Diners on the back porch of the Mackenzie River Pizza looked down late Saturday afternoon on a gathering of some of the baddest hombres in the inland Northwest, all converging on the back door of the Wilma Theater.
These were big brawlers with shaved heads and tattoos, flanked by friends and trainers who looked only slightly less dangerous, and lanky fight technicians walking solo who could be mistaken for cross-country runners. It’s Fight Night at the Wilma, and not just boxing, either. Saturday night was the Missoula debut of so-called “no rules fights,” and it drew a solid drinking crowd who came to watch tough men put it all on the line. Everybody pretty much got what they came for.
“No Rules” fighting is a misnomer. There are rules, but not many. There are weight classes, so the largest do not grease the floor with the smallest. You cannot kick your opponent while he’s down, you cannot bite off his ears, and you cannot gouge out his eyes, even if you’re losing. Your friends cannot enter the ring with chairs, flame throwers, or chain saws. Unlike televised wrestling matches, the licks are real, the blood is real, and the joint locks really lock out the joints. The fight ends when one of the fighters “taps out,” slapping the mat or his opponent in submission, or when the referee deems one of the fighters unable to safely continue.
One of the attractions is that nobody knows what they will see in the ring, and different fans come to see different styles. Most fighters combine a heavy dose of Thai kick-boxing with one or more of the grappling arts—the current favorite is Brazilian jujitsu, though American freestyle and the old catch-as catch-can wrestling have their devotees. The result is a complex two-man war that can look like a parking lot brawl one minute and a college wrestling match the next. Then there are the men who were just born and raised so tough that they rely on heart, muscle and a right hand that lands like a mule’s kick to carry the night.
Brandon Olsen was in the basement of the Wilma before the fights, warming up on a square of tattered wrestling mat, dropping to the floor, leaping to his feet, throwing a series of punches, dropping again. Olson was born in Hamilton, wrestled at Corvallis High School and Northern Montana College, was a Mormon missionary in Ecuador, and is now seriously pursuing the fight game. At nearly 160 pounds, he is not carrying body builder muscles to slow him down—or much fat either. He is primarily a Brazilian jujitsu stylist, a student of grappling, chokes and locks, and is working hard to learn Thai boxing to strengthen his striking game. “I’ve been having a great time with this,” he says. “The more I learn, the better it gets. God willing, I feel like I’m gonna do all right out there tonight.”
Olson is one of the more experienced fighters from the Pain Cave, a Kalispell fight school operated by trainer Rob McCaskill, who was the organizer and promoter of the Wilma fights. Olson’s easygoing confidence and enthusiasm would pay off in his two bouts Saturday night. The first, against Coeur d’Alene fighter John Anderson, ended in a tap-out when Olson sank him in a choke that the Brazilians call the “mataleon”—the lion killer—from his position on Anderson’s back. The second ended by tap-out when Olson pinned another Coeur d’Alene fighter, Kevin Adams, and rained down a series of hard punches. Both Idaho fighters were representing Team Neff, trained by powerhouse fighter Roger Neff, whose wife, Judy, is currently rocking the women’s no rules fight world with a 10–0 record.
The crowd was ready for the big brawlers to liven things up, and they didn’t have to wait long. Matt Meyers, a 260-pound wildman from Team Neff, collided with Jay Deisel of the White Buffalo Warriors of St. Ignatius. The Wilma echoed with blows landing like gunshots as the two traded punches and fought for position to grapple. When the big men hit the canvas, Deisel pulled off an armlock on Meyers that resulted in a tap-out submission.
The White Buffalo Warriors were on a roll. St. Ignatius warrior Will Hammond strolled into the ring, looking stripped down and thoroughly lethal at 235 pounds. His 300-pound opponent, Jake Slagel, from the Winchester Posse, Winchester, Wash., is the kind of man who looks like just another big, quiet fella at the bar until you take an argument just a little too far. Next thing you know, you’re waking up and your clothes are out of style.
How often do you see 300-pound men who can throw punches like middleweights? And 235-pound men who can walk into them like they are passing into a strong headwind full of hailstones? Apparently, the White Buffalo Warriors brought a heavy contingent of supporters from the White Buffalo Bar and Grill and the Mission Mountains because the roar of the crowd in the ringside seats almost drowned out the fight noise, and at one point everyone in the front row leaped to their feet to effect a save of the two fighters as they slingshotted off the ropes and headed into the seats. Slagel, bloodied and tired but with the heart of a pit bull, bored into Hammond, missed a step, and Hammond slammed him with a classic judo hip throw, shutting him down and winning the match. There was plenty of joy in the White Buffalo section.
What’s the chances for a return of the action to the Wilma? “I hope we make it back,” says Rob McCaskill. “We had some good fights here, in my opinion, and a good crowd. My problem is that we had to do it pretty much out of pocket and we can only take that kind of risk a few times.” A similar event is scheduled for the Majestic Valley Arena in Kalispell June 22, promoted by the Universal Submission Academy in Kalispell.