MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – In the southwest Miami-Dade County neighborhood of West Perrine, hundreds of locals would regularly gather around a homemade back yard boxing ring to witness young men punch each other without gloves, with no medical staff on standby, and few rules to govern the fights.
The Miami New Times first reported on the phenomenon in a 2008 cover story called "No Fear."
Billy Corben, the Miami-based filmmaker behind "Cocaine Cowboys" and "The U," has made a documentary about it called "Dawg Fight," to premiere at the Miami International Film Festival.
"When the blue tarp goes up, the neighborhood knows it's going down," Corben said.
The protagonist of "Dawg Fight" is Dhafir Harris, a burgeoning promoter known as the Don King of street fighting. Harris, who goes by the name Dada 5000, collected money for the fights and would pay both the winners and the losers a cut.
"We treated it like a real event, with neck passes [and] credentials," Harris said of the back yard fights.
Corben and his team of filmmakers with Rakontur met Harris in 2012 and would spend nearly two years in Harris' back yard, where the fights took place.
"Spending two years with these fighters, we saw at least five of them go pro directly from the back yard, and two that didn't live that long. That's kind of the reality of the streets," Corben said.
Harris said he was inspired by Kimbo Slice, a professional fighter who made his start fighting in South Florida back yards.
"Everybody all over the world knew who [Kimbo Slice] was, so that became the mission," Corben said. "That became the goal -- for these kids to go into the back yard, to fight, videotape it, upload it to YouTube and hopefully get discovered by pro MMA trainers or promoters and go pro."
The back yard fights were not regulated by the Florida State Boxing Commission and were threatened to be shut down, Corben said. Some of the fighters were seriously hurt. But Harris isn't discouraged.
"At the end of the day, this isn't violence; this is an alternative toward violence. These guys were fighting for a better shot, a better life," Harris said.
The fights that took place in Harris' back yard have evolved. Harris has now turned the square-shaped ring into a triangle and is working on a new type of back yard brawling. He said he plans to work with Indian tribes in South Florida to bring the fights to new venues, including cruise ships.
"Dawg Fight" makes its debut at the Miami International Film Festival on March 12 and will be available online. It will also be screened at O Cinema in Wynwood on March 13.
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