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From back yard to broadband

PERRINE — A crowd of hundreds filters into a neighbor's back yard expecting to see something brutal: bloodied noses and punched-out teeth, blackened eyes and broken jaws, as stardom-hungry pugilists pummel each other on a manicured lawn.

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A man in a red Mohawk referees the action inside a 12-foot-square ring, enforcing the two explicit rules: No hits to the back of the head. No jabs to the testicles.

When the winner celebrates, a third rule becomes clear: Know where the phone cameras are. For although a crowd of 200 watches this day, hundreds of thousands more might watch on a blurry video on the Internet, where celebrity is democratic and pain can lead to fame.

Backyard fighting has been around as long as there have been back yards. But it's only since the advent of viral Web videos that recordings of everyday people clawing at each other have been a launching pad for stardom. Exhibit A is Kimbo Slice, the scary man from Perrine whose footage beating people up made him one of the most hyped mixed martial arts fighters in the country.

Now another Perrine man is hoping to organize this gritty underbelly of the cyberworld and transform it into a multimillion-dollar, multimedia industry.

The cyberworld knows him as Dada 5000. His mother named him Dhafir Harris. He's a little Don King, a little P.T. Barnum, a little Justin Bieber.

Born and raised in Perrine, Harris, 33, is a lean, mean-looking promoting machine — 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds with a 650-pound bench press. His big beard protrudes from his chin like the edge of a battle-ax. His toenails and fingernails are lacquered black. His muscular frame is shrouded with tattoos: two boxing gloves behind his left earlobe, "No Fear" inscribed on his arm, a "No to Drugs" illustration on his left pec.

His thumbs, he believes, are even mightier than his fists: He promotes through text messages to the 1,000-plus people listed in his BlackBerry. The fights happen before sunset, so there'll be enough light to gather clickworthy footage for YouTube.

Some videos have already gotten as many as 200,000 hits on the site, though many have gotten tens of thousands. The producers of the acclaimed local film Cocaine Cowboys are releasing a documentary about him. Local and national media alike have dropped by. Telemundo produced a documentary about Rene "Level" Martinez, a mixed martial arts fighter who got his start in Harris' mom's back yard.

While not the most conventional way to help this community south of Miami, Harris has convinced himself that he's doing a service. Winners get a share of the purse — about $300. Losers get $50 — enough for bandages.

The gladiators in Harris' world include a high-school wrestling champion and MMA fighters, but most are on the lowest rungs on of the social ladder — dropouts, rejects and felons who Harris said "can count on one hand the number of times they've been acknowledged for something good."

Is it legal? Probably not. The state's boxing commission says it has never investigated Harris' franchise, but there are no medical doctors on hand, as there are in professional fights. Nor has the commission sanctioned Harris for amateur fights. Unsanctioned fights are third-degree felonies.

But police have shown up only to disperse crowds that have spilled into the sidewalk, residents say. The Miami-Dade Police Department's records show it has never received a phone complaint.

In fact, some neighbors have used the fights for their own entrepreneurial goals. When a fight happens, the woman across the street sells conch fritters. The house around the corner holds carwashes.

"I don't like it, but in this neighborhood, people mind their own business," neighbor Christine Goods, 59, said. "Those fights give people something to do on a Saturday, and they happen on his property."

As the fights became more popular, Harris has become more cautious. Nowadays, Harris gets fighters to sign waivers that the promoter can't be held responsible for any injuries.

Harris understands that some people see all this as strange, cruel and barbaric.

They see him as a bad ambassador to the community. Those people, he said, don't understand the struggles in Perrine.

"Would you rather have them in my back yard, or in your back yard, getting ready to rob you?" Harris says.

From back yard to broadband 10/10/10 [Last modified: Sunday, October 10, 2010 11:55pm]

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