A trio of women in their midtwenties is huddled in a dark booth in a corner of Gatsby's (8575 SW 124th Ave., Miami, 305-412-2220). Most of the bar is amped, but these women sit far from all the beer and chest pounding. Staring quietly at a cartoonish Britto-inspired mural, they curl their stiff fingers around the stems of sweating martini glasses.
"Our husbands forced us to come," says a mousy blonde with the stylized Hispanic accent you find only in Miami's suburbs.
On a gargantuan screen, two fighters roll around on the floor, twisting each another into a knot of slippery, glistening flesh. One wraps his muscular legs around his opponent's rippled waist. It's the Ultimate Fighting Championship — "human cockfighting" to John McCain, and one of the most popular things on cable.
"It's gay," all three women say as they roll their eyes in unison.
Ricky, a 26-year-old jujitsu fighter and husband of one of the catatonic triplets, approaches. "We hear that all the time," he says, "but we don't pay attention."
"If any of those people who call it gay want to grapple with us," says another hubby, Carlos, who has a broad, athletic frame and slicked-back black hair, "no problem, we'll throw down."
"If you could watch two girls grapple, who would you choose?" I ask.
"Jessica Alba and Jessica Biel," says Ricky, widening his hazel eyes under the brim of a khaki baseball cap. "Naked!"
"Because that'd be some hot lesbian action, right?"
"Hell yeah!" says Carlos, air-punching Ricky.
"Well, aren't lesbians gay?" I ask.
"Okay ... if you're looking at it in that sense, mixed martial arts might seem a little gay."
Is it a little gay? Or is it butt-plug, porno bargain-bin gay? That — aside from how in hell did Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida smoke "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" Tito Ortiz? — is the question of the night.
"If two guys were fucking right in front of me, that would be slightly more gay," says Chris, a 25-year-old private investigator with a quick smile. "I mean, in a sport where it looks like one of the moves is to teabag your opponent until he chokes on your balls, it's hard to ignore the homoeroticism. You know, all sports seem slightly homosexual. But, hey, most sports came from the Greeks, and they used to wrestle with little boys."
"Baseball is homoerotic?" I ask.
"Sure, think about it," Chris says.
I think of a phallic bat hitting, well, balls.
"In baseball, guys wear tight pants and slap one another on the ass. In football, 300-pound dudes tackle one another and toss animal flesh around.
"Just look at these guys," he says, gesturing to light heavyweight Thiago Silva as he defeats Antonio Mendes by submission. "They're wearing next to nothing."
Then a buxom cocktail waitress in a red corset jiggles by with a loaded tray. "Chicks should be wearing next to nothing — not dudes," he adds.
Sitting on the other side of a jam-packed mammoth black bar is a guy who calls himself Pac Machino and looks like a Hispanic Ray Romano. "When someone's dick is sitting on your balls and there's all this sweat and saliva, it's a little homosexual," he says, sucking down some foamy amber backwash and slamming an empty pint onto a wet napkin.
"What do you think makes MMA fighting so appealing to heterosexual guys then?" I ask.
"Guys watch it with their girlfriends so they can go home and grapple with their girlfriends."
"But most guys here don't seem to be watching with their girlfriends. They seem to be watching with their boyfriends."
"Fine," he says, picking up a fresh brew, "then straight guys watch it with their boyfriends so they can go home and have a circle jerk."
"Excuse me?" says a man standing nearby, his cheeks speckled with pockmarks. "They're not gay; they're fighting."
"You don't think it looks a tiny bit gay when two guys are on top of each other, sweating, panting —"
"Elbowing each other in the face? No," he says to me so closely that I smell the Tennessee whiskey on his breath. "This is a real sport for real fighters. It is 100 percent not gay."
A promo for the headlining fight for the night — Sean Sherk (who was stripped of his lightweight title when the UFC found traces of steroids in his system) versus BJ Penn (who won the title in Sherk's absence) — pops up on every one of Gatsby's 4,985,803,458,340,580 TV screens.
Walking past a well-lit billiards area, I spot a private lounge decked out in burgundy leather couches and a red-felt pool table. A large group of guys sits around the lounge's big-screen TV set, and in the back a good-looking guy sporting a buzzcut reclines with a tattooed arm perched on a pretty brunette's shoulders.
"Do you guys find this sport gay at all?" I ask. The girl stares blankly at me.
"She can't speak any English," the 25-year-old Jason says. "But, yes, it's pretty gay. Sometimes I whack off to fights instead of buying porn — it's cheaper." He smiles and says something to the girl in Spanish. She giggles. "But seriously," he continues, "I've been wrestling since high school, and the first time a guy pinned me down, it did feel kind of gay. But when someone's got you in a can opener and you can feel his breath on your face, you don't want to, like, kiss him; you want to puke."
"If you could watch any girls duke it out in an octagon cage, who would they be?"
Jason tightens his arm and draws his petite companion closer.
"My girl versus Elizabeth Hurley," he says. "It would be great titties against great titties, and I love some great titties."
Just then Sherk gets knocked out on the floor of a bloody cage. As groups of men jump up to hug one another in excitement, I can't help but think that at this moment, Jason might be the only one in the place with a preference for the females of the species.