Are there real-life fight clubs?

A History of Violence

Two pugilists touch gloves outside their barracks, circa 1865
Two pugilists touch gloves outside their barracks, circa 1865
George Eastman House/Getty Images

Fighting is nothing new among humans. We've pummeled one another for millennia. Ancient texts like the Babylonian epic poem "Gilgamesh" and the Bible describe early acts of physical brutality. Archaeologists have found physical evidence of even earlier violence. The famed Iceman of the Alps, whose mummy was found in 1991, is believed to have been ritually murdered in an act of human sacrifice 5,300 years ago [source: Gugliotta]. Physical aggression has clearly been around for a while. The question is: Are we like this naturally, or is violence a behavior we've adopted?

Psychologists have debated endlessly over the nature of violence. Some theorize it's innate in all humans, suddenly and irresistibly brought to the fore by some external stimulus or medical condition. Others believe that violence is a learned trait. This school of thought is supported by anthropological notions that humans lived peacefully in small groups before civilization developed. They theorize that violence emerged out of humans living closely together and the hierarchy that developed out of agriculture and the domestication of animals [source: Bacciagaluppi].

Over time we learned to harness that violence. It was eventually determined that the same social structure, which may have produced violence, couldn't sustain it. We're meant to all get along so that society can thrive; any assault inflicted on an individual undermines the social structure [source: Miller]. That is unless the violence itself is structured, say in the form of a spectator sport like boxing. Fighting goes from an uncontrolled act of violence to a sanctioned outlet for aggression and a chance for glory.

Boxing and wrestling were both featured events at the early Olympics 2,700 years ago. Boxing matches were generally lawless beatings from then on until 1743, when the first rules governing the sport were published by Jack Boughton, a man who'd killed one of his opponents in a match in 1741 and wrote the rules to prevent such an accident from happening again [source: University of Florida]. Even after boxing federations developed and regulated the sport in the 1860s, part of the sport continued to maintain its underground appeal. Bare-knuckled boxing matches were staged throughout the 20th century in places like abandoned buildings, bars and even carnivals in the United States and Great Britain [source: University of Sheffield]. Pugilism -- boxing -- spread throughout the world, taking root in Asia and South America soon after being exported to the U.S. from the U.K.

No matter where boxing matches were held, there was one commonality among them all: money. It can take some encouragement to fight another person when he or she has done nothing to you, and money has traditionally been the grease that keeps the pugilistic wheels going. Boxers get a purse -- prize -- for winning and, in regulated matches, the losers do, too. Promoters make a cut from a boxer's winnings, and even fans may bet on the outcome of the fight (though that's illegal in the U.S.).

But it wasn't until 1996 that the mind of author Chuck Palahniuk produced the concept of a fight club: no money, very few rules and highly secretive. The idea appears to have caught on. After the book and movie came out, reports of real-life fight clubs trickled out via the media. In places like San Francisco and New York, men and women alike assembled for knockdown, drag-out fights with few rules and for no money.

Find out about these real-life fight clubs on the next page.