They call it “The Octagon.” It’s an eight-sided cage roughly 30 feet or so across. The walls are chain-link and steel posts. Unlike a legit UFC cage, there’s no padding on the posts or the fence. The floor on the other hand is, but considering the amount of stains, I have to wonder if it’s ever replaced—or how often it’s washed, if ever.

Entrance to the Octagon is through either of two gates set opposite each other. Two fighters enter, one leaves. You can win by forcing your opponent to submit, a knockout, or a technical knockout. Based on what I’ve seen so far, the crowd likes a knockout, so submission and TKOs are fairly rare.

The crowd sits in stands that surround the cage on all sides. The cage itself is in a pit, seven feet deep, but set on a four foot high platform. Fighters like myself are relegated to the open area around the cage. More chain-link keeps the crowd away from us (and us away from the crowd).

So I stand and wait, my gym bag at my feet. I’ve stripped down in preparation; no shoes, no shirt, sports bra and briefs, and long pants. The pants are fastened with snaps—if anyone tries to trip me up by grabbing them instead of me, they’ll come off fairly quickly. I’m wearing light gloves, like they wear in the real UFC. Most of the other fighters seem to think bare knuckles are more intimidating, but I’d rather keep my fingers whole and unbroken.

I’m the only woman in the pit, which isn’t a surprise, really. Unlike the UFC, there are virtually no rules here (aside from don’t try and kill the other guy). There’s no weight classes, you fight who ever gets in the ring with you.  You can’t bite (no one wants to get AIDs), and you can’t gouge out someone’s eyes. Other than that? It’s pretty much open season.

I know the other fighters are giving me looks so I figure it’s time to play to the crowd a bit. I stand, put my hands behind my head and arch my back. I can hear joints pop and as I pull my arms apart I flex my biceps. The crowd behind me ‘oohs’ a bit while some of the other fighters revise their estimates. Yeah, guys, trust me, I’m as strong as I look. Stronger even. And one hell of a lot faster.

The fights will be starting soon, so I decide its time to warm up. Stretching is what I need, so I start to go through various forms and stances. I keep it slow, not wanting to let my true speed show—besides, this way I work out the knots and work up a sweat. Anything to please the crowd. I try to keep to Shotokan and Lethwei (which looks a lot like Muay Thai)—the sort of stuff they’d expect at a MMA match; I’ll show them some Bando in the cage.

I have to grin a bit (inwardly) at least, when some of the other fighters follow suit. They probably all do something like this before the fights, but I bet having a woman get all the attention isn’t something they care for. Well, not that I mind any, I’m not here to be the darling of the crowd, I’m here to dish out enough hurt to get me noticed by the real pit-fight promoters.

* * * * *

The cage announcer has a wireless mic hooked up to an impressive sound system. He’s yelling for all he’s worth, working the crowd into a frenzy, and using about every catch phrase in the book. It’s amateur night, when all of the fresh fish (like me) get to prove our worth. Winners go on to fight for the bigger bucks, losers usually get sent home. This is where they separate the poseurs from the real thing, the wheat from the chaff, the men from the boys, and every other cliché you can think of.

I give my potential opponents a look. Most look like career bouncers; big, broad, with layers of muscle under a sheathe of fat. The typical UFC look. They’re grapplers mostly, wrestlers quick with their fists with one thought on their minds:  get in and take down. Ever since Royce Gracie tore it up in the early days of the UFC, everyone wants to roll around on the ground and choke their opponent into submission. If I can stay out of their grasp I can take each and everyone of them. When not grappling, these guys are little more than boxers. Their kicks are slow and weak and often result in them ending up off-balance. I’ve seen fast, accurate, and powerful kicks. Go watch any Muay Thai match and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

My tactics are going to be simple. Hit them first, hit them hard, and put them down as fast as possible. I have no illusions about my ability to get out of Brazilian Jiujutsu holds, and I have no desire to end up rolling around on the floor with any of these people.

* * * * *

I step into the cage for my first match of the night. He’s taller than me, with a well-muscled build, blond hair in a buzz cut, and a USMC tattoo. He’s wearing camouflage long pants and a white wife-beater. Great, I’m going up against Guile.

When our match starts we spend a few moments spiraling around each other, slowly closing the range. I’m guessing he’s been trained in mix of styles by the military, but his stance tells me “boxer.” I go with Lethwei, my arms up by my head, and bounce from foot to foot. My tactics are simple, defend with my arms, fight with my legs and feet.

Once I have a feel for what he can do I open things up with a simple kick. Nothing special, just a straight-forward snap of the lower leg delivered to the spot between his rub cage and his pelvis. He staggers slightly and blinks and I’m pretty sure from the look on his face he has no idea what just happened. In fact, I’m pretty sure no one has any idea what just happened. I’m sorry, really, I can’t help it, I am that fast.

