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Got Blood?

Mike Woods and Dayion Pruitt are good friends who share a common goal: To become famous by beating the crap out of each other.

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Mike Woods needs a pair of material binding clamps. His wife, Christa, drives their Toyota Corolla through the leafy suburbs of Clayton County, toward Wal-Mart. He's thinking about picking up some alcohol, too. But he doesn't have a lot of time. Glory, or at least bloodshed, is awaiting him. And he's behind schedule.

Dayion Pruitt, sitting in the back seat, rattles off the places he and Woods have fought -- in the garage, the bedroom, the street, the woods. He looks out the window. Somewhere out there, another fight is about to happen.

"I fucking hate it when people call it backyard wrestling," Pruitt grumbles.

Pruitt's philosophy is this: Fight wherever you can, for whoever wants to watch. But don't ever do "none of the stupid shit" without a camera. "Because if I break my leg," he says, "I want it on film."

Videos, if marketed right, can lead to recognition. Recognition can lead to fame. And fame, Pruitt hopes, will get him paid for all the hell he's been through.

But performances in a backyard (or a bedroom, the woods, garages, the street) are a long way from professional rings where fighters -- real or otherwise -- find real fortunes. But it's fortune Pruitt thinks about during his shifts as a stockroom manager at Kirkland's in Southlake Mall.

Woods, who works nights as a for-hire security guard, is not after fortune. Woods wants something different, something like the feeling he got from fighting in front of 120 people in a Florida match. Or something like the time last month when he walked into the Masquerade and about 20 people recognized him. "And I had one or two of them ask for my autograph," he says. "I get all giggly and stuff."

He wants something like that, but more.

"I would love to walk down the street or go to a grocery store or a porn store and see some motherfucker have on our shirts, with a picture of Death Match Guy [his stage name] or Kidd 19 [Pruitt's stage name]," he says. "I want for someone to say, 'Hey man, can I buy your video? I bought the last 14.'"

And on another level he wants to make up for the times past when he was too young to fight back.

"It's just a lot of anger that has built up over the years due to being picked on and pushed around and abused, just crap that goes on in the world that pisses me off," Woods says. "This is my stress reliever, to beat the crap out of somebody."

Yet Woods is the one who takes the brunt of the abuse when he and Pruitt fight. He's more willing to endure pain. He's trained to. The price of Woods' training can be measured in memory loss and broken bones.

Woods is 5 feet 8 inches. He's not a feather over 130. He says he has lost 10 percent of his memory. Last year didn't help. He had joined a wrestling club that met off Edgewood Avenue in Atlanta. After one of the matches, a fighter twice Woods' weight grabbed Woods, stood on the top ropes of the ring and dropped him a good 15 feet. Woods crashed through a plastic lawn chair, fractured some vertebrae and spent two days in the hospital. He paid $7,000 for the incident.

Pruitt, at 5 feet 9 inches and 135 pounds, is a more appropriate opponent. Woods says he fights Pruitt "90 percent of the time." They know each other's limits, but they are not easy on each other.

Pruitt hasn't broken any bones in his four years of serious fighting -- not his own and not anyone else's. He says he doesn't really want it to come to that.

"I'm not out to hurt him, know what I'm saying? That's the last thing I want to do."

Pruitt knows, though, that pain is one of the first things the camera and the crowd are looking for.

And sometimes that's what they get to see. "Right Mike?" Pruitt chides.

"Yeah, right," Woods says. They're pulling into the Wal-Mart parking lot. Woods runs in. His wife and Pruitt wait.

Woods, 21, and Pruitt, 19, have been fighting since their middle school days in Jonesboro. They would set up a ring of pillows and practice moves they saw the mammoths of the World Wrestling Federation perform on the small screen.

They'd take those moves and create dirtier ones. They added an arsenal. They christened their club Muther Fuckin Wrestling.

There are similar clubs, with similar names, with more members, across the country. MFW may be the product of two teenagers' creativity. But it is not a first, nor is it an original concept.

Which makes it that much harder for Woods. He's got to take pain to another level. And it shows.

"He's been hit in the head too many times," Pruitt says.

"By you," Christa shoots back. Woods is inside Wal-Mart buying the clamp. The fight is supposed to start in 10 minutes.

"I don't aim for the head," Pruitt says. "He walks into that shit."

...

