Originally Published: February 4, 2015 6:03 a.m.
Chris Keaton and his son, Ashtin, sat in their cushioned seats on the floor of Prescott Valley Event Center the night of Saturday, Jan. 31, anxiously anticipating the annual Rage in the Cage mixed martial arts competition.Chris, 43, brought Ashtin, 9, to Rage in the Cage to share the experience of live MMA fighting amongst a throng of more than 1,000 people cheering in an intimate setting.In the past, Chris, who's from PV, attended a similar event here that he enjoyed. On this evening, though, he and Ashtin were seated only about 10-15 yards away from the black-fence-lined cage with a direct line of sight to where the action was about to go down.Chris couldn't wait for the main event, the final bout of the night that featured 145-pound pro Danny Hilton of Prescott MMA Academy."A lot of people like seeing fights," Chris said about an hour before the bouts got under way, as music blared through the speakers overhead. "It's better than watching it at home on TV. This is my first time sitting up close."Related: Mixed Martial Arts helps Prescott-area fighters brave the cageMMA fans are drawn to the sport because it's so intense, and it's an adrenaline junkie's dream. While it's true that swinging fists and feet are allowed in the cage, there's more to it than that."It's not just punches with gloves," Chris said. "You've got submissions, chokeholds, kicks to the head. It's more like a street fight, but controlled."Another fan, local Anne Riggs, was bracing for the fights alongside one of her female friends from a front-row seat, also on the floor, probably no more than 20 feet from the cage.Riggs attends Prescott MMA Academy. She was in the crowd to support her buddies who were fighting, including Hilton. She said Hilton, who teaches classes at the academy, doubles as one of her trainers.When she's watching the fights, Riggs said she has a "hunch" for who will win and who will lose."I love the fights, I love the brawl and I love the blood," Riggs said candidly. "That's not exactly the typical female response. I get so into it, and I'm biting my nails."But what about the dangers involved? It's not uncommon for fighters, even pros, to succumb to nasty injuries. Riggs said the pros aren't as susceptible as the amateurs "because they know what they're doing."Amid the boisterous introductions of the fighters, then the roars and applause from spectators during the bouts, Riggs is all in."How can you go to a fight and not have 'the loud'?" she said. "And the music starts goin' when they come out. How do you not feel amazing and get all pumped up? Even if you're here and don't know anybody, your heart starts poundin'. It's such an adrenaline rush."Patrick Josephs, 30, a bearded fight fan from Gilbert, was drinking a beer with his friends in an open space on the floor behind the seats where several fans had congregated to mill around before the fights. He said he's been to a few of these types of MMA events in the past year and respects the athletes in every weight class."These guys train so hard, they've come a long way - like cuttin' weight, eatin' right," Josephs said. "Training sessions are horrible (for the most dedicated fighters in the sport). They're in the gym probably 14 hours a day. You've got to be prepared for something like this."Arizona native Charlie Cox, 44, of Mesa, who was milling around with Josephs, said he's followed mixed martial arts since its inception years ago. He enjoys MMA more than boxing, for example, because there are fewer, shorter rounds."I love the intensity, I love everything about the sport," Cox added. "It's fast. It's quick. I don't have to sit and watch 15 rounds. I like seeing the big names fight each other."Rage in the Cage is considered a rung below the top-of-the-line UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), although it's taken competitive strides, Cox said."I've been to a lot of Rage in the Cage events, and this venue here is amazing," he added.Rage in the Cage is currently conducted at PV Event Center once annually. However, PV Event Center General Manager Gary Spiker said Rage in the Cage management has talked with him about bringing MMA to the arena here two or three times a year in the future."These are the semi-pros - these are the guys that make it to the big time," Spiker said. "So, we're up a level than the first time we (hosted MMA), and people like that. It's almost more fun than straight boxing."Riggs said she's glad PV Event Center continues to host Rage in the Cage with a fight card that mixes in pro fights with amateur bouts."For the most part, this town wants to see a good fight," she added. "But this is small-town. And if it builds up, it shows that that's what we want more often. Bring the good stuff to town."Follow Doug Cook on Twitter @dougout_dc