Haute Couture

There's a disclaimer on the official website of the North American Mixed Martial Arts Association Expo (NAMMAE) that reads, in part:

“This is an industry of fighting and combat. This is not a Tennis Expo or an Auto Expo. . . . Many of us are fierce competitors, both on the mat, in the ring or cage, and in the business world, too. . . . Since even mentioning a floor plan, we have been introduced to the labyrinth of political affiliations, feuds and personal preferences with which the industry is wrought. . . . But at the end of the day, it must be our discretion and our ultimate decision on where to place exhibitors.”

Politics? Feuds? Tantalizing stuff. Would NAMMAE (pronounced “nah-may”), held this past weekend at the Anaheim Convention Center, feature no-holds-barred throwdowns outside the cage? Well, not quite. But this was far from your average trade show. While some of the fanboys may be zealous, you'd never want to call them nerds, as most could pummel you into a bloody pulp. After which, of course, they'd embrace you, shake your hand and say, “Good fight.” Despite this, the whole affair had a thoroughly non-threatening vibe, and it helped that the convention area was open and not too cluttered. (This is only the first one, though-expect it to grow in years to come.)

“I feel like a lone soldier!” complained a seductive stripper in skimpy Catholic-schoolgirl gear, performing on a rent-a-pole. “Where's all the girls?”

Good question-one thing NAMMAE did have in common with, say, Comic-Con, is that most of the ladies are busty “booth babes,” there for photo ops and product placement. But as the day went on, a few more female customers appeared-someone has to buy the “I fuck fighters” tees, after all.

One thing that sets MMA apart from more mainstream sports is that it's still growing, and thus offers more opportunities to the up-and-coming amateur than, say, the NBA. Hold a basketball convention, and you'd likely get a wide cross-section of people in attendance. Here at NAMMAE, a huge portion of the audience looked like they could step into the caged octagon. They might not be pros, but there was a real sense that any of them could be one day. Some even got to show their stuff in the day's grappling tournaments.

Not all the Eastern martial arts were far-Eastern: A Russian army veteran named Vadim Starov, flanked by two booth babes both named Elena, offered a training course in Spetsnatz combat, which is strictly elite stuff. Asked to elaborate on the system, Starov's descriptive abilities failed. Is it a martial art? “Yes. It's Spetsnatz.” But does it have origins in other martial arts? “It's Spetsnatz.” (His website, www.systemaspetsnaz.com, reveals the form to have been originated by Cossacks.)

Taking advantage of the free-flowing testosterone-and presumably hoping to channel some of it into the Persian Gulf-the U.S. military had the strongest presence, with a large Army truck and two smaller assault vehicles open for not only the kids to climb on (from one youngster: “Dad, it's cool! We gotta get one of these!”), but also the adults. You can also get your official “Support the Troops” clothing here and have the proceeds actually, y'know, support the troops-unlike most of the retail ribbons, flags, etc.

Clothing booths dominated the exhibit hall, though the uninitiated should be warned that “couture” in this context refers not so much to high fashion, but rather to former Ultimate Fighting Championship superstar Randy “The Natural” Couture, who sold elaborately printed tees for $40 and showed up to sign autographs for several hours before posing for some pictures with a junior martial-arts team.

His wide-open booth stood in contrast to one at the other end of the hall. When the blond-coiffed “Bad Boy” Tito Ortiz, of Huntington Beach, arrived to meet the masses, his “Team Punishment” area became a mini-fortress. If Couture comes off as the battle-hardened veteran mentor, Ortiz is still the rock star, showing off the car he was given in payment for his duties as trainer on Spike TV's Ultimate Fighter reality series. Ortiz even had a mini-presence at Couture's booth, in the form of an action-figure prototype for a series that includes both men, plus Matt Hughes and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Hughes' figure looked incongruously calm and happy relative to the others.

Here's a quiz: See if you can guess how many of the following are names of rappers, and how many are MMA-inspired fashion lines: Serious Pimp, Alpha Femme, Bloody Knuckles, Conviction, House of Pain, Triggonomics, Booyaa, Gameness, Dead Game, Knuckle Up, Putasos, Throwdown, Yok'd, Toe 2 Toe, Blindside, Madcore, Spartan, Contract Killer. It is, of course, a trick question: all are MMA clothing lines, though House of Pain is both.

Favorite T-shirt design of the show: a Hendrix-inspired image of an MMA fighter with a 'fro and the slogan “'Scuse me while I punch this guy.”

Favorite clothing item overall: “onesies” for babies, with slogans such as “My mom can tap out your mom.”

“It's $20 to take a picture!” says the vendor, spying a camera, although as soon as he finds out it might be in the Weekly, he mellows a bit.

If you're not up to speed on the whole phenomenon, there are documentary films that can help. Pericles Lewnes, whose Loop recently premiered at Indiefest, previously directed a movie about Couture titled Fighter, and Anaheim-born Tamera Sturgis chronicled her husband Todd's pursuit of a fighting career in Under Pressure: Diary of a Cage Fighter's Wife.

“He found out he likes to watch cage fights much more than he likes participating in them,” she said.

But for those who are already cage fighters, more practical products were available: a booth specializing in chronic lower-back pain, a new gel product for injuries, even a special razor designed for quick head-shaves. Just the thing for the aspiring ass-kicker on your holiday shopping list!


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