Caged Heat

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

"I was Batman for a week!" says Roland Sarria, barreling down Broadway Road in his two-tone black and gray Honda Element, covered with bright red and black decals advertising the sporting event he's been promoting for the past seven and a half years: "Rage in the Cage: Extreme Fighting Championship."

He says this suddenly, after grousing about Tempe traffic and demonstrating his sure-fire method for handling the occasional morning road rage brought on by inattentive seniors boarding the Loop 101 on Shea Boulevard, near his home: "I usually give 'em one of these," he says, jerking the wheel quickly to the right, a two-ton nudge, then yanking it back to the left.

"Nobody knows it, but I saved three people in five days in car accidents," Sarria continues, speaking fast, loud and passionately in his natural salesman's style.

Roland Sarria and some Ragers-in-training.
Mark Skalny
Roland Sarria and some Ragers-in-training.
Rage in the Cage has grown from a small nightclub event to an extravaganza drawing more than 8,000 spectators to Glendale Arena.
Mark Skalny
Rage in the Cage has grown from a small nightclub event to an extravaganza drawing more than 8,000 spectators to Glendale Arena.
Michelle "Grapple Girl" Farrow, top-ranked female cage wrestler.
Mark Skalny
Michelle "Grapple Girl" Farrow, top-ranked female cage wrestler.
Mystee Blackwood lost by a knockout to Farrow in 16 
seconds.
Mark Skalny
Mystee Blackwood lost by a knockout to Farrow in 16 seconds.
Fighters first join Sarria on a smaller stage to trash-talk opponents. "I think some of 'em have been hit in the head a few too many times."
Mark Skalny
Fighters first join Sarria on a smaller stage to trash-talk opponents. "I think some of 'em have been hit in the head a few too many times."
Sarria sees tough cases slammed straight in his cage. "Once they do this, their lives are changed forever," he says.
Mark Skalny
Sarria sees tough cases slammed straight in his cage. "Once they do this, their lives are changed forever," he says.
Referee Mark Senior raises the arm of winner Dominik Cruz.
Mark Skalny
Referee Mark Senior raises the arm of winner Dominik Cruz.
Joe "Diesel" Riggs, one of Rage in the Cage's top 
fighters.
Mark Skalny
Joe "Diesel" Riggs, one of Rage in the Cage's top fighters.
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."

"The first time, I was driving on the U.S. 60, saw a car accident -- bam! I pulled to the side, went up to the car, I go, 'Are you all right?' This girl goes, 'I'm a little sore,' and I say, 'Stay there, I'll get help.'"

Sarria says he waited out the ambulance, then vanished without sticking around for acknowledgement. A couple days later, he was the first to arrive at another accident scene, and then another.

"It was unbelievable. I really felt like Batman! I could just imagine that girl three days later, telling her friends, 'I crashed my car, and some guy helped me get out, then just walked away without even giving his name.'"

After the third rescue, Sarria came home and told his girlfriend, Gloria Moore, who works as a real estate agent for Re/Max, "'You won't believe it: I saved another person!' She's like, 'Stop it.'"

Moore, who's known Sarria since 1991 and has lived with him since 2000, says Sarria frequently goes through these spirited quests to save the world. One Thanksgiving, he went one better than donating a turkey to the homeless shelter and "actually brought a homeless guy home to dinner," she says, recalling her surprise. Another time, visiting Tijuana, he grabbed together a bunch of kids off the street and took them to the restaurant with him.

Truth is, he had trouble breaking the Batman streak. For the 42-year-old fight promoter, a Cuban-born scrapper who fought his way up from eating sugar packets for dessert in the L.A. projects to become, today, the ringmaster behind the second-highest-attended cage fighting events in the nation, the role of urban superhero fit like a tight knuckle glove.

"I study great warriors, great generals -- Caesar, Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun -- and I try to follow their way of thinking," Sarria says, pulling into the parking lot of a post office. "Because it's a war out there, just surviving. In this business, one bad show can wipe you out. You have to put so much money into each one."

