Last year The Ultimate Fighter veteran Jeremy May, who spent nine months training orphans how to fight at the controversial EnBo Fight Club, told Bloody Elbow that there’s fights every night in Chengdu.
Whether it’s underage MMA, unsanctioned boxing, or straight up street-fighting, Chengu has you covered. May himself competed in unsanctioned MMA from time to time while there at the pleasure of the mysterious En Bo. Last week Chris Buckley and Adam Wu of the New York Times investigated one place you where you can find wild brawls on the regular; “Monster Private War Club”.
Also known as ‘Monster Fight Club’, the claustrophobic neon-light framed fighting pit that smells like shōchū and cigarettes, has been covered by Westerners before. Photojournalist Fred Dufour of Agence France Press (AFP) was there last year. But Buckley and Wu have expanded on Dufour’s photo-essay to further explore the activities and culture of this Chengdu fight spot.
Rule No.2: You do not talk about this fight club (especially not to the parents) https://t.co/axdNdqhjHu— The New York Times (@nytimes) February 9, 2018
Chengdu is an enormous city that is home to well over 10 million people (18 million counting suburbs). It’s 2,400 years old and, during the Three Kingdoms period, it served as the Shu Empire’s capital; under legendary warlord Lui Bei. In more recent times the city acted as capital of China, after the Rape of Nanking during the Second World War. Today it’s Sichuan Province’s capital and one of the most important economic and cultural centres in the People’s Republic of China.
Chengdu was also the site of some of 2017’s most bizarre MMA news. In April, Xu Xiaodong the director of the Beijing MMA Association got into an online feud with a Tai Chi master named Wei Lei. The two eventually agreed to fight in Chengdu. Xu battered Wei in ten seconds (see it here). That incident lead to an all-consuming MMA vs. traditional martial arts beef that saw Xu challenge traditional practitioners to similar street fights. A littany of ‘masters’ accepted. However, the challenges, which were set-up over Chinese social media site Weibo were mysteriously scrubbed from the net. Then, in June, Xu was a it again. A planned mass brawl with he and some fellow MMAers against a crew of Tai Chi adherents was broken up by the cops. It’s alleged the 911 call was made by a concerned relative of one of the Tai Chi stylists. In August Chengdu was in the news again, this time because of EnBo Fight Club; which claimed to have adopted and trained hundreds of ‘left-behind’ children from the oft-preyed upon Yi minority outside of Tibet. The club has since had dozens of the children removed and returned to their communities in the impoverished Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture.
Chengdu’s slowly becoming famous (or infamous) Monster Fight Club is just another example of how ingrained martial arts and combat sports are in this sprawling frontier metropolis. It’s also an example of how those pursuits are far less sanitized than the examples we find in North America. Monster Fight Club is run by Shi Jian and ‘Mr. Wang’. Shi, the club’s manager, told NYT, that he and Wang set-up the venue in 2015 after being inspired by the 1999 cult movie Fight Club.
“Before all this, I didn’t have anything to do with fighting,” said Shi. “I like to have fun and also do something meaningful, and then I saw that movie.”
Fight Club, which is based on a Chuck Palahniuk novel of the same name, revolves around a depressed schlub played by Edward Norton who finds temporary euphoria thanks to a wild hipster portrayed by Brad Pitt. Together, these two personalities form a nihilistic underground fighting club turned-cult for ‘Middle Children of History’; numb and disenfranchised men who yearn for something brutal and explosive in their Starbucks and khaki festooned world.
Shi and Wang’s version of fight club originally took place in a karaoke bar. Shi and Wang loathe karaoke. But every Friday that space became a festival for fisticuffs. The weekly program included four boxing, kickboxing, or MMA fights involving mostly men, though there were the occasional women’s fight.
Sanctioning in Chengdu, and China in general, is a fluid term. May told Bloody Elbow that groups exist in various large centers who assume control over the ‘licensing’ of combat sports. May claimed that in Chengdu, En Bo — the owner of the orphan MMA gym — is one of the men you should pay to ensure that your event goes off without a hitch.
Despite any deal possibility made with a de facto athletic commission, the club was shut down last November because of ‘friction’ with both the authorities and police. But it reopened last month, in a new venue. Monster Fight Club’s new home is the sixth floor of a half-empty shopping mall, which locals say is cursed by ghosts thanks to the digging up of an ancient cemetery nearby.
Supposedly the local authorities are now in support of the fight club and the police are willing to look the other way. To keep the city and the fuzz off their backs, Shi and Wang have strict policy against drugs or gambling on site. Patrons are also forbidden from fighting outside of the ring.
“I think it’s a great setting with plenty of atmosphere,” said Liao Yanyun to NYT. The 22-year-old amateur boxer fought to a draw at the club recently. “You attract a big crowd to this kind of fight, and that will help boxing develop,” she said.
Shi and Wang said they’re hoping to expand upon the club’s regional popularity (and online notoriety). To do this, they are trying to attract professional talent from the world of Chinese combat sports. They also want to recruit pro fighters from Thailand.
Whether this Monster out-grows its underground roots or it gets shut down by the cops, one thing’s for certain; Chengdu’s fight factory isn’t going away anytime soon.
To read all of Buckley and Wu’s voyage into the Monster Private War Club aka Monster Fight Club, check it out here on nytimes.com.