Tonight is the night.
I have been trained for this moment. I chose months ago to compete against another warrior. Tonight I fight, I am a mixed martial artist.
Surrounding me are my friends and family, all comrades that would do anything to help me succeed. They helped me become the fighter I am. They have taken every measure to ensure my safety, and my ability to succeed.
I wait in my room for the announcer to call my name. The hair on the back of my neck raises ever so slightly. My team walks behind me, supporting me, pushing me, inspiring me. We are ready to go to war.
The walk is a long one, the music and the fans deafening. I feel like my feet are not quite touching the ground. I approach the cage, give my best to my team, I enter the cage. I am ready to fight.
I am exhilarated, I am ready, I am a mixed martial artist. Win lose or draw, I will live to fight another day. This is the life I have chosen.
Tonight is the night. I have been starved, beaten, and neglected. I have no power over my place in this life. I am where I am as a result of unfortunate circumstances. I don't want to fight, but tonight I will, as I have no choice. Tonight I fight, I am a pitbull.
Surrounding me are the only family I have ever known. They are not my friends, but I am loyal regardless. They will do anything to see me succeed. They have prodded me, and provoked me into a frenzy. They have prepared me for this fight.
I await my turn for battle. The rusty cage that holds me is cold, the chain around my neck heavy. The hair on the back of my neck raises ever so slightly. He tugs my chain, yanks me away from the cage, pulling me a direction I don't want to go. He is ready for war.
The walk is a long one, the drunken spectator's, and junkie's screams hurt my ears. I am overwhelmed but proud. I approach an empty swimming pool where I see my opponent. No love is given before I enter, only more provocation. Why must I fight?
I am anxious, I am nervous. My instincts are taking over.
My heart begins to race, they are loosening my chain. If I don't fight I will surely die.
This is not the life that I have chosen. I am a pitbull.
Many times in the public eye, mixed martial arts is seen as nothing more than human dog fighting. It is perceived as a lawless and reckless bloodthirsty sport. To those that understand the sport, nothing could be further from the truth.
Like MMA, the pitbull is a highly misunderstood creature. Many see a bloodthirsty, uncontrollable and dangerous beast. To those that understand the breed, nothing could be further from the truth.
For both MMA and the pitbull, the work to gain acceptance and understanding is never over. There is no end to the necessity to both change perception, and battle myth and ignorant behavior.
For MMA it is as simple as pressing on and further establishing itself as competition and sport. For the pitbull it is not so easy.
Enter Kris Crawford.
Crawford's goal is to educate people on not only the breed and how to handle them, but battle the actions that facilitate the negative imagery, primarily dog fighting. She does so by working with troubled youth who are prone to dogfighting due to the glorification of the practice by their role models.
Kris is not alone in her campaign to save the animal, the youth and the communities that are affected. Her program, called Knockout Dog Fighting, employs the efforts of many well known figures in MMA.
The list of her active supporters is a star studded line up with names like Tito Ortiz, Andre Arlovski, Anthony Johnson, Gina Carano, Rodney Wallace, Jake Shields, and many more. So with a small army of celebrity fighters behind her, Kris and Knockout Dog Fighting are doing their part to end this madness.
Kris and Anthony Johnson were kind enough to share some thoughts about what exactly it is that they do. Kris trains world class pitbulls for rescue efforts, and "Rumble" Johnson owns six pits of his own. Both posses extremely compassionate natures which shine brightly in their efforts
Kris first talked about how Knockout Dogfighting took shape. "I'm actually the founder of a non profit organization called For Pit's Sake. I'm one of the first people in the world to actually certify pitbulls in the field of search and rescue."
She is an expert in the field, as are her rescue dogs. "My dogs got so good, we were hand picked to do the space shuttle Columbia disaster. Because my dogs were involved in search and rescue, we had the access and the ability to go into schools and talk to kids. We were talking to them about cruelty and abuse. Pitbulls are one of the most highly abused dogs out there."
The program has evolved into something that sees many fighters work with kids at schools, juvenile detentions centers, or anywhere a child might need guidance.
Kris saw a strong association between MMA and the pitbull breed and felt the two may be able to thrive in positivity and help each other change negative perception that surrounds them each. "One of the things that happened when Michael Vick was arrested, was a lot of his high profile football playing buddies publicly defended him by equating dog fighting with mixed martial arts, which of course couldn't be further from the truth."
Kris went on to say, "So I reached out to Anthony and a lot of MMA fighters because they are experiencing something similar to what the pitbull is going through. The pitbull is being banned all across the country, because people think they are a bunch of crazy monsters. Unfortunately lots of people think MMA fighters are a bunch of crazy monsters too. So what we did was we teamed up with them."
