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Steven Wilhite, right, ducks to avoid a swing from Justin Duncan during their bout at Saturday night's cage fighting event in Priceville.
Daily photo by Brennen Smith
Steven Wilhite, right, ducks to avoid a swing from Justin Duncan during their bout at Saturday night's cage fighting event in Priceville.

'The pain goes away in about a day'
Local cage fighters insist regulations ensure there's method to the mayhem

By Nancy Glasscock
nglasscock@decaturdaily.com 340-2443

PRICEVILLE — Russell Coleman doesn't look like a typical cage fighter.

At least that's the impression he said he gives most people who don't know him.

At 5 feet, 8 inches and 136 pounds, the 23-year-old said that because of his stature acquaintances often are surprised to learn he regularly cage fights and practices mixed martial arts. His personality, which he described as friendly and laid back, might be another reason not to suspect Coleman has 16 years experience in organized fighting and is a two-time national kick boxing champion.

Although acquaintances might expect him to behave more aggressively, Coleman said he's never involved in street fights. Instead, he tests his skill in organized bouts like the one last weekend at Celebration Arena in Priceville.

Fighters faced off in a chain-link cage inside the arena according to weight class before about 200 spectators. Men standing toward the back of the crowd frequently stood and yelled boom" when a fighter was slammed to the bottom of the cage after being lifted into the air by an opponent.

Others yelled, "Let him go and fight him. I could do that," when a fighter repeatedly held his opponent in a headlock.

"You get very involved in it," Coleman said of cage fighting.

"When you get into it and get your adrenaline going, it gets addictive. And yes, you wake up hurting, but the pain goes away in about a day."

Coleman, like other cage fighters at the event, said some people see the sport as pure violence with no rules. But about 30 restrictions prohibit certain maneuvers including head butting, eye gouging and strikes to the throat and groin.

Ways a fighter can win include causing an opponent to physically or verbally tap out, knocking out an opponent, a decision via scorecards or a forfeit.

Coleman and other fighters said experience in martial arts doesn't necessarily make them more confident about the outcome of an altercation outside the ring. In fact, they said they wouldn't use martial arts in the street.

"There's always somebody better; always somebody who can beat you," Coleman said.

Valley Rubber Works

Coleman finds time from work at Valley Rubber Works to train daily with Robert Clairday, owner of Alabama Extreme Cage fighting. Clairday has hosted cage fighting in Hartselle for 25 years and was the center of a recent controversy involving Hartselle leaders and restrictions on the sport.

Decatur city officials also stymied his attempt to hold fights in the city.

Coleman said his training pays off. He once won $1,000 at an event in Cleveland. The money he wins supports his 4-month-old daughter, he said.

Not every fighter at the Priceville event was as experienced.

Some, like Steven Wilhite, have competed in cage fighting for two months but are dominating opponents.

Wilhite, a Cullman County resident with a spiked blond mohawk, hasn't lost a fight. He left the ring with a trophy last weekend, after defeating another opponent.

"People think I've been doing this longer," he said following a fight. "I don't know why."

Joshua Hatfield, a 17-year-old Brewer student, has been cage fighting for about a year-and-a-half. He began practicing boxing, and now trains several days a week.

Hatfield said he was inspired to compete in organized fighting events by watching television cage fighting bouts. He wasn't interested in typical high school sports, so he searched for another outlet.

"I've always liked the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) and watching them," Hatfield said.

New recruit?

In two years, UFC fans might see Hartselle resident Brandon Lovett on television, if Lovett accomplishes his goal. Lovett, 24, was among fighters sitting ringside after a bout cheering on other competitors.

He said cage fighting is a way to sharpen his skills in hopes of becoming a professional fighter in about two years. There is another plus: "It keeps me from getting in trouble."

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