Recently, Sarria quit his successful day job as a nutritional-supplements salesman to concentrate full time on promoting Rage in the Cage, the no-holds-barred fighting exhibitions he's taken from a monthly nightclub event in 1998, attracting a few hundred spectators at a Phoenix bar called Rodeo Nights, to an arena-filling extravaganza drawing more than 8,000 people every five weeks to the West Valley's cavernous Glendale Arena.

Rage in the Cage is a pumped-up spectacle, an adrenaline-spraying night of mixed martial arts fighting, ring girls in short skirts and an audience stoked to see only the rubbernecking highlights of a boxing match, a hockey game and a NASCAR race -- the knockouts, brawls and rail crashes -- all acted out between a succession of modern gladiators in a 16-foot octagonal steel cage, and all set to a pulsing rock soundtrack.

It's a big, hulking, sweaty event, involving sometimes 24 fighters, lots of staging and lighting, and a ton of arena personnel to bring it to life. But in the end, it's Roland's show.

While Sarria employs three other people to help with the paperwork and booking the fighters, the success of each Rage in the Cage show depends largely on the nonstop grunt work and personal sales calls Sarria insists on doing himself.

On this particular Friday morning, he's motoring around Phoenix and Tempe, stopping first at a print shop to pick up postcards promoting his new monthly events at the Fort McDowell Casino, then buying mailing labels at an office supply store, and finally charging up a purchase of 10,000 23-cent stamps at the post office, which he'll spend the better part of his Saturday affixing to each of the postcards himself with the help of a couple of friends.

Banking his future on the success of his fight events without the safety net of a regular 9-to-5 job might worry Sarria, if he didn't consider himself a bit of a superhero.

"It would be scary, leaving a good-paying job at my age, if I thought like the average man," says Sarria, who a few years back adopted the middle name Maximus, after the Roman general Russell Crowe played in Gladiator, one of his favorite movies. "But I can't think like the average man. I have to think like Alexander the Great."

Right now, Alexander the Great is standing in the lobby of a Tempe post office, holding a little slip of paper bearing the number 41 and looking up at the electric sign saying, "Now Serving: 25."

"Oh, wow. Things are not going my way today," Sarria says, frowning. While average men and women wait patiently in the crowded aisle of seats along the wall, Sarria quietly slips into conqueror mode again, immediately figuring how he can fill up the time until his number is called. He opts to head over to CopyMax to see if the tickets he ordered printed for the Fort McDowell show are ready.

"I don't sit around too often," says Sarria, who limits that activity to the two or three hours he spends early each morning at one of a few favorite coffee shops near the martial arts training center he owns on University Drive in Tempe, brainstorming ideas for Rage in the Cage and plotting out his day.

"When you're raised like me, and you know what it is to not have, it's hard to just rest. I have to keep pushing. Have to."


It's fight night at the Glendale Arena, the second Saturday in June, and Michelle "Grapple Girl" Farrow, the top-ranked female in the cage wrestling circuit, has just flipped her Midwest contender Mystee Blackwood to the mat and is ferociously laying into her with open-palm punches.

With Farrow, a startlingly muscular 37-year-old woman who looks uncannily like Robin Williams if he had played Mrs. Doubtfire as a buffed-out, rippling roller derby queen, perched over the blonde, pigtailed Blackwood, affecting a Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms innocence (although the two are approximately equal in weight), the quick, 16-second battle is a perfect mix of World Wrestling Entertainment soap opera, mixed martial arts mastery and good old-fashioned mud-wrestling titillation.

Since adopting rules in 2001 allowing cage fighting to be sanctioned by the Arizona state boxing commission (to date, two fighters have died in cage fighting, one in Russia and one in Korea, and the sport is still illegal in 23 states), Rage in the Cage has become noticeably tamer: Closed-fist punching is no longer allowed once the fighters are on the ground, and a round is considered over when a fighter draws blood.

For Sarria, who says security used to have to break up fights in the crowd at pre-sanctioned events, the sport's new legitimacy is a welcome thing. He merely amps up the excitement of his events in other ways: hiring rock bands to rev up the fans before the fights, urging fighters to step up the drama upon entering the cage, and hiring ring girls in impossibly short skirts cut to make every man in the first three rows happy he shelled out $100 for seats in the ringside section.

