200-Dollar Babies

May 01, 2005

It wasn't easy for Miss Angela to tell her kindergartners how she got a broken nose and a black eye, so she lied. "I got hit with a baseball," she told the class.

What was she supposed to do, tell the truth--that she got it while making $200 in an underground L.A. street brawl known as Extreme ChickFights?

It wasn't easy for Laika de los Santos, a student at Santa Monica College, to tell her parents how she earned the $300 to fix her car, but she did. For five rounds, without gloves or headgear, she traded bare-knuckle punches in two Extreme ChickFights. "My dad thinks it's cool," she says, "but my mom won't let him come. So I let him see all my bruises afterward."

But it sure has been easy for the Extreme ChickFights' organizer, Marie (she won't give her last name), to sell more than 100,000 DVDs--"99.99 percent to guys," she says--at $19.99. "Some distributors think it's porn," Marie says, "but it's not." Hey, maybe they think it's better: lipsticked girls trying to whack each other's mascara off, many with no idea what they're doing. Now that's entertainment.

This was definitely going to be Becky Zerlentes's last fight. What's weird is, this was going to be Heather Schmitz's first fight. Before their Golden Gloves bout in Denver last month, the two women in their early 30s hit it off. They even set up a time to have lunch the following week. How could they know the lunch would never come off because one of them would be dead?

The Oscar-winning Best Picture for 2004--Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby--has been a knockout for the women's fight game. In fact, if it weren't for all the blood, you'd swear an Extreme ChickFight was just a bad movie set.

The unsanctioned and unregulated fights are staged in private--usually in a backyard, a basement or a rented L.A. studio--and never in the same place twice. EXTREME CHICKFIGHTS sprayed on a wall like graffiti. A nurse in a low-cut, shiny vinyl uniform. Four rounds for street fighters. Three rounds for fighters in gloves or gloves and headgear. Thirty or 40 women, many with almost no clue how much $200 can hurt.

They come answering Marie's ads in L.A. papers and on her website: Can you kick ass and take names? One woman, calling herself Death Angel, came in mesh stockings and a miniskirt. She stopped fighting when she couldn't feel her face anymore. Another, Sugar Britches, came in frilly spanky pants and a camisole. Later she was swollen and scraped, and nothing looked sweet about her. One night a woman had her top and bra yanked off in a street fight yet kept swinging. Nobody comes to be a champion.

"The girls don't come for the money," explains Marie, who says she's a UCLA film school graduate who started all this as a way to make a "cool" documentary. "They come for the fun of it."

What's weird is the punch didn't even look nasty. No shoulders or hip in it. But Schmitz's straight right in the third round that night stiffened Zerlentes's legs and felled her like a new Christmas tree. Her head smacked the canvas. The doctor was over her within 15 seconds. But it was already too late.

The kindergarten teacher now runs a day-care center, but she still bleeds for Marie's cameras. "I do it for the adrenaline rush," says Angela Gabriel. "Sure, it's a risk.... But I'll be a cool grandma: 'Grandma, did you really fight other girls?'"

Her car is fixed, but de los Santos keeps fighting. "I don't know why," she giggles. "Someday I'll have kids, and I'll yell, 'No fighting!' They'll say, 'You did it!' And I'll say, '--unless you're paid!'"

Marie is shocked at the hunger for her videos--her million-dollar baby--out of which the fighters get zero percent. "This was supposed to be a one-off," she says. "Now it's a full-time business!" She hasn't seen Eastwood's movie yet. "How does it end?"

Zerlentes died the next day. Blunt force trauma. Believed to be the first female fighter to die in the ring. Schmitz crawled into her bedroom and hasn't spoken to reporters since. "She's devastated," says Julie Goldsticker of USA Boxing. Her friends wonder if she'll ever fight again. That would be something, right? If it turned out to be the last bout for both fighters?

Zerlentes died from a gloved punch that hit her headgear. She died with a doctor, an EMT and oxygen at ringside. What chance does a girl in a miniskirt have?

It will happen. One of these days blunt force trauma will come to Marie's little backyard brawls. In order to get paid, the fighters sign a waiver releasing Marie from liability. So if a girl comes in a camisole and goes home in a box, Marie says she can't be sued.

Besides, can you imagine the DVD sales of that? ■

If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to reilly@siletters.com.

One woman came in mesh stockings and a miniskirt. She stopped fighting when she couldn't feel her face anymore.

COLOR PHOTOPETER READ MILLER

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)