On the dirt floor of Scarface’s portable boxing ring known as “Satan’s Backyard,” “Heathen” and “Lone Wolf” exchange blows instead of insults or gunshots. Who they are exactly, we don’t know. However, Chris “Scarface” Wilmore, the founder of StreetBeefs, a somewhat underground fight club, announces each of their win/loss records and hometowns at the beginning of the matchup.
He introduces the referee as well. The footage of the fight is pretty raw, like something off Worldstar, though StreetBeefs has its own channel on Youtube for a reason. There’s a key element missing from their fights – no one’s life is really in danger, and in many cases, a life is being saved.
The fight between Heathen and Lone Wolf looks like it was for sport, but a lot of the fights on StreetBeefs originated over money, girls, rumors or from mishaps in the drug trade. The club’s initial growth came from recruiting guys Wilmore knew who had these beefs, to get them to fight hand to hand and not eventually shoot it out or fight dirty.
Raised on a street in the area of Harrisonburg, Virginia, Wilmore grew up in what was once called the meth capital of the U.S. He witnessed the cost of drug violence/turf wars as well as how far people will go to defend their honor.
The goal of StreetBeefs is to move these fights into a new arena, and while that doesn’t make violence any less ugly, it takes the worst outcomes out of the equation. It’s hard to control animosity itself, but the potential damages of it can be minimized.
Wilmore says the club is “intended for people with serious street disputes, where a gun, knife or gang of friends may come into play,” and to offer people “a safe alternative to solve their dispute.” For a more in depth look, I highly recommend the New York Time’s eighteen minute documentary on StreetBeefs. Towards the end of the video, Wilmore helps settle a beef without any fighting at all.
While many of the boxing and MMA matchups are friendly, the agenda against gun violence is not something to be taken lightly. The death of one of Scarface’s close friends due to gun violence is what prompted him to recruit people for Streetbeefs, and he has begun promoting the fights more heavily.
Just this week, a new channel has been added, showing fights from the view of a GoPro worn by the referee. In this video he opens up about how serious gun violence is and directly asks people to reach out if their feuds “might become violent.” The motto on their YouTube page is “Guns Down, Gloves Up”.
After the fights, Wilmore claims he “monitors the beef” between competitors in case their dispute continues to escalate. This makes sense for people that he knows locally in Harrisonburg, but how can you reliably do that for people whose disputes start on and live through the internet?
If you’re angry enough to first provoke other people through comments and then flame the fire by arguing, then props to you for backing up your fighting words with action. But, I don’t think anyone is going to be able to stop you from antagonizing your opponent after the fight if that’s what you want. Scarface says this is unusual though; typically, the losers and winners feel better after the match-up and retain a sense of mutual respect. The online fights are a more recent phenomenon, anyway.
One fighter, “Ninja” Ron, who did continue to talk smack after taking a beating from a more experience MMA fighter, was an outlier who got banned from the club following his comments. Of Ron and two others who continued antagonizing each other, Scarface “completely helped” one of them, and says of the others: “over the course of two years, nothing major has happened as a result of their dispute.” There’s more on the controversy of who holds responsibility for fights and settling them here, and a response from Scarface on the growing controversy here.
Apart from that controversy, it generally seems like people from all different backgrounds and lifestyles are drawn into the StreetBeefs community, and that regardless of why they’re there, the loose organization brings out the best in people.
Recently there was a competition held called “Return of the OGs,” where fighters who enter were called on to face any one of a number of more experienced “OG” boxers listed on a card. This was a purely sport event, but it drew people from a larger demographic than just the boxing community because of the philosophy behind StreetBeefs.
Because StreetBeefs allows people to fight grudge fights, the group has the ability to draw people into the sport of fighting who otherwise would not be interested, and who might not be in any other organized activity. Many who come to squash beefs come back, inevitably getting better at fighting.
Fights that happen in the street do not create any contact with a community dedicated to a cause, but a fight in “Satan’s Backyard” does give fighters that exposure, even if they only joined because they were set on beating someone up. At the end of the day, creating a lively community does a lot more for safety than monitoring people ever could.
The club is a middle ground between street fighting and formal boxing/MMA. I wouldn’t expect experienced boxers to train for a fight there, but I wouldn’t expect formal boxing rings to have as direct an effect on stopping gun violence, either.
It’s unpolished enough to be accessible to anyone but organized enough to be safe. Yeah, there’s probably no one who can prove that the CPR guy is actually certified, but the CPR guy is there. No one is paying to see the fight, there’s no indoor facility, but people who are opposed to gun violence are there. There’s mediation, and any mediator is better than none. A loose code of ethics for fighting is better than the code of the street, where anything goes.
Right now, it doesn’t seem like StreetBeefs is exploiting the lack of regulation on their fights to boost their popularity; their fights are pretty straightforward, have clear rules, and are not any worse than something you would see in a real boxing match or even some sparring sessions. Some of their videos are pretty violent, others really aren’t bad at all. They are definitely a legit underground fight club, but don’t seem to try too hard. The wild names of the fighters like “Mighty Mouse” are the fighters’ choice, not StreetBeefs.
If other communities follow their lead, change will take place. When people become willing to fight in the ring, they forego the ideas they may have had to solve the beef on their own terms, which is a powerful choice that most don’t have the option to make.
If everyone who’s best friend died from gun violence started a boxing club, it could help hand to hand combat became more popular and respected over all, and eventually things could go back to how they were in the old days, where the norm was fighting one on one, unarmed.
Right now, I can’t blame people for using guns or other weapons. If a kid is going to confront someone, there’s no guarantee the other party is unarmed because there’s usually no safe arena. StreetBeefs provides that guarantee and just needs to expand. This expansion will spread the influence of their message, and the norm will begin to change.