Thanks to Sarria's incessant salesmanship, two film crews are circling around the cage tonight, one from local broadcast station UPN Channel 45 and another from a new Internet-based video outlet called ISTV, who are both taping Rage in the Cage for the first time.

At the start of the night, over at the far east end of the arena, local makeup-and-metal band St. Madness, hired to play music before the fights and during the show's two scheduled intermissions, is getting into a heated debate with some arena stage managers over what they've just been informed Sarria does not want them doing on stage.

"They're saying we can't do any of our theatrical scenes," lead singer Patrick Flannery, a.k.a. Prophet, complains. "We have a song called 'Love's Butcher Shop,' where I drink blood out of a chalice. But it's the blood they use in movies. It's karo syrup. I guess it's okay to have guys totally beating the crap out of each other and splattering real blood, but we can't show fake blood."

The debate looms for several minutes until Sarria finally zooms by, cooling his heels for a second, to tell Flannery, in five terse words, "This is not your concert."

In a flash, he's gone again -- Batman style. But the discussion immediately grinds to a halt, and the members of St. Madness reluctantly take the stage, without their bucket of karo syrup.

Just what fits into a Rage in the Cage show -- which Sarria calls a "family affair," but then immediately adds, "we have go-go dancers, cheerleaders, rock bands" -- can be a tough call, but that call clearly belongs to him.

The show itself is more Spike TV than Disney Channel, with fighters first joining master of ceremonies Sarria on a smaller platform to colorfully trash-talk their opponents and boost their own prowess, then entering the cage for three quick rounds of three-minute fights, throwing kicks, punches, karate chops -- whatever works to get the other guy to "tap out" and call the referee -- all geared to the perceived short attention span of today's fight fans.

"This is the generation of extreme," Sarria says. "Kids today don't want to see traditional boxing. It's too boring for them."

Sarria, whom his older sister says still has a sometimes annoyingly childish side -- "He can be in a restaurant and throw one of these little bottles that smell like farts when they break," says Martha Sarria. "He buys them by the case." -- keeps things moving at a typical 13-year-old's pace. Whenever a wrestling hold goes on long enough to look like a frozen video game (in the rules told to the fighters beforehand, any hold that goes on for 10 seconds is considered too long), Sarria gets on the mic to throw a zinger at the fighters. "Man, what are these guys trying to do? Make loove?" he says during the first fight.

During the fifth fight of the night, when Richie Hightower downs first-time cage fighter Ryan Potter with a swift kick to the groin -- a big crowd-pleaser, judging by the thunderous applause -- Sarria revels in the opportunity to crack a few ball jokes. "Well, at least we know he's got huevos!" he says.

"I don't understand it," Flannery gripes backstage after Sarria cuts short St. Madness' first intermission set because of some mosh-pit dancing in front of the stage and orders the sound man to switch to records -- the first track being Mötley Crüe's stripper anthem "Girls, Girls, Girls." On the mic, Sarria is urging the crowd to "get a few cocktails" before the next fight begins.

"They keep saying this is a family sporting event," Flannery says, cracking a thin smile through the evil KISS makeup. "I just don't get it."


To get Roland Sarria's family values, it helps to know a little about his own desperate upbringing, and where he formed his spotty impression of the perfect American family.

"It's funny, but my favorite show growing up was The Brady Bunch," Sarria says a couple weeks before the Glendale Arena show over a light lunch (plain bagel with cream cheese) at the Chompie's deli on University Drive in Tempe, just down the street from his martial arts training center, Brausa. "And every person I ever met used to say to my brothers and sisters, 'Your parents did such a good job with you all.' Little did they know, it was The Brady Bunch. That's how we learned."

When he was only 1, and still living with his family in Havana, Sarria's mother became mentally ill with what would eventually be diagnosed as acute schizophrenia, one of the few English words he still has difficulty pronouncing. "She was there, but she wasn't all there," he recalls. "She was always talking to herself."

