Terry Davinney of Shelby Township lugs a newly claimed heavyweight belt into a Clinton Township martial arts studio and tiredly plops it on the table.
The 22-year-old, baby-faced artist by day is soft-spoken when discussing his devotion to cage fighting, an activity once deemed "human cockfighting" by Arizona Sen. John McCain. Known as "the Punisher" in the cage, Davinney talks about the stamina, conditioning and discipline the sport requires, which often means shedding 20 pounds from his burly, 225-pound physique in a matter of a couple of weeks.
"Most people would classify us as a thug who would walk into a bar and start a fight," he said , dismissing the rough-and-tumble stereotype. "We're athletes."
Taking note of cage fighting's skyrocketing popularity, Michigan lawmakers paved the way earlier this year for professional bouts in the state with monetary prizes. Under the law enacted in March, the Department of Labor and Economic Growth's Bureau of Commercial Services will grant licenses for specific professional fights, similar to those held in states like California, Nevada, Arizona and Ohio, where comparable laws are in place.
The legislation is timely, considering cage fighting is one of the world's fastest-growing sports, with mixed martial arts enthusiasts boasting about 300 million fans worldwide.
About 19,000 YouTube videos surface under "cage fighting," while a Google search for the topic returns around 700,000 hits.
Also contributing to the hype are the release this year of the mixed martial arts movie "Never Back Down" and Spike TV's regular airing of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.