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Illicit: A Tour Of The Underground Combat League

On Friday, BloodyElbow caught wind of an impending Underground Combat League event, and published an article railing against the New York City-based unsanctioned MMA show. You see, it was BE??s contention that UCL is wholly unsafe ?? and given that a lack of medical screening and post-fight care, as well as limited rules for the bouts, is par for the course for these illicit events, that contention isn??t too far off base. But because of the inherit nature of the UCL (it used to be that the only way to find out about them was a clandestine text message from the promoter; now info is posted on Facebook), misconceptions as to what a typical show is like abound. Like the whispered legends of Tyler Durden not needing sleep and getting plastic surgery every few years, the UCL is often viewed as a mythical fight club where there are no referees, a place where the fighters bleed and die while the evil promoter makes money proportionate to what they shed.

Maybe it??s a little like that. A little. But not quite.

On Friday, BE posted their story, and on Saturday, FightLine went to the show.

In the ten-year history of the UCL, the only thing constant about the venues is that they??re always changing. There have been installments in martial arts schools in Midtown Manhattan, boxing gyms in the heart of Brooklyn, kickboxing schools in Queens, and once, the fights went down on a mat inside a mosque. Since New York State went on record last year admitting that the law banning pro MMA doesn??t ban amateur MMA, a plethora of other organizations have been putting on grand affairs in the full light of day, and the UCL has eased up on the requisite level of secrecy. But old habits die hard, and keeping the exact location of these affairs is still one of the requirements of any video- or pic taking.

Go to any of the other New York amateur MMA shows and you??ll see some sort of medical care, whether it??s a cageside physician or just an EMT checking fighters out before the event. But by law, none of that is required ?? by law, nothing at all is required ?? so the UCL literally has no medical personnel present. This sucks when a fighter breaks his leg (which has happened), but no coach or fighter goes into this thing expecting to be seen by a doctor. Instead, before the events, the fighters just sit around and do whatever.

What sort of fighters compete in the UCL? How good are they compared to those in the semi-sanctioned promotions in New York or the fully-sanctioned ones in New Jersey? Like at any event, the fighters can be anyone from ??Joe the Blue Collar Dude? to ??Mr. Disillusioned Martial Artist? to ??The Sadistic Bouncer? to ??The Athlete with Actual Skill and Talent?. And of course, when it comes to comparing them to competitors elsewhere, your mileage may vary. At Saturday??s event, a Renzo Gracie-trained fighter came up from Philadelphia to fight someone who looked like a fish out of water??BR>

??hile the main event saw a UCL champ (in ten years there have only been four UCL champs) take on a much more experienced pro fighter in a bout that was pleasantly technical.

(There were other fights on the card, but for legal reasons, not all the fighters wanted to be filmed.)

Although the UCL eschews the Unified Rules, and often you??ll get to see actual vale tudo matches go down, what happens in the ring is still an MMA fight ?? which means that what happens afterwards is the same thing you??d see at almost every other MMA show. There??s camaraderie, there??s civility, and for the fans who??ve attended, there??s appreciation.

For the longest time, New Yorkers had nothing but the UCL. That??s changed, and hopefully, if and when the ban gets lifted, that will change even more. But traditions survive when they??re rich and steeped in history, and when it comes to MMA in New York, the UCL boasts the richest tradition of them all. It will disappear for sure when the sport gets sanctioned; until then, it goes on.