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Dawg Fight by Billy Corben – Miami Backyard Fights

It’s an area with an underground economy with flea markets, fight clubs, and gambling.  It’s an area sometimes ravaged with drugs and violence.  An area that has the police cracking down on all types of activities.  People can rarely find work, houses are in shambles, and the most entertaining part of their year are fights happening in people’s backyards where fighters make a couple hundred dollars with no medical coverage if something goes wrong.  Early reactions to watching this documentary and the area that it takes place in often draws the comment, “This doesn’t even look like America.”  In a lot of ways it isn’t.  Billy Corben views this as the alternate American Dream, or the death of the American Dream.

Billy Corben has made documentaries with Miami and Dade County as one of the main characters.  From Cocaine Cowboys, Cocaine Cowbows 2, The U, The U Part 2, and Square Groupers it has come to where most glamor has been stripped away.  Gone is the conflict of outrunning the DEA or making millions off tracking cocaine into America.  The conflict in Dawg Fight is the chronicles of people who can’t get jobs, are on food stamps, and have to fight in order to keep their families and themselves alive.

If it wasn’t for Netflix this documentary might have never made it out to the masses.  According to an interview with Rolling Stone Billy Corben said:

And people started watching the rough cut, and they were like, “Holy shit, this is your best work – No, I won’t buy it.” My three favorite rejections were, “Too violent, too urban, too real.” It was this galvanizing rejection. This was unabashed, completely uncensored urban culture, and that was the problem: People were petrified of that. There’s no Dana White, there’s no Roger Goodell. None of those guys are there to tell you it’s OK. That scared people, but that’s what I liked so much about this project; it’s what I liked so much about The U, it was a bunch of guys who just didn’t give a fuck. So we had decided we were going to self-distribute it, because we had already invested all this time and our own dime, and we wanted people to see it, to know the struggle. And then Netflix came to the rescue! They were like, “We’ll fucking show this!” And that was extraordinary.

It’s fascinating how people will condemn certain behaviors, actions, or sentiments held by people in the worst communities in America but will refuse to fix the societal conditions that cause said behaviors.  Often times, people don’t want to acknowledge that these communities even exist.  People hear Miami and they think of the clubs, the beaches, and the girls.  They don’t think of the majority of Miami-Dade County which has the second-highest income disparity in the country and the second-highest rate of food stamp usage in the country.  (RS)

Fighting really is the most universal sport there is.  Fight games of various fashions are prevalent in almost every community across the world and throughout time.  It’s been around longer than soccer, golf, football, fencing, and really any other sport you can think of.  You don’t have to tell people what the point is of the sport, the rules are minimal, and it’s what the UFC is banking on in their global expansion.  In the doc you see an entire community come together and for one day there is little to no crime in one of the most troubled areas of the country.  Kids, adults, and even grandparents are watching the fights and can be found ringside.

All of these fights are headed up by a man who goes by the name Dada 5000.  He is a former social worker and has a degree.  He organizes the fights, pays the fighters out, and actually takes little to no money for himself for putting on these fights.  Almost all the money goes to putting on the event and compensating the fighters.  There are clips of Dada handing out even more money than originally promised to fighters for putting on a good show.

To really understand why these fighters step in the ring you have to put themselves in their situations.  Many of the fighters shown have criminal records, which essentially make them unable to be hired.  Four guys from the fights have actually gone on to fight pro and make considerably more money than they were, but we also see two fighters die outside the ring during that same time span.  Largely, these people are living on the fringes of life.  Fighters are getting paid $200 in cash, which doesn’t seem like all that much until you hear a couple people talk about how these people have never seen even $100 in cash in their life.  They’ve got imminent issues that day, to eat, to pay the bills, and they are so close to not being able to survive that they have to partake in these fights.

The images in this documentary are incredibly powerful.  A couple fighters become protagonists through their fighting styles, the frequency at which they fight, and their abilities to continually push upwards through the ranks.  It’s an impressive mix of discussing the society that produces these types of event and the actual events themselves.  While the fights can appear jarring at first they become easier to watch as the film goes on.  The ease is not due to a desensitization but rather comes from a humanization for the fighters and more context for the fights themselves.  Once you understand why they’re fighting you don’t get as caught up in the fighting.

Dawg Fight might be Billy Corben’s best documentary to date, which is really saying something given that almost everyone has seen The U and Cocaine Cowboys.  Corben discusses the tragedies, triumphs, conditions, and people extremely effectively, so much so that it’s almost surprising he was able to keep it under two hours.  I couldn’t recommend this movie more, especially to those who don’t even like fighting.  At it’s core fighting is about people and the arcs of their lives and Dawg Fight does a fantastic job of cutting to the core of those stories.

This article that I wrote originally appeared on recessiongrads.com

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