I also think I’m that strong. Ever since part of St. Louis went up in a ball of nuclear fire, I’ve felt stronger, more fit, tougher, whatever. All I know is I throw one kick and the guy across from me nearly drops.

Seeing as he’s still trying to shake off my opening strike, I figure now’s the time to end this. I close the distance with a step and with a twist of my hips drive my elbow into the side of this face. There’s a popping noise and he goes down like a dead tree. He fits the mat limp and just lays there as blood starts to pour from his nose and mouth. I think I over-did it... then again, the fight before mine was far worse.

As I leave the cage the announcer is there, telling the crowd how Danielle Silverheels just beat Dave Beery in a mere 13 seconds. As he puts the mic down he leans over and asks “You do that every time?” I give him and grin, “Just watch.”

* * * * *

Round two. I’m not even winded from my first one. In fact I feel perfectly fine. Until my opponent comes into the ring. He’s huge, easily six-six if he’s an inch, probably more. He’s got a physique to match, although I wonder if most of it is due to supplements. He’s wearing rather short shorts and nothing else. Like Dave Beery, he’s another blond, but his hair comes down past his shoulders and is joined by a thick mustache. I’d be more impressed if he wasn’t balding on top.

I catch his name as we get settled. Joe Hall. He’s one of the ones who’d looked rather dismissively at me before, but after seeing Mr. Beery taken out on a stretcher he seems determined to make up for the failure of his fellow partner in machismo. I shrug and get into a Shotokan stance, while Joe spreads his arms wide.

The bell rings and he’s off. Apparently Joe’s decided to close with me as fast as possible and then start pounding me into the mat. Not a bad plan really, but I have a better idea.

I let him get about halfway across the mat when I start my own move. It’s risky, but I’m betting his momentum won’t let him dodge it. I throw a picture perfect spinning jump kick. The sort that puts your back to your opponent for a second or two. He sees it develop and tries to get out of the way, but he’s already committed. My heel hits him dead center in the chest and I can feel the impact travel up my leg. As for him? He actually goes backwards from the blow and ends up out cold on the mat. Total time? Maybe 2 seconds.

* * * * *

Time for round three.

Philip Liang, who’s my height, with my kind of muscle tone. His hair is short, he dressed in silken long pants,  and I bet he does a good job impersonating Bruce Lee. He’s fast, probably the fastest person here tonight (next to me of course). He’s also strong, tough, and skilled. He might even give me a work out.

We settled into our stances, him into some Kung Fu style or another, while I decide its time to bring out the Bando. He gives me a look when he sees it, but seems to think it doesn’t matter.

When the bell rings we don’t move. The crowd is actually quiet... well, quieter, as they wait to see what will happen. Almost in unison Philip and I shift through a series of stances, each step closing the gap. I’ve decided to let him strike first.

It’s a simple plan—have him commit, block, and then follow up with a strike of my own. Best of all, if I can get in under his initial attack, he’ll be wide open for whatever technique I choose to use.

He opens up with a really fast kick. Even I’m impressed, but it doesn’t do him any good. I just drop my head, raise my hand, and it goes right over me. I keep dropping step in and deliver a straight shot to his ribs.

And he blocks it.

That almost throws me off my stride right there. He blocked it! I keep closing, rotate at the waist and fire an elbow down into his shoulder. He almost intercepts that as well, but then my strike hits home and his knees buckle slightly. I can’t help but grin. It’s almost over now.

Since we’re so close, I follow up my elbow with a knee into his side. He manages to get his hands down in time (this guy is really good), but I’m strong enough to break through his attempt at a block. He folds up like a newspaper and ends up in a limp heap on the other side of the Octagon.

As I leave I notice they’re bringing another stretcher in. Three fights, three KOs, and all three are out hard. The other fighters are all giving me looks and a wide berth. Yeah, I better make myself scarce once they hand over my prize money. I don’t need a dozen UFC MMAs after me.

The announcer hands me an envelope fat with cash. No bad for what’s probably less than a minute's worth of real fighting. He also leans in close before letting go of the prize money.

"There's someone in the back who'd like to speak with you. Be careful. This is only the beginning...."

I follow his gaze down the dimly lit hallway which leads toward the locker rooms—and know I'm not welcome there. But I have to take this to the next level; amateur night is over, and it's time to move on. Without another word I take my winnings, then turn and purposefully stride down the darkened hall, away from the crowd and the other fighters, leaving behind the lights and the noise to see who or what awaits me.

One of the changing rooms on the left is occupied. A dark-skinned woman wearing traditional Indian garb, flanked by a pair of toughs wearing suits—obviously bodyguards. She stops me as I walk past the doorway.