His sister Martha, the oldest of the five Sarria kids, says there were times their mother would cook, but for the most part, the siblings were left to take care of themselves while their father worked. "We actually raised each other," says Martha, who now owns a retail shop in Palmdale, California. "I was trained to be like the mother."

A few years after moving the family to the housing projects of Culver City, California, when Sarria was 4, to seek better medical help for Sarria's mother in America, his dad became discouraged with her lack of progress and started leaving the kids home alone for longer stretches at a time. They later found out he was leading a double life, seeing another woman and becoming more distant from his own family.

"Who could blame him, in a way?" asks Martha, who says that after years of therapy, she's come to accept her father. "He would feed us like we were little animals, just throw us a bag with a little bit of food. Eventually, he started coming by less and less."

By the time Roland was 10, his dad left for good, but by then he and his two brothers were already working odd jobs. "We grew up fast," he says. "We had to."

They learned to survive without calling attention to their situation, he says, to avoid being split up by meddling social workers, subsisting on one meal a day through their school's free lunch program and exuding an air of Brady normalcy.

"If the social workers would have found out the way we were living, we would definitely have been separated by the state," Sarria says. "The Brady Bunch taught me how a family should be. I remember all those lectures in discipline, and that saved me."

His sister agrees that watching sitcom families helped them model their behavior (they also watched a lot of Happy Days and The Partridge Family), but says not having that idealized family in real life left its emotional scars on all of them -- especially, she says, Roland.

"We still see our father," she says -- and their mother, too (thanks to modern medicine, Martha says their mother is doing better mentally than ever before). "But when we see our dad, Roland goes up to him like he wants to say, 'Acknowledge me. Love me. Tell me that you're sorry for abandoning us.' And he'll never get that."

"He's a very strong person, he's a survivor, but he's still looking for mommy and daddy," Martha adds in her still pronounced Cuban accent. "Everything he has done in his life has been to get acknowledgement. I know he wanted to be a movie star, he wanted to be a model. He was a stripper at one time. It's acknowledgement. 'Look at me. I'm okay. I've made it.'"

As promoter of Rage in the Cage, Roland gets plenty of other lost boys in his camp, too emotionally stunted to go for therapy, but thrilled to have the opportunity to work out their issues by pounding another guy in the cage.

"I would say 75 percent of the kids who come through Rage in the Cage come from dysfunctional families or violent backgrounds -- gangs, you name it," he says. "And once they do this, their lives are changed forever."

In a way, Rage in the Cage is Roland Sarria's ultimate turkey dinner, his way of playing Batman and wrestling the unfortunate from the car wrecks of their lives -- and getting acknowledged for it, too.

"I don't need that, I could care less about what people think of me," says Martha, laughing. "But Roland needs that. I think he's still looking for that."


Next to the 12-year-old Ultimate Fighting Championship, the first event that introduced America to cage fighting -- basically a fast-paced "anything goes" mash-up of every popular fighting style known to man, from judo, jujitsu and karate to wrestling, boxing and even street fighting -- Sarria's Rage in the Cage events, held exclusively around Phoenix, have grown to draw some of the biggest audiences in the sport. The Ultimate Fighting Championship averages around 20,000 ticket sales per show, while Rage in the Cage's number is rapidly approaching 10,000.

A big key to his success, Sarria says, is his single-minded determination to make his event the hottest ticket in town. Divorced for the past seven years, with no kids, and a self-described loner -- "Lone Ranger" is the term he prefers -- Sarria eats, sleeps and breathes Rage in the Cage. His girlfriend Moore says there are days she only sees him for 10 minutes, between their two busy schedules.

"I am so driven," he says, "because I've got nothing else to fall back on. I don't have a degree, I'm 42, and I know I don't want to go back to the 9-to-5 work force. So this is do or die for me. I've drawn the sword, and I can't put it back."

Fortunately for Sarria, he's found an endless supply of fighters who feel pretty much the same way about their own futures.

"There's a lot of guys who were maybe wrestlers in high school but weren't good enough to get college scholarships and now have nowhere to go," he says. "Or boxers, or martial artists, who maybe couldn't go pro but still want a career in sports."

