Ben Fodor recently signed with World series of Fighting and will make his organization debut on April 10th at the Foxwoods Casino & Resort in Connecticut. Fodor has been fighting professionally for about 18 months, but has an extensive amateur record that dates back 9 years, making him an experienced veteran of 23 fights. He follows in the footsteps of older brother Caros with this move out of the regional ranks and into a more visible promotion.
The most interesting facet of Fodor isn't his athleticism or even the fact that professionally, he has an unblemished record. It's his alter-ego that makes him stand out in a crowd of fighting faces, especially since this other side of him routinely suits up as a real-life, crime fighting superhero named Phoenix Jones.
I'll admit, when I went into this interview, I thought I was going to be speaking to some crackpot with delusions of grandeur, but I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised when he came across as a measured, intelligent guy that has a process for everything, and appears to take his public service very seriously. I don't know that I would ever get on board with this being an ideal situation for lowering the crime rate, but I do admire his courage and some part of me might be just a little envious that he's living a dream that I myself have envisioned many, many times. This is your chance to get to know the man behind the mask a little better.
Bloody Elbow: How did you choose your name?
Phoenix Jones: Well, Phoenix is my son's name, and Jones is the most common last name in America, so I did it for my son and for the common person.
BE: What made you want to fight crime in this fashion, rather than more traditional avenues like the military or the police force?
PJ: Police officers in general don't really get to fight crime. They respond to crime. Once you've already been beaten up and had your stuff stolen, they try to figure out who did it. I was more interested in being there to stop crime as it's taking place. I don't want people to be victimized and then call me so that I can try to make it even. I want to stop people from being victimized in the first place.
BE: How does your radio alert system work?
PJ: So, there's about 17 of us with radios. We walk around different parts of the city. They radio me or any of us that are suited up where to go.
BE: When you say "suited up" are you all in the same suit?
PJ: Oh no. We all have our own monikers and suits. Only 3 or 4 of us will be in suits. The rest will be in plain clothes, walking around really rough neighborhoods, and they radio us when they see crime, and the guys in suits will come in and stop it.
BE: How did you design your suit?
PJ: At first, I wore spandex, but I got stabbed, so I realized that wasn't going to work. Then I got some bullet-proofing and I bought an old Batman suit and cut the ears off. As time progressed, I upgraded things here and there. Now, I've got a $10,000 bullet-proof suit.
BE: Where did you get the money for your suit?
PJ: Part of it was through donations, but I ended up taking out a loan and I also put a portion of it on my credit card.
BE: Do you have a normal 9-5 job?
PJ: Yes, I work with autistic children.
BE: Do you carry any weapons? Do you have handcuffs or any other type of restraints?
PJ: Once you start restraining people, you run into legality issues, because you are technically kidnapping or illegally detaining someone. We do carry handcuffs and zip ties, but we only use them if someone has stabbed a person or beaten someone. We don't use them for small crime.
The most common thing we do is either knock them out or choke them out. Once they're asleep, I don't have to detain them. It's crazy because the legal implications are more severe for handcuffing someone than for knocking them out.
BE: Is there a "Phoenix Cave"?
PJ: [Laughs] No. We rent a little U-Haul storage place where we can put all our gear. We meet there, suit up and head out from that point. I have kids and neighbors. Having a whole bunch of pepper grenades and bullet-proof vests in your garage is less cool than you think.
BE: Do you walk a regular beat like police officers do?
PJ: Sort of. Seattle has three major areas of crime. You've got Capitol Hill for muggings, Belltown for violent assaults and robberies and Chinatown for most of the drug crime. Those areas are only 4-5 blocks a piece, so with 17 guys out there, you can have one on every street. Really, we're on every street in the hoods. That's pretty much how it works. If you're in the hood doing something wrong, we'll probably see it.
BE: How often do you guys patrol?