Kris talked about the power of an athlete like "Rumble" Johnson when it comes to the teens he works with. "He's a very powerful, positive role model for these kids. The fastest growing segment of dog fighters right now are thirteen to seventeen year old inner city youth who have seen a role model get involved like Michael Vick."
Kris knew the kids needed an alternative.
"So what we've done, is we are showing these kids that there are positive role models out there who don't believe it's a sign of strength, power, or greatness to fight their animals. I've teamed up with the baddest, toughest people on the planet to show these kids that fighters protect those who cant protect themselves."
Anthony Johnson spoke about his involvement with the cause. "I'm just here for the kids, and I'm also here for the dogs, and just to show the community that pitbulls aren't vicious animals if you raise them right. As far as talking to the kids, I talk to the kids just to let them know that just because they might be in a crappy situation, it doesn't mean its the end of the road for them."
Johnson also talked about his approach with the youngsters.
"I'm always trying to build up their confidence and let them know, hey, just because you hit a brick wall doesn't mean it can hold you back in life. There are always second chances in life and you can always keep going. I'm always just trying to do something positive for the community and just help somebody out." The example he sets in just being there is priceless in and of itself, much less the ripple effects of what is to come years later with these kids.
It wasn't a hard sell for Kris to get "Rumble" on board. "We just started talking, and within probably five minutes I was hooked on it. Helping out Knock Out Dog Fighting, stopping the abuse of dog fighting, going to youth detention centers and talking to the kids, for me its just been a dream come true," Johnson said.
They don't just talk to these kids, they train them, and educate them to become better citizens. "Something else that's remarkable about what were doing is how we stop dog fighting by helping kids get out of gangs and showing them positive alternatives. What we do is teach these kids MMA, we get them involved with an MMA program and teach them some other things to do with their dogs."
Teaching troubled youth how to fight is not without its questions. "Everyone else is like 'why are you teaching them how to fight', and we bring up that MMA fighters are some of the most disciplined athletes in the world. Refusal skills are something we need to develop with these kids. The self discipline involved in MMA helps these kids develop refusal skills and also the self esteem to go back to their community and say no to all these things that can get them into trouble."
Knockout Dog Fighting has really become recognized as a strong and positive influence in the community but not without some irony. "We've teamed up with a gang prevention task force because we use their resources to get these kids out of trouble and on the right track. We had a gang incident out here in the bay area, and what was interesting was school officials contacted a bunch of pitbulls and fighters to work with the kids at the alternative schools to make the community safer."
Kris' program really is a win-win in every way. "What better way to change the perception of the pitbull and MMA than to have MMA fighters and pitbulls actively involved in communities? Were not only saving the dogs, but were saving the kids, and making the community safer." Any time ignorance can be overcome through positivity, you're winning the battle.
Anthony talked about how kids can get confused about the nature of a dog. "Most of the dog fighting is in the projects, and these kids, that's all they know. 'Hey, I want to see who has the baddest dog, let my dog fight your dog and see which one is the best.' Its really not about that when you have these dogs, because they are so loyal."
Johnson brings a lot to the table by encouraging these kids, and inspiring them in his own life. "I think I bring new hope to these kids that they can do something and achieve goals in life."
It has been very rewarding for "Rumble". "Some of them have written me on facebook, some of them have looked me up on myspace and said 'Thanks for coming by and talking to us, I got involved with MMA, I got a pitbull and it's the nicest dog in the world.' If I could be like that all the time, as long as I'm changing somebodies life when I speak to them, I'm happy." The sport could use more ambassadors like Anthony Johnson at the gates to set the bar on how to represent not only themselves, but their sport.
You listening Mr. Vick?
Kris wanted to be sure and acknowledge just how special and genuine Johnson's efforts are. "Anthony isn't doing this for the publicity, hes doing it because it's the right thing to do. He pays for his own gas, he takes his time out of his day to go meet with these kids, and then you've got someone like Michael Vick who is doing it because it's part of their probation."
It's people like Kris Crawford and Anthony Johnson who should be celebrated. When news gets told about pitbulls, it's always about an attack. When news gets told about MMA, rarely is it about anything but controversy. What people should be hearing about is highly trained pitbulls searching for our nations fallen heroes.
They should be hearing about the efforts of a man like Anthony Johnson and Knockout Dogfighting.
Rest assured, ask any one of the kids these people or these dogs have helped, and they surely will tell you this is the biggest news about the breed or the sport. Thank you to Kris and Anthony, and all the fighters at Knockout Dogfighting.
Your efforts are priceless.
For a recording of the entire half hour interview visit hurtsbad.com and select the hurstbad radio icon. For more information on how to support Knockout Dogfighting visit their website .
by Todd Jackson