his students the realities of combat. The site attracts tens of thousands a day, and he has been inundated with footage. “I got 500 clips on the site,” Roadkill says. “But I have 500 more that I won’t put on there. Aryan hate groups send me videos, but I’m not going to perpetuate their 150minutes of fame.”
“The attraction to homemade violence is that it’s raw. It’s the taste for violence and the taste for high-tech playing off each other,” says UCLA’s Mark Seltzer, author of Serial Killers: Death and Life in America’s Wound Culture. And, he says, it’s something more. “We imagine the technological world is not real, so we want the really real, and the form that usually takes is a torn body.”
For the teenagers at Emerald Ridge, posting fight videos online had serious consequences. After the police saw the clip, they arrested Russel’s assailant, who was in possession of the same gun he brandished in the video. To avoid being tried as an adult, the teen quickly pleaded guilty to a weapons charge and assault. Almost all who witnessed the initial brawl were suspended. “It should have just been over after the first fight,” Russel says. “But it got so big because people filmed it and put it on the Internet.”
The King of the Web Brawlers
Right now the undisputed online king of the underground bare-knuckle world is a fearsome 30-year-old man who goes by the name of Kimbo. He works in his hometown of Miami as the muscle for an online porn empire that includes the Web site MILF Hunter. Kimbo tells Rolling Stone that he has fought in more underground bouts than he can count. “I enjoy doing what I do – I love exchanging blows,” he says. “The fame, that just comes with the territory.
“A fight starts by word of mouth,” Kimbo continues. “A guy is a badass in his neighborhood, and then people that know people make it happen. It’s braggin’ rights.” In one of his videos, Kimbo turns his opponent’s right eye into a purple-and-white mass with a single punch, ending the bout.
Kimbo’s lone defeat was to Sean “the Cannon” Gannon, a 265-pound Boston cop. That fight is a ten-minute marathon of pain. “I wish we could get in contact with Gannon’s ass and set that up again,” Kimbo says, adding that police ignore the events. “They respect it. You got two guys willing to represent – and do what they love to do. It’s reality and it’s entertainment.”