PJ: Thursday through Sunday, there is always a group of us out. Depending on my schedule, I could be out there every night of the week. Before I signed with WSOF, I was out at least 5 nights a week. I've still been going out, but not as much in the lead-up to my fight, but the others are still patrolling regularly.
BE: What's your screening process for accepting new members to the team?
PJ: When you start out on our team, you don't get to carry a weapon, you only get to carry a camera. You have to nothing but film for a certain period of time. From there, you start shadowing one of the positions from the group and you get a uniform.
We have assigned positions. The first position is the guy who takes care of the violent crime. Position 2 is the guy who watches the first guy's back. Position 3 is the medic, because we have a medic on call with us at all times. Position 4 is our camera guy and Position 5 is our backup call-in. If we really have a problem that requires more guys, that's what Position 5 does.
You go through shadowing all those positions for a period of time. By the time those processes are complete, about a year has gone by. At that point, we vote you in or vote you out. When you're in a dangerous situation with a person who has no weapons, you learn what kind of person they are really quick.
There's also a color system. When they start out, they wear black pants and a yellow sweatshirt. Once they go from filming to shadowing, they wear black pants and a blue sweatshirt. Eventually it becomes black pants, black sweatshirt. Once accepted formally, they get a logo and can choose a superhero name.
BE: What kind of weapon do you carry?
PJ: I actually carry a PhaZZer. It's a company that sponsors me, and it does all sorts of things like launch pepper balls, rubber balls, fires tasing darts...it's got all kinds of cool gadgets. I also carry a net gun, a stun baton, and pepper grenades.
BE: What does the Seattle public think of you in your own view?
PJ: It's a healthy mix that kind of depends what area of the city we're talking about. In Capitol Hill, I'm not really liked. In Belltown, there's a lot of crackheads, and they don't really acknowledge me at all. However, when I see a regular citizen, they're typically glad to see me, and will come up and converse with me in a friendly manner. They like taking pictures with me, too.
When we're in Chinatown, we wear hoodies and don't let anyone see us, because the Chinese gangs are rough, and those guys will hit you with something or stab you with no warning at all, just because they know who we are. When we're there, we keep our super suits hidden until we actually have to stop crime, in which case we reveal them after we've intervened and need to identify ourselves to the police. Our suits are also equipped with really bright LED lights that are designed for signaling cops.
BE: Have you and the local police come to an understanding of sorts that you're trying to help them and will continue in your crusade regardless of what anyone tries to do to stop you?
PJ: That's the point we're at now, but it wasn't always like that. My first year of fighting crime, I got arrested like 40 times. They'd arrest me, never file any charges, and let me go within 24 hours. Basically, I'd go out Friday, get arrested and get home sometime Saturday.
BE: Do you have a certain gift, a "super power", if you will, that defines you or sets you apart from the other members of your group?
PJ: When someone wants to join the group, the first thing we ask them is if they have any super powers, who their favorite superhero is and what their particular mission against crime is about. For example, my thing is I don't like street violence—robberies and assaults—so we basically try to figure out what that is for you.
Then we go into the favorite superhero. Mine is Nightwing. He was Bruce Wayne's son and he gave all his money back to his dad and said, ‘Look, I'm going to do this on my own.' I respect that because he's a self-made man.
The last thing we want to know is do you have a super power? Everyone that answers that they have a super power is immediately dismissed from consideration for obvious reasons.
BE: What was first, you or the Kickass movie character?
PJ: Technically, I was first, but without Kickass, there would be virtually no public awareness of Phoenix Jones.
BE: What are some of the names the people in your group have chosen for themselves?
PJ: We've got Omega who is the least physically fit of the crew, but he's a computer science engineer, so he handles all our filming and tech needs. Aqua is a paramedic in her day job. Midnight Jack is our guy that is a reformed drug addict, and he is remarkably good at diffusing situations with the crackheads and other drug users. We've got Firestarter who is a fireman in his day job. We have a guy named Red Falcon who is like our all-around guy. He knows how to fix things, probably because he's a carpenter in his day job. My girlfriend patrols with us, but doesn't use a superhero name. Where she is best is when we come across situations where a woman has been assaulted, she gets the information on the crime and manages to soothe the victims at the same time. We all have our roles.
