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Cover Story

Caged Rage Page 1

Pent-up Utah machismo meets its match in Mixed Martial Arts fighting.

By Geoff Griffin
Posted // November 28,2007 -

In a typical Saturday night in downtown Salt Lake City, Robert Sandstrom makes his way into a huge room at Bliss nightclub. Rap music playing at ear ear-splitting decibels serves as the backdrop while Sandstrom walks behind a man wearing a T-shirt that reads, “Fighting Solves Everything.” He pushes his way through a crowd of hundreds of people who have paid $35 to get in—more than that if you add drinks to the bill.

Settled on his destination at last, Sandstrom climbs into a platform surrounded on all sides by a chain-link fence. A scantily clad woman, better known as a “ring girl,” and an iron-voiced announcer exit. A gate shuts behind them. Sandstrom is now on his own, a man in a cage.

This is his moment to shine in the world of Mixed Martial Arts—or MMA. The fighting he is about to take part in allows everything from stand-up boxing to on-the-mat wrestling and any form of martial arts in between. Only a few potentially injurious moves are barred at all.

At one point in the bout, Sandstrom flips his opponent on his chest, then sits on the guy’s chest while pounding his face with only minimally padded hands. It looks like a fight between two fifth-graders in the schoolyard and draws enough blood to end up smeared on Sandstrom’s chest and face. Minutes later, Sandstrom gets the other fighter in a chokehold, effectively cutting off his air supply. Just short of passing out, the opponent taps furiously on the canvas floor, signaling the referee to stop the fight.

The crowd erupts.

Immediately after leaving the cage, Sandstrom collects $150 in prize money along with a certificate good for a free steak dinner. He passes a required post-fight checkup by an onsite doctor. Then he calls it a night.

Not bad for somebody who started training in his backyard with his dad just weeks before signing up for his first fight.

Sandstrom is a former college baseball player who was rehabbing a shoulder injury while awaiting a professional baseball tryout. During rehab, he saw a TV broadcast of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)—the highest level of MMA—and decided to give the sport a try. When he thought he was ready, Sandstrom took documentation of the negative results of an HIV test and $27 to register with the state athletic commission, and signed up for a fight with a local promoter.

Sandstrom had never been in a fight before—organized or otherwise—and didn’t feel he had ever done anything particularly brutal.

“I don’t have anything against the other guy. I don’t even know him,” he says. “People need to realize it’s a sport, not a fight. It’s about skill, not wanting to hurt someone.”

It may be about skill and sport. Or it may be a statement on America’s fascination with violence passing as entertainment. One thing is sure: Mixed Martial Arts is enjoying a burst of popularity in Utah. The fights involve a sizeable number of otherwise staid men, many of them breadwinning Mormon husbands and fathers, who wouldn’t normally be caught dead in a nightclub.

src=data/449BBE6E-021E-D69E-7A3370304BA7D31B/userData/Image/071129/michael_stidham.jpgLocal MMA promoter Mike Stidham says he has so many LDS fighters signing up he has to be careful not to schedule too many of them for his cards at clubs. That’s because friends and family who come to watch the fighters won’t buy enough liquor to keep the club owners happy.

“I think there’s a lot of pent-up frustration in LDS culture,” Stidham says. “A lot of guys have a lot of anger.”

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Posted // March 8,2008 at 08:38 hey why don’t you write an article that actually has important information in it? like where the fights are held, how you can get tickets etc. every article in the city weekly turns into a pointless religious argument of non-mormons against mormons.


Posted // December 5,2007 at 10:10 Oh, I see. So, because your kid is hyper, it’s okay for him, as a Mormon, to hang out in bars and clubs? Based on my experience with Mormons, that makes perfect sense. Your rules only apply when they’re convenient.nnAnd, because your kid is hyper, you figure that JC would enjoy that he (your Mormon kid) hangs out in bars beating other people up? That makes sense, too. Obviously, Jesus was a violent dude, and this is exactly how he would like for you folks, his chosen people, to honor and represent him.nnThere’s loads of hyper people that don’t feel the need to beat the shit out of others. This is not football. This is a sport designed for the sole purpose of hurting a person before they do the same to you. It is pure violence, and nothing more. nnWhile you folks (Mormons) continue to proclaim that you’re the chosen ones, and continue to look down upon others for living differently than you, I’ll continue to point out your rampant hypocrisy.


Posted // December 5,2007 at 08:38 As a mother to a fighter and an active mormon too-- I will add that my son has been hyperactive since tiny. This is a good outlet for him physically. Behind the media hype there is much respect shown between contestants and fighting is much more conservative than it used to be so that they don’t KILL each other. There is a mental toughness associated with the sport that spills into other areas of life.nnTo confused and not so confused All are hypocrites so get off your high horses


Posted // December 4,2007 at 08:23 As a devout LDS member I am very surprised at the ignorance some people have about the LDS faith and the Book Of Mormon. It does not come to me as a surprise that the quote from the Book of Mormon about Captain Moroni is taken out of context to be used to cause contriversy about Mormon’s fighting in the MMA. Captain Moroni’s quote was meant to inforce that he would protect his people from their enemies and preserve their lands and familes. His people were under attack for their beliefs. So it is the same today, when some people do not believe what someone else believes they twist turths to be used for their advantage to ridicule or degrade that person or group of people. nnThe MMA is a sport just like wrestling or football where the particiipants have to train and use self dicipline to excell in their sport. We as a society live for sports of all kinds; such as golf, fishing, tennis, gymnastics, the Olympics and the Superbowl, just to mention a few. Not ALL Mormon males have pinned up aggression, but atleat there are organized sports of all kinds that anyone with aggression OR NOT can participate in for fun and satisfaction, and we as a society enjoy watching them. I am sure that Confused enjoys watching football and other sports as well as participating in them. So don’t be so quick to judge, lest ye also be judged.


Posted // December 3,2007 at 06:28 I wonder if the LDS fighters figure they’re doing something that Christ would approve of. Aren’t the faithful supposed to live as Christ would have them live? Was Christ a pugilist, or was he a peace monger? nnConsidering the long list of restrictions that most LDS faithful live by, I understand male Mormon aggression. Personally, I think JC would prefer that his followers sit down over a few beers (forbidden to Mormons) and converse with each other peacefully, rather than enter a cage and beat the living shit out of each other (okay with Mormons).nnFurthermore, it seems very contradictory for supposedly faithful LDS members to enter-and possibly profit from- establishmets (bars and clubs) that are railed against by The Church. This is yet another example of local religious hypocrisy.