"Ms. Silverheels, do come in. I'm sorry I couldn't arrange a more congenial meeting place, but I had to catch you before you left tonight. My name is Elizabeth Koufis. I'd like to speak to you about a tournament of the martial arts—one which I think you'll find considerably more challenging."

The name isn't familiar, but her face certainly is; Koyotie’s seen her before. They first met about a year ago at a truck stop, not five minutes from here, only then she was a Second Syndicate operative called 'Shiva.' I don't doubt she's still working for the Syndicate, but I'm surprised to see her shilling for them here, of all places. I'm also a bit surprised at how well-spoken she is, but in the past, most of our meetings have resulted in violence rather than small talk.

"Well I hope so." I indicate the Octagon behind me. "That bunch didn't even work up much of a sweat."

She nods, ever so slightly. "So I see. Your audition for the next tournament won't be so easy, I'm afraid."

She moves without warning, launching a punch at my face intended to knock me out with one blow. She's fast, but not as fast as me. I dodge just out of her reach, causing her to miss by millimeters—her fist brushes against my hair, and for just a moment, she's over-extended.

I place one hand against her extended arm then drop down, under her now-useless strike. As I do, I pivot on one foot and then sweep out with my other and down she goes. I figure it’s not a good idea to break someone at the audition. Besides, I don’t need her knowing how strong I am, just how fast.

Of course, Shiva is fast enough herself. She rolls to her feet and right into a powerful kick. It’s all I can do to keep from getting hit. I don’t even try anything from Karate of Lethwei—this is pure Bando, where I don’t stop her strike, but instead ‘ride’ with it. Of course, this leaves me open for her next move, which is some sort of joint lock, but since I’m concentrating solely on defense, she doesn’t even touch me.

I finally regain my balance and take the initiative. Shiva likes room to move, that’s much is easy to tell. But in close I’m pretty sure my speed will overcome any sort of blocks she’ll be able to muster—not to mention I should be inside most strikes she might think about using.

Now I go into full Lethwei mode. I burrow an elbow into her shoulder and then a knee into her stomach. It’s like hitting a wall—except I think I would have broken the wall. Koyotie feels Shiva’s in Ferrous' range in the strength department, which reinforces my desire to not let her touch me.

My one-two combo has put her back on the floor and again she rolls out of it. I want to shake my head but don’t. I’m faster than her, but that’s about it. She’s stronger, tough, and almost as well-trained. Sure, she’s not happy with my two hits, but she’s still standing and I’ll have to close all over again.

And just like that’s it’s over. Shiva’s so damn strong she practically throws herself upright and at me. I turn to one side to let her pass and realize too late it’s not going to be enough, she’s going to hit me! I try to roll with the kick, but she’s too strong. When I recover, I’m flat on my back on the other side of the room. Elizabeth Koufis née Shiva is standing over me, one hand extended, offering to help me up. I start to wave her off when I realize I can’t move my right arm. It’s not broken (thank God), just dislocated at the shoulder.

She doesn't look proud of her victory, nor particularly winded; just relieved that it's over, apparently. "Enough. More than enough. You had me worried for a few seconds, Ms. Silverheels, but with protective gear and weapons, I think you'd have beaten me, and both will be allowed in the tournament. You're most decidedly in. Now maybe I should have a look at that arm. I rather hate these auditions...."

I’ll bet. I grit my teeth and roll to me feet, using just my legs. I hold my injured arm tight with my free hand, and try not to wince. "That's quite all right, I can take care of it myself."

Shiva looks concerned, but she's not pushing the issue. I catch a little of what she mutters under her breath, "...stubborn as ever..." She sighs, shaking her head. "Very well. It looks like you won't be ready by next week... you're welcome to watch, of course. The Ed Jones Dome, downtown, Saturday night at eleven... I'm sure you can find your way in. The week after, you should be ready to fight. Bring all your gear—you'll need it... Silverheels."

Wonderful. It looks like my act isn’t fooling anyone. Well, at least her anyways. But then, if they think Danielle Silverheels is really Koyotie in disguise so what? It’s just another layer for them to sort through to find the real me, and I’ll bet there’ll be others there with fake names and identities, looking to fight without anyone acknowledging who they really are.

As I gather my things I consider what Danielle should wear. Something rigid, I think. Perhaps plates on the forearms and shins. Oh, and I’ll bring a bo. It has the power of my bokken, with the added bonus of range.

It takes a bit of work to get a sling made up and then I’m off. Ed Jones Dome... one week from tonight. I’ll bring a notepad and scope out the competition. Then the week after? The fun begins.

Return to Vendetta Rhapsody