The Corolla nearly passes the driveway, which loops behind a bungalow in Forest Park that looks like the other bungalows in Forest Park. Pruitt and Woods get out and look around. They must determine where in the yard to fight.

Inside, Tim and his girlfriend sit in Tim's parents' basement, waiting on the wrestlers to knock. The walls of the basement and the ceiling are painted black. A camouflage spread covers both couches. On one side of the room, two flesh-eating fish circle each other in a dim tank. On the other, a kitten bats at caged crickets. Three television sets sit silent in a wall-sized entertainment center. Tim rolls a joint. The stereo plays Tchaikovsky.

"Tchaikovsky," his girlfriend says.

"Jack-offsky?" He grins.

Pruitt raps on the door and enters, followed by Christa and Mike Woods. The CD player changes discs, from The Nutcracker to heavy metal rockers Slipknot. Pruitt and Tim talk music. Woods ignores them. He waves away a joint passed to him. He's intent on fixing his mask.

He has three others he can wear, but he considers this one -- white latex with black horns and black mesh -- the prettiest. He's using the binding clamp he just bought at Wal-Mart to refasten the elastic band that holds the mask to his head.

Tim's brother Chris walks into the basement with a friend. Another friend will arrive later, in a white pickup, and Mike Stone, a promoter and the founder of Shrapnel Films, will show up with the video camera. A bigger crowd was assembled four days earlier, when the match was originally scheduled. But Pruitt didn't show, and the whole crowd has not returned. Pruitt would only say that "some shit came up."

That was Saturday. Tim's parents seemed uninterested in the fight scheduled in their backyard, although one of the older men in the crowd brought a waiver for the wrestlers to sign. It stated that if they got badly hurt, or killed, they wouldn't sue the homeowners.

Today, Wednesday, the arrangement is more chill.

"My parents said if one of you gets killed, we're gonna have to bury you in the backyard," Tim says to Woods.

Woods keeps working on the mask.

...

By the time the match approaches, it is getting cold in the shade. A shadow covers most of Tim's backyard. A gravel driveway forms a donut around a wooden shed and a sign that says: "Don't spin out in the driveway. MFRS." Beyond the gravel is a pit of wood chips surrounded by thick pine trees.

Woods walks the few yards from the basement to the Corolla and starts unloading the trunk. He throws on the ground three-foot-long florescent bulbs, street signs, sheetrock, a metal folding chair, an axe and a tangle of barbed wire.

He suits up. First on is the Point Blank bullet-proof vest, then the City of Atlanta "Recruit" shirt with matching navy pants, followed by Ace bandage elbow pads and plastic shin guards. He duct tapes the shin guards around his calves.

He gets back to work on the mask.

The crowd of five, which has moved from the basement to a cluster of lawn furniture, rails Woods about his fixation with the mask. One person raises his voice, but not loud enough for Woods to hear: "I wanna see blood and broken bones."

People have poked fun at Woods before, but back then it was different. Back then he was in grade school.

"I was called Porky Pig because I always stuttered and all," Woods says. "It wasn't because I couldn't communicate. I was nervous because I was afraid of being hit. I was just beaten all the time, as far back as I can remember."

The training began. Somewhere along the line, Woods' stuttering become less obvious. The more he fought, the less afraid he was.

"For some odd reason, I like to be hit more and abused more," Woods says. "And I think that that's from my childhood. I like to be at the bottom end and work my way up, just to show that, hey, I can fight my way back."

Woods tries the mask on. A tight fit. Perfect. He takes it off and approaches the house.

"Can I use one of the baseball bats?" he asks Tim.

The crowd murmurs while Tim grabs a bat and hands it to Woods. Woods walks off.

"They aren't going to actually going to hit each other with the bats, are they?" Tim's brother Chris asks. "I mean, bats will break bones. I'm just wondering about the bats."

"They won't hit anybody in the head," says Stone, who's filmed Pruitt and Woods countless times in the last year-and-a-half. "They might hit each other in the back."

"That'd be cool," Chris says.

Woods returns.

"Can I borrow your ladder?"

He hauls it to the woodchip pit.

Chris follows him with his eyes. "These guys got issues."

Christa, Woods' 24-year-old wife, stands off to the side, away from the crowd. She watches her husband from behind her wispy bangs, soft brown laced with gray. Her wide blue eyes suggest naivety, but her words don't.

