Sat, May 10, 2003 - Page 16 News List

Taipei's 'Fight Club' knocks 'em out

The city's sugar-coated entertainment based on the Brad Pitt film takes place every Saturday night in a downtown basement nightclub

By Graham Norris and Yu Sen-lun  /  STAFF REPORTERS


Hsiao Ma's (小馬) left hook caught Wu Kun (吳坤) on the cheek just well enough to send him stumbling to the ground. His lip bleeding slightly, Wu got back on his feet and readied himself for the next onslaught.

"Hit him. Hit him, motherfucker," a bald man screamed from his vantage point standing on a stool by the bar.

Seemingly oblivious to the strobe lights and pounding beats of Wu-Tang Clan's Gravel Pit, the two men flailed wildly at each other, frequently losing their balance and crashing into the spectators. After another minute of grappling, the referee leapt in to prise the fighters apart.

"I think we have a winner," the MC bellowed into his microphone as the referee raised the hand of Hsiao Ma, victor in Taipei's sugar-coated version of the Brad Pitt film Fight Club.

Every Saturday night, at a basement club on Fushing South Road, a dozen men, and sometimes women, cast off their social restraints and yield to their primal desire to exact violence upon others, albeit in an environment with hip-hop based music, chattering MC and a cheering crowd comprised of beautiful people. It is something different from that dark, grungy car park where Brad Pitt hits his opponent in the film.

"I don't particularly like violence or fighting with people. But it's a very good feeling when your fists actually hit the other person," said Wu, 28, a graduate student at a Taipei college.

"I'm not afraid of getting hurt. Last time I got this," he said, pointing to a bruise under his eye. "But it really not serious."

Tony Kao (高建國), owner of VS nightclub, got the idea for fight club by combining his own business of music and drinking with that of his friend and fight referee, King Sun (孫晉).

Sun is a member of a kung-fu fighting club that practices sanda (散打), or K-1, kung fu, a mix of wrestling, boxing and kicking that looks similar to Thai boxing or free-fighting in Japan. The club is led by the celebrity fighting champion Firebird Liu (劉釗成), who can often be seen at VS watching the action and smoking a cigar.

"We just want to offer a healthy activity to release their energy," said Jo Chu (朱憶眉), bar manager at VS.

But to make this testosterone-charged entertainment safer and more accessible to the public, kicking and wrestling aren't allowed. Fighters are paired off according to their weight and have to wear 10-ounce (283g) gloves. The heavier fighters wear head protection.

The dance floor provides the scene for the fighting, with

spectators crammed behind four lines of white tape which mark the edges of a "ring" about 4m long and 3m wide. Fighters who are forced out -- or more likely lose their balance and fall out -- of the ring three times are disqualified. Fights last up to two minutes. Winners get three bottles of beer, losers one.

But those expecting a demonstration of boxing prowess worthy of presentation at Caesar's Palace will be disappointed.

"Our aim is to have non-professional people fight. We don't want professional people," said Sun, who as referee, goes by the name Da Pao, or Cannonball. "It is more like entertainment, for everybody to have fun."

Wu, wearing NT$80 handwraps he'd bought for his second bout at fight club, said he'd never done any boxing before. He "learned" his technique from reading lots of Japanese Manga [comic books] during his spare time. "I also used to have a foreign friend who boxes. I had learned a bit of boxing from him and sparred with him for about 40 minutes," Wu said.

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