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. 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.
The project began simply enough in 2009. Corben was familiar with the story of Kimbo Slice, also known as Kevin Ferguson — a backyard brawler who generated enough views on YouTube to manufacture a professional career in mixed martial arts. His interest in doing a film on backyard brawls began, however, when he learned of a fighter/promoter by the name of Dada 5000, aka Dhafir Harris, who not only staged this type of illegal activity, but did so in an almost-professional manner.
“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.
While Dada 5000 might be considered the subject of “Dawg Fight,” Johnson is arguably the film’s star.
Backyard brawling will break new ground when Dada 5000 debuts Backyard Brawls Extreme Fighting Series’ first pay-per-view event on June 8. Courtesy Rakontur
At one point in the film, Johnson literally showcases his ability to stop traffic as he walks into the middle of the road and starts shadowboxing with an oncoming public bus. He wears a hockey mask and a bandanna to the backyard and subsequently bets what appears to be all the money in his wallet on himself. In February 2014, Johnson was killed at the age of 27 by a police Taser. Corben took the news extremely hard.
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.