Sarria himself played football at Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, California, a middle-class suburb his mom and siblings moved up to after his absentee dad landed a better job ("My father was never around, but he gave us a house to live in," he acknowledges). Although he went on to junior college and became a two-time All-American as a nose guard for the respected El Camino Junior College team, he was a little too small (5 foot 9 and 155 pounds) and his grade average was a little too low to attract the college recruiters.

"One of the most painful things I ever experienced was when I realized my football career was over," he says. "Going from being a star football player to just a regular person was a humbling experience."

Itching for a new combative sport to get involved in, Sarria was eventually drawn to mixed martial arts, which he had seen on some pay-per-view broadcasts under the name the Ultimate Fighting Championship. In 1994, he began training with Brazilian jujitsu legend Rickson Gracie and won state champion awards in jujitsu that same year.

"I never wanted to do karate or tae kwon do," Sarria says. "Seemed too Oriental to me. I didn't want to look in the mirror all day doing paradas. I was an ex-football player, okay? I wanted contact! I wanted to go to a school where I could bang!"

At the same time, Sarria was running an entertainment service in California, finding DJs for parties, videographers for weddings, and supplying nightclubs with whatever kind of entertainers they asked for.

"If you needed a clown, I would send you a clown," he says. "If you needed a male dancer, I'd send you a male dancer."

After marrying and moving to Phoenix in 1996 -- then divorcing in 1998 when his California business, which he had attempted to run long-distance from Arizona, failed ("Don't kid yourself: You run out of money, you're gonna lose your honey") -- Sarria decided to merge his new love of martial arts with his knack for nightclub promotion and started selling local club owners on the idea of booking cage fighting shows, using the fighters he had begun training himself at a center he opened in Tempe called Brausa, named for its integration of Brazilian and USA fighting styles.

It was a tough sell at first, especially in Arizona: By the mid-'90s, Senator John McCain had become cage fighting's most aggressive opponent, putting pressure on skittish arena owners and cable TV outlets to begin dropping the events.

Nevertheless, Sarria pressed on, printing up fliers at Kinko's and corralling friends and Brausa students to show up and fight monthly at the west Phoenix nightclub Rodeo Nights.

Once the Ultimate Fighting Championship reemerged under a body of rules that allowed the sport to be sanctioned by state boxing regulators, Sarria was able to take Rage in the Cage to bigger venues -- first the Celebrity Theatre, where attendance averaged 2,000 people a night, then the Dodge Theatre, where crowds swelled to 3,500. In April, Rage in the Cage moved into the new Glendale Arena, where the events, held roughly every five weeks, now draw more than 8,000 rabid fans, each paying between $25 and $100 for seats.

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.

"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."


Homer "The Rock" Moore is another star Rage in the Cage fighter who believes Sarria is not rewarding him fast enough. At a roundup of fighters at Brausa the week before the Glendale Arena fights, where contenders take turns flipping a 150-pound Michelin tractor tire for exercise while others are interviewed on camera by Cathy Rankin, the foxy blonde host of the ISTV Web site, Moore is the only fighter to arrive with his own agent, who persuades Rankin to interview Moore outside in front of his cousin's silver Hummer H2.

At 33, Moore -- 205 pounds packed into 5 feet 10 inches of Ali-styled audacity and bluster -- believes he's ready for bigger things than Sarria has been able to secure for him.

He says he recently scored his own Hummer, an H3, as payment for starring in a local TV commercial for Scottsdale's Legends dealership, although Sarria insists Moore only had temporary use of the vehicle (Legends declines to comment either way).

"I closed my own deal with Legends," Moore says proudly, adding that Sarria has historically left fighters on their own in securing sponsors. "Rage in the Cage just ain't moving fast enough for me."

With 24 official wins and only five losses since his first Rage in the Cage fight in 1999, Moore feels he's become one of the biggest draws at the events, and is currently negotiating with Sarria to get "a nice little chunk" of the fortune he believes he's making the organization in ticket sales.

