by Robert Gamer

It was to be my way out. Make a little nest egg and jump on a Greyhound going to the east or west coast. I didn’t care where I wound up, as long as it was out. I had decided that growing old on the rez wasn’t for me. Life on the rez wasn’t life- not really.

Listening to the radio, I heard the announcement.  The advertisement was for the Big Cloud Ultimate Wrestling match to be held at Peterman Lodge in Fridley. When the ad said, “Local Fighters Wanted,” I felt that someone was kicking me in the butt. This could be the ticket I was looking for. A number to call was given and I called that number.

I went down to the Peterman Lodge the next day and talked to the guy at the other end of the line. They weren’t too picky, as I fought my first bout just two days later. I didn’t know anything about what it took to be a fighter. I just showed up with a mouth guard. Scared as all get out, I didn’t know what to expect.

The fights in the Peterman Lodge are held in the basement. They threw a cage up in the middle of the floor and packed hundreds in. Two stepped into the ring and anything went. I weighed in at 165 pounds while my opponent tipped the scale at 210. I got knocked around pretty good, although I stayed on my feet. Somehow, I outlasted him.

I had to learn the ropes, the more quickly the better. In Ultimate Wrestling, there are no weight classes. The bout lasts one round, with no time limits. Run like a tournament, there are single elimination rounds that lead to a final. The only rule is that there are no rules-sort of the way things are run on the rez.

New fighters like me who don’t get taken out on stretchers in their debut are pushed by the promoters. The promoters always try to arrange mismatches, which the crowd seems to love. Not only does the gambling increase, but the payoff is seeing someone bloodied bad.

In my second fight, the guy I was fighting got me down. Mounting me, he softened me up with a battery of punches. That got my attention all right. Managing to get on my back, he ended things with a rear choke hold.

After leaving the cage a loser, I figured that I had to concentrate on the training more. Staying off the beer, I started running laps around the rez. The more I saw, the more I wanted to get out. Passing the shacks, the broken tribesmen and women, always did a number on me.  

Three days later I was back in the cage. The guy I faced was Bill “ Bomber” Ogden. I thought the promoters had goofed, as, with the “Bomber” about my weight, on paper it seemed an even match up. I lasted 15 minutes exchanging blows with Bill until he caught me with a hard uppercut, closing my eye. The doctor stepped right in to stop the fight.

With 2 straight losses, I was afraid that my days in the cage might be at an end.  When I showed up after the week it took for my eye to get back in working order, they put me right back on the card for the upcoming fight. I suppose these guys needed someone to sacrifice, and I was young blood.

Something in my Apsaalooke Crow spirit clicked in. Getting bested just didn’t go right with me. Having to get my mind in order, I would visualize my opponent not as a person, but as a disease, like my mother’s drug addiction. One cold October morning years back she pumped some air into her vein from the syringe, and we had to bury her the next day.

They put me in the cage against Eli Drake from Hardin. It was lucky that I had pumped myself up because Eli I had heard was a former MMA champ. But his rep didn’t matter to me any. Eli Drake wasn’t Eli Drake. He was the craving for another hit of horse.

I beat Eli Hardin silly. Some guys came into the ring and had to pull me off or I might easily have killed him. The promoters must have liked what they saw. They asked me if I could fight at the Anoka County Fair the next week. The purse was $5000.  I didn’t have to think this over. Five thousand dollars would take me to the Promised Land.

The cage at the Anoka County Fair was inside a big flap tent. Grandstands had been placed on all sides. There had to be at least 500 in the audience. When I and my opponent stepped into the cage the crowd started whooping it up. The main event, they wanted to get their money’s worth.

They weren’t disappointed. I was fighting Otis W. Rogers, who had to be double my weight. An Olympic level wrestler, he had me out of my league. Getting tossed this way and that, I had to think about the way my father used to batter my brother and me. When my father got nasty drunk, which happened periodically, he used to order my brother and me to stand at attention. A Vietnam vet who had done three tours, dad was a fanatic about military detail. My brother and I stood there for hours ramrod straight in our underwear until one of us faltered. My father would then give the offender good licking. The one of us who was left wouldn’t last long and get the same paddling.  Drugs and drink led my old man to to the VA hospital in Fort Harrison. He never returned and I haven’t seen him in years.

Each time Otis W. Rogers sent me flying, the crowd would roar. Picking myself up again, I’d have another go at him. With $5000 on the line, I had to reach deep inside and see what I had. I could feel the blood seeping down my face, but all that mattered was cutting the disease out with my two fists. The pain I could stomach.

The last thing I remember about what happened in the cage was Otis W. Rogers picking me up and twirling me around in his arms as if he was playing with me. Then in one heave he sent my flying me against the steel bars. Hitting my head, I blacked out.

The concussion brought my fighting days to a close. So did the loss of my left eye. I didn’t get so much as a thank you from the promoters. What I did get was a whopping medical bill, which I am still paying off doing odd jobs.

So as for my plan to jump on a Greyhound out of the rez, it doesn’t look like that is ever going to take place now. I have to say that it’s a big thing for an Indian to want, a noble thing to think that hard work and dedication will win the day. I don’t feel beaten by what happened, just chastened.

In early evening on occasion, I go over to the Southern Lights Casino on Leech Lake. With the artificial lights in front of the casino filtering across the surface of the water, I plant myself on the fallen leaves and take in the folks flocking in to the casino. They are filled with unflagging hope, too, the pipe dream of hitting the grand jackpot. The gambling machines are rigged and only one or two are ever going to walk away winners. But for a few hours at least, these Indians are relieved of the daily weight of life on the rez.  I take a six pack with me and after I finish my last bottle of beer, I take one last, long look, and turn around to make my way back.  

About the Author:

Robert Gamer currently resides in Danvers, Massachusetts. Learning from such masters as Chekhov and Turgenev, he is working on a novel. When not writing, he continues to push for protecting the environment and fixing the immigration system.