The wrestling used to bother her, she says, back when she and Woods got together a year-and-a-half ago. But "now that he's learned to control the anger," she sees wrestling as his outlet. "When we first started dating, I was worried he'd take it out on me," she says. "But this is his only violence."

Christa does have worries about finances and hopes her husband's violence will turn a profit. They have a 7-month-old baby, Evan, to care for. "He's a good baby," Christa says. "He doesn't cry. He's not what you'd think, coming from Mike."

She assists however she can, driving Woods to matches, tending his wounds, playing the role of "roadie."

Pruitt got married in March, but his wife doesn't usually come to the fights. "She's not a big fan," he says. "She's more the parental type."

Pruitt puts on his gold-faced mask with black rope for braids. Woods tapes his mask to his head. Pruitt helps press the tape to the back of Woods' head and rips the excess away. That's the last of the preparation. They approach the woodchip pit.

...

The fight starts with Pruitt removing the wood-handled, rusty ax from its slim cardboard box.

Pruitt pushes Woods down and strikes the ground with the ax as Woods rolls away. They move like acrobats, all leaps and rolls and catapults. It seems choreographed, until Woods huddles on the ground and takes three blows from a baseball bat. Woods swings his leg around and takes Pruitt down.

Woods hits Pruitt with a road sign. The pain it inflicts is not as impressive as the noise of quivering metal. Then, Woods breaks sheetrock over Pruitt's head and back.

"Yeah," Chris says from the side of the pit. "I felt that."

"I know that shit hurts," Tim says. "I work with it."

Woods and Pruitt break florescent light bulbs on each other's backs. They pop and shatter. One blow burns Woods' right shoulder. Pruitt steps back and rushes at Woods, spinning to add momentum to a kick that lands on Woods' lower back. He whips Woods with barbed wire and stomps his shoulder.

The crowd laughs.

Pruitt hits Woods over the head with a street sign, mashing the barbed wire into Woods' skull. Barbed wire stuck to his head and forearm, Woods shivers, as if the wire carried electricity.

Pruitt dropkicks Woods' head. That was probably the blow that got the blood flowing, although the crowd can't know that. The mask hides the blood.

Woods gets up and motions to his wife for the lighter. She tosses it to him. He pours liquid from a gas can onto a ceiling tile and tries to light it. It doesn't light. Stone runs in with the camera and tries to light it himself. But before he can, Woods shatters the tile over Pruitt's head.

Pruitt's turn.

Pruitt climbs atop a woodchip pile and does a flip onto a folding chair and two metal signs. Beneath them is Woods.

"That was damn cool right there," someone in the crowd says.

"Yeah!" whoops another. "Kidd 19!"

Woods knocks Pruitt to the ground. He lifts the rickety ladder and climbs its rungs. He jumps from the top of the ladder and lands half-on, half-off, Pruitt. Pruitt moans and groans, holding his side and rolling back and forth. They are catching their breath. It's hard to breathe through the mouth hole in the mask. It's hot under those layers of clothing.

Pruitt crawls for the bat, hits Woods on the chest and drags him across the pit.

The moans, groans, holding and rolling continue, and the crowd gets antsy for a minute. They can't see the blood.

The mask hides it. The mask hides expressions of pain, fear or boredom. The mask hides the face you wear during most moments of most days.

"I look up to Death Match Guy," Woods says. "And that's a thing people don't understand. When I talk about Death Match Guy I'm not talking about myself. I'm talking about a whole different persona. Death Match Guy's a chair-swinging, barbed-wire-eating, fire-making, table-crushing, Kidd 19-killer guy. And Mike is just laid back, taking care of the kid and the wife and working a regular job, trying to make it as a regular person."

The fight is winding down.

Pruitt collapses against a woodchip pile and pours water on himself.

Woods kneels in the pit and takes off his mask.

Those who doubted Woods, who wondered if the fight was more theatrics than bloodthirst, take pause.

Woods' mouth hangs open like that of a dehydrated animal. His scalp is flecked with blood. Blood trickles from his mouth like a leaking faucet.

"That's what it's all about," he says. He stumbles a minute. "I want a cigarette is what I want."

"How was that?" an unscathed Pruitt asks Stone.

Stone got at least 20 minutes of footage for an upcoming documentary. "Good, man," he answers.

Woods seems more concerned with the crowd than the footage.

"I mean, were y'all pleased?" he asks, not bothering to wipe the blood away. "Did you like it?"

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