Music blares as gladiators walk down the aisles. Teeth grip a mouth guard and eyes turn steely as their protective equipment is checked before entering the ring.
The referee has them touch gloves and the calm demeanor is gone in an instant. The first punch flies and connects. Welcome to Friday Night Fights.
"We're all warrior athletes inside," said Staff Sgt. Aaron Martinez with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, a native of Des Moines, Iowa. Martinez is an Army combatives trainer at Ft. Bliss, Texas and planned much of the Friday Night Fight event at Contingency Operating Base Adder.
All of the fighters have been training with Martinez or other instructors to prepare for the evening. Several classes are taught on post, from boxing and kickboxing to Army Combatives and Jiu-Jitsu.
"Fundamentals come first," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Christopher Costa from Pensacola, Fla., a member of the 732nd Air Expeditionary Group. Movement and balance are taught before any punches are thrown.
Costa trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu while stationed in Japan and helps Martinez train service members who come to the gym to learn to fight, he said. He has been learning and teaching here for about four months.
The fighters prep themselves in different ways, some trying to calm themselves, others attempting to psych themselves up.
Sgt. Jonathan Blanton, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th BCT 1st Armd. Div., a native of Summerfield, Texas, made his way to the smoking area outside of Memorial Hall and bummed a cigarette of a fellow Soldier. Even after quitting, he does what he can to calm his nerves.
"I try not to think about what I'm about to do," he said.
Often times, he thinks of his family or what the next few days hold for him to calm himself, he said.
"I've practiced hard for the last two weeks," Blanton said.
At times, the training consists of sparring against other fighters; those sessions are to reinforce technique.
Friday Night Fights isn't a typical Mixed Martial Arts competition. The rules are set by the Army Combatives Program and there are strikes which are illegal, Martinez said. This is to lower the possibility of serious injury to the contestants.
"We all have to go to work tomorrow," he joked with the fighters.
During the fights, Memorial Hall was filled to capacity, as over a thousand service members and civilians packed themselves in to cheer on their favorites. The ring in the center of the hall dominated the scene, with medics and "ring girls" standing by.
Fighters used a mixture of kicks, punches and take-downs to gain the upper hand against each other.
"I didn't want any lopsided fights," Martinez said.
The combatant matches were chosen for their weight and skill levels. The more experienced fighters found themselves up against people who would give them a fair match.
Everyone fights for their own reasons, whether to prove their abilities to themselves or to give themselves something to work toward.
"This keeps me out of trouble," said Costa.
He decided it would be better to fight in competition rather than "in the streets."
"I live to fight, and fight to live," said Blanton.
That has been his motto since joining the Army.
Anyone is welcome to train, even if it isn't to compete, at the Sprung gym on COB Adder, Monday through Saturday starting around 5 p.m.