"The only way to escape the streets is to fight your way out."
That's the life philosophy that pervades Miami filmmaker Billy Corben's documentary Dawg Fight. The latest film from Corben's studio, Rakontur, chronicles the underground backyard-fighting scene in Perrine, a suburb that's just a few miles south of Miami but worlds away from the glitz and glamor so often associated with the Magic City. This isn't the scenic South Florida that dances across TV screens or graces glossy travel magazines.
Slated to premiere March 12 at the 32nd Miami International Film Festival, Dawg Fight is a raw look at a side of South Florida that's rarely seen. There are no cruise ships in Perrine, no tony art deco architecture, just an impoverished community trying to eke out survival. You can learn a lot about a neighborhood by the businesses that line its streets, and the area is little more than a series of check-cashing stores and rundown auto-body shops. Perrine is the home of the American grind, not the American dream -- but the purpose of the grind is the dream.
See also: Billy Corben, Sandwich Man
It was in pursuit of that elusive American dream that Dhafir Harris, a 1997 graduate of Palmetto Senior High, began practicing mixed martial arts in backyard fight clubs. Known better as Dada 5000, Harris is the focus of Dawg Fight. A massive, ferocious, bearded, tattooed, Mohawked asskicker of a man, Dada 5000 grew up on the same streets as his childhood friend, former backyard brawling partner Kimbo Slice. But that's where the similarities end. Dawg Fight follows Dada on his quest to find a career more sustainable than Slice's short-lived UFC stint.
Dada was, at one point, part of Slice's security detail. But at the height of Slice's fame, Dada left the entourage, in large part because other members believed Dada's own skills would overshadow Slice's. After he left, Dada built a 12-foot-by-12-foot ring in his mother's backyard. It was in that tiny ring that he would build his empire of sorts, where he would become the Don King of backyard fighting.
Corben's film brings to the big screen a story that New Times told in 2008 and that many media outlets, including the Miami Herald, ESPN, and Telemundo, have been telling since -- one of men of various sizes, races, ages, and backgrounds looking to launch a pro fighting career or at the very least earn a few bucks.
Corben and the rest of his Rakontur crew jumped head first into the sort of film others might pass on. Instead, as Corben said, they made it their "self-financed passion project."
Dawg Fight features a crew embedded in the part of Perrine where these underground backyard fight clubs take place. It's the sort of film you equal parts wish you could be inside, but are glad you're not. "The blood is real. The pain is real. Everything we do here is bare knuckle. And there are no rules, so either you tap or you snap." Dada told the New Times in 2008. "What I'm doing here is giving back to the community," he said.
"This is a chance for them to put down their guns so they don't have to rob people to earn money. We're not the violence; we're the alternative to the violence."
Following the March 12 Miami International Film Festival release Dawg Fight will screen at O Cinema in Wynwood, then be digitally released via iTunes and the on website dawg-fight.com.