Caged Heat

Rage in the Cage promoter Roland Sarria lets loose the Valley's modern-day gladiators

Today, Sarria often has trouble finding time to work out, never mind mentoring the stable of eager young toughs who keep signing up to become professional cage fighters.

"I don't get involved with the fighters anymore," he says. "I let John Petrilli [Rage in the Cage's "match-maker," in charge of booking available fighters for each match] do that. I just deal with the business."

As a troupe of entertainers, Sarria has come to regard his fighters in the same league as the clowns or male strippers he used to traffic in -- although sometimes a 230-pound bruiser can be a bit harder to deal with than the average Bozo.

Homer "The Rock" Moore has been striking his own 
deals lately.
Mark Skalny
Homer "The Rock" Moore has been striking his own deals lately.
Roland Sarria recently quit his day job to promote Rage in the Cage full time. "This is do or die for me."
Mark Skalny
Roland Sarria recently quit his day job to promote Rage in the Cage full time. "This is do or die for me."

"A cage fight for me is no different than doing any other kind of promotion at a nightclub," he says. "It can be hard to control these fighters sometimes. A lot of 'em are young and wild, and they're not as smart as they think they are."

It's the second intermission at June's Rage in the Cage event in Glendale. Fifteen minutes until the last three groups of fighters, the heavyweights, the headliners of the night, take their turns inside the big steel cage in front of a record crowd of 8,174 people.

For Ray Elbe, "Magical Ray" Elbe, the 22-year-old kickboxing champ known as much for his flashy entrances as for his fighting, it's Magic Time.

Elbe is famous for putting on a good show, and tonight, he bounds up to greet Sarria flocked by the girls from the Buttasmooth modeling agency, with which Elbe has recently hooked up his own sponsorship.

Entering the cage, Elbe struts for the UPN 45 and ISTV cameras like a rock star. But his opponent, Leonard Wilson, a new, up-and-coming black karate prodigy fresh from weeks of nightly after-work training at the downtown Phoenix YMCA, is not entertained.

As the fight begins and Elbe moves in for one of his trademark kickboxing attacks, Wilson deftly dodges his foot. Then dodges it again. Then throws a torrent of punches to Elbe's head, sending Elbe to the ground. The second time Elbe gets up and goes in for the attack, Wilson throws a perfectly balanced spinning back-kick to the left side of Elbe's jaw, and Elbe is done, tumbling back into a corner of the cage, where Wilson charges at him, bent over at the waist, pummeling Elbe with punches to the head until the referee pulls him off.

While Elbe sits with his hand on his left eye, Wilson triumphantly scales the cage and throws his arms up to the crowd. The ISTV camera that only 43 seconds ago was capturing Elbe's grand entrance is now, incredibly, splattered with Elbe's contact lens -- a weird, once-in-a-lifetime catch, now preserved on the Internet.

Before the fight, Elbe's camp arranged to have 5,000 glossy color fliers inserted on the seats around the arena, announcing Elbe's starring appearance at the official fight after-party at the nearby Coyote Hill nightclub. Now, Elbe will have to miss what he's billed as his own celebration; concerned about injuries to his eye, Elbe will spend tonight and tomorrow in the hospital, undergoing a CAT scan and numerous ophthalmologic tests.

The physical injury winds up leaving fewer scars than the boot to his pride, however.

"In Phoenix, the fight crowds are tough," he says afterward. "I've never fought in front of 8,000 people and heard everybody yell in unison as I walked out of the ring, 'You suck!' Knowing that I could beat any one of these people on any given moment, you know what I mean?"

In a way, Sarria loves it when one of his more self-glorifying fighters gets taken down a peg.

"I get a kick out of these guys," he says, laughing. "I think some of 'em have been hit in the head a few too many times. I keep telling them, 'Hey, guys, do you realize you lose more fights than you win?' 'Yeah, but my name is Magical, Muh-muh-magical Ray Elbe!' I get a kick out of it."

Inflated egos are Sarria's biggest foe, driving up the fees the fighters set for themselves based on both their fight record and their perceived crowd appeal.

Sarria says Rage in the Cage pays its fighters between $100 and $5,000 per fight. But Elbe, who says he makes a comfortable "couple thousand" per bout -- "I'm at the top of the food chain," he boasts -- has seen fighters come away with as little as $35. He says Wilson made only about $200 for his fight at the Glendale Arena, for which he took away the "Fighter of the Night" award.

Sarria, naturally, is happy to see a new generation of fighters eager to unseat the stars, and willing to start cheap.

"The fighters in the early days were awesome, but then we started to get a lot of prima donnas," he says. "What happened was the guys started to think they deserved all this money, but the show wasn't in a position to fund them.

"I had to take a stand on that," he adds. "A lot of these guys don't understand how progress works. They want it quick and fast, but they don't understand success takes time to build."

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