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Sucker punch: small town boxing in rural America is going mainstream – but who benefits?

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This is Rough ‘n’ Rowdy, an amateur fighting contest based in West
Virginia. Dozens of local men and women take part every year and thousands pay to watch. For some, taking part is a right of passage, a chance to earn respect and fame in the local community and, potentially, to win the top prize of $1000. Wooooo! A host of characters from the local area put themselves forward to fight. They call each other out on social media. “I’ve been dreaming how bad “I will be beat you in that ring.” “I’ve been put down once “and it took four people with axe handles “and guns to do it.” “I tell you that right now,
I’m knocking you out! “Turn that shit off!” Mercer County is nestled in the
foothills of West Virginia. This area was once coal mining country but as that industry has declined, jobs are scarce and some people are barely making ends meet. I went to meet George White at his home on a trailer park in Princeton. He had recently lost his job washing dishes. At 5ft 9, he was the shortest man
in the heavyweight division. Who is it you’re fighting tonight? His name is Chance Fudge and we call him Osiris the Virus. “I’m 6′ 9″. I’m 225lbs.
I’m a problem, for real.” He don’t have half the training I have. He’s not going to be able
to do anything to me. I would be worried about fighting someone who was a foot taller than me because of …
– I’m not worried at all. I’m little but I can make a difference in
the world of boxing. Why do you want to fight? I want to make this money for my mum mainly. She’s in a hard spot right now. She took care of me and was good enough to take care of me, why can’t I take care of her when she’s in
her hard spot? I feel I can be the greatest. I feel like I can be up there with Tyson. Anybody can be up there with Tyson if they have the right mindset. Anybody can do it. It’s a little nerve-wracking to be a mother. Have you seen him fight before? Only with my 6ft 2 brother and he tore his … Pardon my French, he tore his ass up that time. George did or your brother did? George did. At 15. George has been preparing at a friend’s house. He’s tailored his training
for fighting a taller man. My right hand is explosive. His ribs will probably be about
right here to me. No, his ribs will probably be
about right here. Really? I’m 6’3″. Alright, welcome ladies and gentlemen, we’ll give you a couple of minutes to join on Facebook, Twitter and the app … This is Dave Portnoy, aka El Presidente. He owns Barstool Sports,
a New York based website, which presents itself as an edgy alternative to mainstream sports coverage. Barstool bought Rough ‘N’ Rowdy in 2017 and they plan to take it nationwide by streaming the fights online. But Barstool have had their
fair share of controversy. In 2017, their TV show, Barstool Van Talk, was cancelled by ESPN after one episode when it emerged Portnoy had previously made sexist remarks about a female ESPN reporter. “And Sam Ponder, you fucking slut! “I don’t want to see you at these games
being super prude.” On the night of the contest I met Portnoy as the fighters got ready. He was set to bring in over $300,000
from the event from an audience of 30,000 people. For me, the reason we bought this was I thought this would be the next UFC. We think it could be the next big fight enterprise. I know in one of your videos you describe it as, kind of, rednecks who are sort of
goading each other and we’re here in this
quite small, depressed town and you’re going to make quite a lot
of money from this and a lot of these guys aren’t going to make
very much money. Do you worry at all that
you’re exploiting these people? No, because they were doing it anyways
before we came and, from what we’ve seen, they enjoy it. It would be no different I don’t think if you’re looking at, like,
Jersey Shore on MTV. People like to watch …
I don’t want to say the circus but it’s colourful people. But I mean, in that promo video you did refer to these people as rednecks. Well, they are rednecks. I think most of them would openly say that. I don’t mean that condescendingly …
Back woods, country. Is that not offensive? I don’t think so. Backstage George sized up the other fighters. In the crowd, his mum waited anxiously. On his dad’s deathbed, he promised his dad he would take care of me. That’s why he tells me he’s going to do this and win the money. I told my dad I would be the man of the house, so that’s what he’s wanting to do. Soon it was time for the fighters
to take to the ring. [Bell rings] Each fight lasts just three minutes,
split into three rounds. The format doesn’t lend itself to artful boxing. [Cheers] “And down goes the big man!” In the build up to the event, the fighters’ outsized personalities had provided an air of joviality but on the night it was troubling
to see how ill-equipped some of them were in the ring. How are you feeling about the fight now? Damn good, bro! I’m going to win. I’m going to win. George came out swinging
and had some early success. “He’s down. He’s just got to stay low.” But soon his lack of fitness
and reach began to show. By the end of the second round
he looked exhausted. He was struggling to move his arms and appeared dazed. Fudge was circling menacingly. The referee stopped the fight after George complained of feeling dizzy. His shot at the championship was over. Everybody told me I’m a brave
motherfucker to fight him. I’m going to do it next year. Why? I was shaking like this. I was fine. No. I was … No. I’m just glad it’s over with. For years, Rough ‘N’ Rowdy
has provided entertainment to small towns in West Virginia. Barstool Sports’s investment
could take it nationwide and prove lucrative for Portnoy
and his company. It’s doubtful whether that money
will benefit these fighters but they’ll continue to risk their health by climbing into the ring. For them, fighting seems to be about more than just financial gain. It’s about respect and recognition, a shot at glory, three minutes in the spotlight.

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