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November 27, 2007

Underground U of C fight club channels students’ WWE urges

Fans of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club or the 1999 film adaptation know the famous first rule: “You do not talk about Fight Club.”

Members of Thunderdome, the U of C’s fledgling combat society, follow their own rules. Weekly fights are announced at Snell-Hitchcock house meetings, and in the one month since the group was organized, word has started spreading, even to fighting enthusiasts throughout the city.

First-year co-founder Allen Linton II characterizes Thunderdome—named for the 1985 film Mad Max, starring Mel Gibson—as a middle ground between “Fight Club and the WWE,” and students are responding as such. Even in last Thursday’s bitter cold, nearly 20 people gathered in Snell-Hitchcock’s enclosed quadrangle at 11:00 p.m. to challenge each another, cheer on friends, and observe the spectacle of U of C students engaging in one-on-one combat. Some arrived sporting gym clothes, clearly prepared for a workout.

First-year Joe Beckman says he came from a late-night house soccer game and was still feeling energetic.

Brandon Bible, another first-year, came for opposite reasons. “Sometimes school is just so hard you have to fight people,” he said.

Thunderdome provides a release for spectators as well, many of whom welcome the study break after a long week.

“We come almost every week, mostly to laugh,” said second-year Rathika Ramadoss, a Snell resident.

Refereed by Linton, known as the “Czar,” the fights pit two opponents in single-elimination combat, with the goal being to make the other competitor “submit” by admitting defeat.

“The catch is there is only grappling: no striking, hair pulling, fish hooking, kicking, etc.,” said Linton, who has meticulously compiled rules and regulations for the fights.

There are upward of eight fights in a night, some of which last only seconds before one contender is pinned to the ground with no recourse.

The fighters don’t hold back, and matches can be violent and intensely competitive.

“I’m not going to beat him by being sweet,” said undefeated third-year Joe Compratt.

Compratt and fourth-year James Moreno (a power-lifter and self proclaimed “second-greatest fighter in Thunderdome”) have become fierce rivals who draw some of Thunderdome’s largest crowds.

“Some fights we take more seriously,” Ramadoss said.

Nevertheless, the many rules have kept injuries to a minimum and leveled the playing field so that the fights are determined more by skill than the competitors’s size. As a moderator, it is Linton’s role to pair fighters who are well matched in terms of size and skill level, and to stop fights when they become too dangerous. Linton has been known to manipulate fights, though, once putting Compratt in three consecutive contests in an attempt to tarnish his undefeated record.

While the competitive aspect to Thunderdome is undeniable, the fights are largely an exhibition of skills and techniques. Many of the fighters have some background in wrestling or martial arts, although the event has proven a learning process for some. Throughout the fights, spectators and fighters provide running commentary on technique and sometimes practice and debate the viability of new moves. After being bested by Compratt in their last match, Moreno sought out advice from the champion about how to escape from the hold he used to win the fight.

Linton argues Thunderdome’s presence on campus combats the stereotype of the typical U of C student as “5 foot 10, pale, skinny, and good at math.” From its first tournament—originally organized by friends skeptical of Compratt’s proclaimed martial arts proclivity—Thunderdome has challenged this stereotype.

Although it has not yet attempted to gain RSO status, Thunderdome participants said the group is important to the University in that it allows students to showcase their skills outside the academic arena.

There are, of course, some areas of concern. One victorious fighter last Thursday was concerned that he might have injured his opponent’s hands—crucial to his other commitment as a musician in a chamber orchestra.