The Team Titan fans showed up early, getting ready to cheer for their fighters during Cage Rage 11 on May 4 at the IP Casino Resort in Biloxi.
It was hard to miss them in their colorful T-shirts.
Then again, this was the main event -- a magnet -- for sports fans that night.
And that is the world of mixed martial arts, which has attracted fans by the droves who get to see fighters battle it out in the Octagon using a variety of methods -- jiujitsu, karate, boxing, wrestling -- to take down an opponent.
And this is a young man's sport. Take one fighter -- Bobby Ledkins -- for example. Ledkins, who recently graduated from Baldwyn County High School, defeated Justin Howard in his Cage Rage 11 bout. And Ledkins at his young age of 18 is now 8-0 as an amateur.
"I got into it three years ago," Ledkins said. "We got satellite TV and dad pulled it up on the TV. The TV was showing guys fighting in cages beating up on each other. I thought I would try that. At first it was a backyard thing.
"I would go down to the gym to do taekwondo. I joined a real gym in Fairhope, then went to Atmore (Ala.) where Team Titan originated.
"I've always been a good kid. I've been one of those kids everyone looked down on. Now they know me as the big bad cage fighter. But really, I'm a nice guy."
Certainly, television has added to the allure. MMA fights are carried on Spike, FX and the regular Fox network. Local hero Alan Belcher, who runs a gym in D'Iberville, is highly successful on the UFC tour and he had a big victory in May on the national Fox network.
Explosion in popularity
At one time, boxing was the magnet. Now it is MMA.
Glenn Mattina Jr., who runs Atlas Fights, says that one of the key attractions for MMA is that the fight is decided in the Octagon, usually not by judges. The controversial split decision for Timothy Bradley over Manny Pacquiao in their recent welterweight title bout in Las Vegas certainly gave a black eye to the boxing world.
"In MMA, the fighter is more of a complete fighter," Mattina said. "You have to be crafty. There are five or six ways to be a complete fighter.
"You very seldom see fights go to the judges. There are three, 5-minute rounds. A title fight has five, 5-minute rounds."
Ricky Derouen, president of Fight Force International and Bomber Promotions, got into promoting MMA fights after Hurricane Katrina.
"MMA has exploded since 2005," Derouen said. "Women love it. They don't like boxing. I would say 50 percent of the crowds at our shows are women.
"Walk into any gym, and you see kids involved in the sport, to become fit, learn self-defense and build up their confidence. They may never get into the Octagon, but they will follow it. The younger generation loves this sport."
'Make it an event'
Back at Cage Rage 11, the action was fast and furious, with fans watching the action in the Octagon, then checking out the action on the big screens.
Announcer David Hardy called out the action, and interviewed the fighters after their duels.
Rudy Flores of Biloxi took the rubber match of his rivalry with Jonathan Garner.
"I told Rudy to keep his hands up; he weathered the storm. When the other guy's gas tank was empty, Rudy took over," said training partner John Harris.
Teresa Gradia of Team Titan had a special rooting interest that night, with her son Justin Ramer fighting Steve Burks. Ramer, however, was defeated.
"I'm praying the whole time -- not for winning but safety," Gradia said.
Coastian Shiloh Pisarich dropped his match to Chris Myers of Slidell, then Kenny Garner from Port St. Lucie, Fla., won the finale -- defeating Biloxi's John Brown for the pro heavyweight championship.
There are two big MMA shows right around the corner. Derouen is promoting Blood and Sand XII at the new Biloxi Civic Center on June 30. Mattina is holding Atlas Fights 12 at the IP on July 14.
Mattina makes sure that his show is an event -- with the Jumbotron, three cameramen on the cage, postfight interviews and the attractive ring girls.
One little known fact on the night of Cage Rage 11 was that one of the ring girls had the heels on her shoes taped to avoid puncturing the mat inside the ring. Another is that several of MMA fighters gathered in a team prayer before their matches.
"We want to make it an event," Mattina said. "This is an exciting time to be a part of the sport."