eyes on the U.S.
November 10, 2011
LAS VEGAS - No body armor or helmets, just tattooed skin and shaved heads, or maybe a Mohawk. The only weapons are muscles and fists of steel. The goal? To be the best Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter in the world. To win the title, these modern gladiators do battle night after night, not on a karate mat or in a boxing ring, but squared off inside a metal cage.
MMA or free-fighting is a worldwide phenomenon that mixes karate, Thai boxing, judo, wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. It has developed over the past 10 years through the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, which has its bulging fan base in a frenzy. Every UFC fight night is an event, especially if it takes place in Las Vegas.
On one Saturday night, about 12,000 fans are screaming at the top of their lungs in Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay Hotel, where they eagerly await the main fight of the night between B.J. Penn and Nick Diaz. "It's like going to a party," says Gornetti Francisco, a nurse who came all the way from Toronto. Fans travel from New York, Washington D.C. or even Tokyo and Paris to see a UFC fight.
"It's so exciting. There's action, there's blood, and you see their faces writhe in pain. It's amazing!" says another fan, Veronica Sullivan. "I paid $1,000 for this and it's totally worth it!" And Joey, a fan who brought his two sons, aged seven and 12, says the fights are a way to teach his boys that "in life, you have to be a fighter."
Diaz and Penn finally enter the ring for three five-minute rounds. Fans scream at every blow, then go silent when Penn gets knocked out. A bloody-faced Diaz is declared the winner. Penn, a two-time welter champion, gets a standing ovation as he explains why he's retiring for good. "I'm going to have a daughter." Earlier in the evening, another MMA legend announced his retirement "to raise his children."
Less violent than boxing?
For Cyrille Diabate, a Parisian fighter known as "The Snake," each bout is like "a physical chess game." One of his colleagues, British fighter Dan Hardy, says there are multiple ways to win a fight, knockout being just one of them. "There are many techniques, you never know how it's going to end," he says. "You can win without giving one punch. That's what people like."
In Epinay-sur-Seine, a Paris suburb, Diabate's MMA classes – for men and women – are full, much to the dismay of federations for traditional martial arts like judo or karate, which condemn MMA for its violence. Although classes are allowed in France, official bouts are still banned, meaning French fighters must go abroad if they want to compete.
But MMA enthusiasts defend the sport, saying it's actually less violent than it appears. "The visual perception isn't the reality," says Reed Harris, one of the UFC's vice-presidents. "The cage is actually a way to protect the athletes, so they don't fall over, like in a regular ring."
France's "The Snake" insists it's less violent than traditional boxing. "You don't get as many hits to the face." And Georges Saint-Pierre, one of the sport's living legends, says it's more civilized than hockey. "It's not gratuitous violence like in hockey, where guys fight with their sticks."
Yet accidents do happen. MMA has led to a couple of deaths in recent years. A fighter named Michael Kirkham died in June 2010 following a match, as did Sam Vasquez in 2007.
Fighting for $500,000 a night
The UFC, whose slogan is "No holds barred," took the United States by storm in 1993. The original idea was to have practitioners of different martial arts – karate, judo, etc. – compete against each other to determine which performed best in real unarmed combat situations. There were no rules, too much violence and too much blood. Not surprisingly, the UFC was quick to spark controversy, and in 1997, Sen. John McCain of Arizona led a campaign to ban it.
From there the UFC fell off the radar. But in 2001, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, together with Dana White, a boxing coach, bought the UFC for $1 million. Their goal was to bring in a much wider public. "People told us that it was the worst possible investment to make," says White, who is now the UFC president.
The new owner began by endowing the fledgling sport with a list of 31 rules, including weight categories and time-limits. He also required fighters to wear gloves, imposed doping tests and made AIDS testing mandatory. All 300 fighters are bound by contracts and insured. For Lorenzo Fertitta, "It's the safest sport in the world for athletes."
The makeover was a success. One by one, states began allowing MMA competition. Today, only three still ban it: New York, Connecticut and Vermont. Throughout the years, the UFC has spread around the world. Championships, available through pay-per-view, bring in about a million viewers. Fans have to spend on average $400 to see the real thing in arenas that can hold as many as 55,000 spectators. Ten years after the Fertitta brothers and White bought it, the UFC is now worth $2.5 billion. There's money in it as well for the fighters, who can make up to $500,000 per fight.
For a group of children in one of Las Vegas' toughest neighborhoods, the UFC fighters are an inspiration. In late October the children are treated to a visit by a group of fighters. Joining them are several police officers who were only too happy to praise the UFC fighters as good role models.
"These fighters are polite, give nutritional advice to kids who only eat junk food. They are role models for our society," says Lieutenant Jack Clements. "They don't encourage violence at all."
Britain's Dan Hardy, one of the UFC fighters in attendance that day, takes this kind of community outreach seriously. "You have to show the children that if you work hard, if you go to school, you can do whatever you want," he says.
Read more from Le Monde in French
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This leading French daily newspaper Le Monde ("The World") was founded in December 1944 in the aftermath of World War II. Today, it is distributed in 120 countries. In late 2010, a trio formed by Pierre Berge, Xavier Niel and Matthieu Pigasse took a controlling 64.5% stake in the newspaper.
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food / travel
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson
October 26, 2021
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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