No Holds Barred

Rich Moss is probably stretching the truth even thinner than one of his opponents' hamstrings when he calls cage fighting "a gentle sport." After all, in his nine Rage in the Cage bouts, the number-two-ranked middleweight champ has either knocked out or beaten his opponents into submission using his patented "armbar" hold -- achieved when the arm a fallen fighter holds up in defense is twisted back so gruesomely that the referee fears it's about to snap.

"It's not as brutal as people think," Moss insists. "In cage fighting, if you get knocked down to the ground, and it looks like you're gonna get beat up, they'll stop it."

Cage fighting, as Moss describes it, is all about getting as close to doing serious harm to your opponent before the ref steps in like a killjoy playground monitor.

"If you get caught in an armbar, and the referee sees you're in danger of breaking an arm and you're not 'tapping out,'" Moss says, referring to the universal hand-slapping-the-mat gesture for screaming "uncle!," "he'll stop the fight." Choke holds are a tougher call. "But most referees are trained enough to know if a guy's passed out from being choked," he says reassuringly, "and they'll pull you off."

Moss, who competed in the 1988 Olympics in judo, was thrilled to discover cage fighting, where it's okay to unleash, American-style, all the Eastern martial arts skills he was schooled never to use, except as a last resort.

"There's a total variety of things you have to be trained for," he says. "A boxer, he's only looking for punches. A kickboxer's just looking for punches or kicks. But in a cage fight, you're gonna get punched, kicked, gouged, armbarred, choked," Moss says, laughing. "It's a release -- it's a lot of fun!"

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Jimmy Megahern