"I'm in my prime, and I've got a lot of people I'm talking to who want my charm, my charisma and my work ethic," Moore says matter-of-factly. "This is a tough job that I do," he adds, rubbing the cast on his hand left over from an injury sustained in his last Rage bout. "If they wanna play, they gotta pay!"

For his part, Sarria isn't worried about losing Moore to another promoter. "I know his game, I know his sales pitch," he says, chuckling. "Homer's a character. He should be in movies. But his bull doesn't work with me."

Sarria admits a few of his star fighters have already gone out on their own, "but most of them hit a wall, quick." He still smarts over losing his first star player, Edwin "Babyface" Dewees, a 223-pound grappler with short blond hair and, true to his nickname, a sweet, rounded face even a grandma could love.

"He was like my prodigy, my son," Sarria says with a heavy sigh. "But he gave me the old knife-o. Broke my heart."

For the June fights, Dewees came back to Rage in the Cage after a two-year break, during which time he fought for the number one Ultimate Fighting Championship. But the reunion was short-lived; by July, Dewees was fighting for the competing King of the Cage at a casino in Globe.

"He came back, but he didn't come back to Daddy," Sarria says. "It's his decision, he can do whatever he wants. I'm not gonna bother him. He can just learn like the rest of 'em.

"But I guarantee you, he'll be back," he says. "They always come back."


Sarria is heading south on McClintock Drive in the Rage in the Cage Honda, running yet another business errand, when he comes to a stoplight and sees a group of young men in bicycle helmets, white shirts, ties and backpacks pedal past him in the crosswalk.

"There they go, the Mormons," he says. Unlike the majority of people on the planet, Sarria actually loves it when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints missionaries come knocking on his door.

"Every time I see them, I'm like, 'Come in, sit down!'" he says, laughing. "My girlfriend goes crazy. She's like, 'Not again!'"

These days, Sarria is more into mental sparring than duking it out with a student at his training center, where longtime Rage in the Cage fighters like Rich Moss have been taking over a lot of the training duties. He enjoys any challenge where he can put his persuasive skills to the test.

Even though he's been living with his steady, Gloria Moore, for the past five and a half years, Sarria admits he can't resist a casual flirtation with any girl he thinks he can charm, just for the challenge of it. In the checkout line at OfficeMax, he tries to impress the sweet young thing behind the counter by showing her the double-jointed pinkie finger on his right hand, eliciting a grossed-out "Ew!" -- but also a pretty smile.

"Girls are easy," he confides on his way out the door. "One thing I learned is it's not what you look like, it's what you say."

For all his flair as a salesman, Moore says Sarria is not the best businessman. "Being too trusting can sometimes be his demise," she says. "That's how he's been taken a few times. Especially now that it's become so mainstream, there are a lot of new businesspeople who want to ride on his coattails. So that's when I get involved. He's more the dreamer, I'm the realist."

While Moore insists Sarria doesn't like confrontation, he clearly likes the verbal chess game of a good debate. Lately, Sarria's been studying Mormonism, mainly so he can engage in lively theological discussions with his lawyer friend, who's a Mormon, and entertain himself by going head-to-head with the tie-wearing bicyclists who show up at his door.

"I sit 'em down, let them talk for an hour, and then I hit 'em with my questions," he says, smiling excitedly now. "The first thing I say is, 'Let me ask you this. Is it true that if you die as a Mormon, you become a god, with your own planet, and lots of women?'"

Although Sarria says he found his own relationship with Christ after his divorce and could never convert to Mormonism, something about this particular belief of the LDS faithful, which he can never get them to express in the down-to-earth phrasing he uses, appeals to him.

Maybe it goes back to his Alexander the Great mindset, or the occasional Batman leanings. But the idea of ruling your own planet, attended to by a harem of women and worshiped as a god -- the ultimate acknowledgement -- holds a certain undeniable allure to Roland Sarria.

"They never give you a straight answer to that one," he says, "but I always drill 'em, as a salesman: 'Yes or no. C'mon. Do you become a god?' And finally, they say, 'Well, yeah.'

"Cool!" Sarria replies. "You gotta admit, that sounds awesome."

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