BE: What's your policy on guns?
PJ: We don't allow that. If you carry a gun to fight crime, you're an idiot. There are two reasons I say that. 1. It's illegal to go out with the intention of fighting crime, protecting/serving, whatever. 2. If you are intending to fight crime with a gun, it's because you are too lazy or don't care to prepare.
BE: Do you have to turn a lot of people away?
PJ: No. I have a certain amount of time set that people have to contact me before I return their e-mail, so a lot of times, they just weed themselves out. Omega contacted me for 8 months, every week. You figure out who is serious and dedicated pretty easily.
BE: What's the proudest moment of your crime fighting career?
PJ: We were out at a protest in 2012. There were some guys in black masks that were there and word was getting around that they planned to throw a bomb into the federal building. We went to the cops and told them that the guys were planning on bombing the federal building. The cop just tells us to fuck off.
We figured we'd just better get to the building, so we got there right as these 15 guys in black masks start rushing towards it. We got into a fist fight with these guys right outside the building's doors. There was a news chopper flying over the top, live broadcasting the news while we're fighting these guys. One guy threw something out of his backpack and it exploded and caught on fire just outside the door, but they didn't get it inside because we had managed to hold them back.
All the sudden, homeland security shows up with giant guns, and tell everybody to get on the ground. Most of the black mask guys had run off, so we're figuring that we're going to jail. This cop walked over to me and says, ‘Phoenix, pleasure to meet you. You're an American hero.' He shook my hand and then got the video footage from us and said that according to law, we had helped stop an act of terrorism.
BE: You mentioned that you have a sponsor for your PhaZZer. Do you have many sponsors and are there any guidelines or rules you have in place regarding sponsors?
PJ: We have a few, and there are a couple rules. 1. We don't accept cash. We only accept goods. And 2. We won't rep your goods unless we're directly asked about them or they've actually done something to prevent myself or our group members from bodily harm.
For example, Baker Ballistics made my bulletproof suit, and since it actually stopped a bullet when I was wearing it in a street skirmish, I said on TV that they had made my suit. On the other hand, I've used the same company's arm gauntlets for the last 4 years, but they've never done what they're supposed to do, because I've never been stabbed in the arm, so I don't mention their name.
You can give us stuff if you want to help protect us, but know that you're not getting any media buzz out of it unless we actually use it and prove its efficacy.
BE: There is a documentary where one of Seattle's police sergeants seems to be sympathetic to your cause. What is their official stance on you and your group?
PJ: The police department's "official" stance is that they do not work with me, but any person that looks at the situation logically will know that there is a level of tolerance there. What I can definitely say is this; the police are certainly aware of my activity and we are in constant contact. They know everything that I do, but they don't condone my behavior in any way.
BE: Will a full time MMA career hinder your crime fighting movement?
PJ: No, not at all, and this way, I won't be broke all the time [laughs]. People don't realize it, but fighting crime costs me a lot of money. Gas runs about $100/week. Replacing the gear that's not sponsored is very expensive. We keep an attorney on retainer because we get arrested or sued every couple of months. We go through money like you wouldn't believe. It's not cheap to fight crime.
BE: Final question, are you looking at MMA as a full time career or as a side gig to help you fund your crime fighting?
PJ: Up until now, it was a side job to help me fund crime fighting. At this point, I've signed with a big organization that has real talent and tough athletes, so it has to become my focus now. I can't treat it like I'm fighting some local in a Podunk casino. This is the real deal. This will take priority until April 10th, then I'm gonna go out and fight crime, literally straight after my fight. I'm going to New Jersey to fight crime there on the same night I win my fight in WSOF. It's gonna be good stuff.
You can follow Phoenix via his Twitter account, @ThePhoenixJones