The Lion, the Witch, and the Cage Fight: Part 1

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The warehouse reeked of blood, sweat, and sawdust. The beehive hum of a hundred raucous spectators penetrated the plywood walls of makeshift dressing room where Marcelo "The Lion" Guerra readied himself for battle. In a different venue, the crowd would be calling his name by now, but this wasn't Vegas. Neither his multiple championships nor his celebrity status were currency here. In this place, all that mattered was the fight, which is why he came.

Marcelo found the politics of the big MMA promotions like UFC and Bellatore cancerous. Fights weren't set up according to one's martial merit. It was all about money, and ratings, and who was sleeping with who.

Some of the other guys acclimated well to that. Marcelo did not. The endorsements, the porn star groupies, and the C-list fame bored him. For him, mixed martial arts was still about the challenge, the discipline, and the thrill. 

When he first heard of this place, Wupo Wo, Witches Den, he was instantly intrigued, if skeptical. Hidden in plain sight under the guise of a warehouse in New York's Chinatown, the deadliest fighters from around the world came to battle. There were no referees. No rounds. No decisions. Just the fight.

Wupo Wo was a spectral place, living more in myth than reality. Some of the things said about it were insane—urban legends of men fighting animals and monsters, victors devouring the fallen. There were other rumors of more believable sorts. One such whispering was that many of the bouts ended in death, neither combatant willing to yield with breath in their lungs. 

Marcelo could understand that. He could even respect it. In his own career, Marcelo had only tapped out once, and he vowed never to do so again. He wondered what would happen here, with no official to stop the match if the fight went south. Would he give in?

Taking a moment away from his shadow boxing, he made the sign of the cross. "Heck no," he muttered, answering his own question.

Someone rapped on the plywood door of the dressing room and shouted in Mandarin. Marcelo rolled his shoulders and called for them to come in.

A young and well dressed Chinese man stood outside the makeshift dressing room. Marcelo noted two missing fingers on his left hand and guessed that he was Triad.

The Chinese gangster pointed to the tattoo emblazoned in the center of Marcelo's chest, a heart wrapped in thorns with three words of flowing script. 

 "Jesus didn't tap?" asked the Triad, smirking.

"And neither does The Lion," Marcelo replied, ignoring the man's dismissive judgement of his tattoo.

The gangster snickered and beckoned for the fighter to follow him. They walked down an alley made up of rusted shipping containers and wooden crates. The harsh light from fluorescent tubes above crashed against the crates and containers, sending angular shadows upon Marcelo as he jogged toward the ring.

He considered asking the Triad who he was fighting, then decided it didn't matter. This wasn't Vegas or Atlantic City—weight classes weren't a thing here. There would be no tale of the tape in this warehouse. Only battle.

The alley of crates and containers ended, opening to a caged arena. Marcelo found no cameras to posture to. Missing were the ring girls in booty shorts and bikini tops. Profane advertisements for swill beer and energy drinks were conspicuous in their absence.

Instead of a canvas mat there was a concrete floor, bloodstained and littered with sawdust. The makeshift bleachers, a series of folding chairs set up on shipping containers, were filled with men who looked both wealthy and dangerous. Marcelo suspected the spectators to be a mix of criminals, politicians, and the idle rich.

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