The picture across the Internet screams out at you.
Kyle Maynard, a congenital amputee, is in a bear crawl, on all fours. In his case that's two short stubs that make up his arms and two abbreviated legs with deformed feet. He's inside a black caged ring in the Alabama woods, the ground outside covered with dirt, straw and a modest crowd of curious locals and frat boys.
Crouching over Maynard is Bryan Fry, who is fully able, 5-foot-9 and in the process of reaching down to punch Maynard directly in the face.
This is a freak show. This is a circus act. This is the human cockfighting that mixed martial arts was once called.
It's absurd, a fight between a regular man and a guy with essentially no arms or legs. Maynard doesn't even have gloves on because it was so hot and humid they kept slipping off his stubs. As a result, he was barred from punching even if he'd been able to reach Fry. The fight goes on anyway because Alabama has no regulations; ridiculous is allowed to reign.
The punch in the picture would be one of the few points of action in the contest. Fry would win a unanimous three-round decision. The fight was marked by Maynard's unsuccessful attempts to chase Fry down and wrestle him to the ground where Maynard believed he could gain victory by submission.
Maynard would get up on all fours and charge. Fry would get out of the way. Every once in awhile Fry would throw a punch. If he'd wanted, Fry could have kicked Maynard and quite possibly kicked him repeatedly. Maynard argues, however, that strategy would've opened Fry up to a take down.
There's another theory, too. Fry wasn't going to beat Maynard to a pulp and endure the national scorn. America went nuts this year when one high school girl's basketball team beat another 100 to zip. No one actually got hurt in that one. Do you want to be the guy who beat up a congenital amputee?
There's a reason the fight's promoter said "six or seven" other fighters passed on taking on Maynard.
At first glance, or many glances, the fight made no sense. It was base. You look at the picture and you watch the video and you shake your head, or laugh with regret or just feel terrible that in 2009 something like this could actually happen.
The voice through the phone, despite being thoughtful and soft spoken, screams out too.
It's 36 hours since Kyle Maynard was carried by a friend, piggyback style, into that cage and took his shot at being a mixed martial artist. To say he has no regrets understates it. He calls it "fun," an "awesome experience" and a "huge accomplishment."
"I accomplished everything I wanted to short of winning that fight," Maynard said.
When Kyle Maynard speaks of accomplishment, you listen. The term hero is overused in sports, but this is the real deal. He was born with a rare physical disorder that left him deformed and incapable of walking. He proceeded to spend most of his life doing exactly what he wanted anyway.
In the process he's made plenty of able-bodied folks first uncomfortable, then inspired.
When he was in middle school he played football (he was a nose tackle who occasionally charged through the center's legs). He's been a champion weightlifter, hooking chains around his arms on one end and bars of iron on the other.
When he went out for wrestling as a teenager, he was told by many that it wasn't possible, that there should be a rule barring him from getting hurt. He lost his first 35 matches. He never quit. By the time he was a senior in high school, he was one of Georgia's best in the state at 103 pounds.
He's been honored by presidents, won humanitarian awards and appeared on "Oprah." He wrote a national best-selling book, "No Excuses," and has spent the last few years giving motivational speeches across the country. He got so busy he had to drop out of the University of Georgia. He now owns his own gym and just opened a training center.
Don't judge him by his limbs. The guy is incredible.
"Quite frankly everybody has a disability," Maynard said. "People go through personal issues of character, morality, spirituality, emotional. It doesn't just have to be something physical. Everybody has something to overcome."
Still, don't you need limbs for mixed martial arts? He doesn't think so.
He wasn't pummeled like many predicted, he said, deflecting most punches. He just couldn't knock Fry to the ground – "I'm not going to outbox somebody," he joked. However, the fact that Fry ran to avoid Maynard's wrestling and submission skills was a moral victory.
He even appreciated the two or three clean punches he took.
"They landed hard," Maynard laughed. "That in and of itself was a huge confidence boost for me. I wanted to get hit in the fight."
He's 23. He's a tough guy. He knows what he's doing.
Back in high school, Maynard wanted to join the Army and be an airborne ranger. He went down and talked to the recruiters, who loved his heart and intelligence. They laid it out, though: He could be an asset to the Army, just not on the front lines because if someone ever had to help him, that person would be at risk.
"I understood that," Maynard said. "The last thing I want to do is endanger someone else. But on the flip side, with mixed martial arts, I think it should be my choice. I'm the only one in harm's way, so to speak."
The ugly tableau of unregulated Alabama aside, how was this a bad thing? How is Kyle Maynard ever a bad thing?
Maynard didn't win the fight. He did receive five separate standing ovations from the estimated 1,000 fans. On the Internet the reactions have been mixed. He's received both scorn and praise. He's been laughed at and lionized and even called crazy ("I agree," he laughed).
He said none of it matters. He competed for himself. He did it to prove that after four and a half years of MMA training that he could get into that cage and take a punch and keep on going.
He understands the initial reaction, of the people staring at the picture or watching the video and calling it a freak act. He just doesn't care. "I wouldn't have gone into this without a viable chance at winning," he insists.
Mostly, though, he asks why shouldn't he be allowed to compete in an amateur MMA match?
"It's borderline infringement on my civil liberties because the government doesn't have an accurate way to measure what my capabilities are," he said of Georgia's refusal to grant him a license.
"I'm capable of doing that. My trainers, sparring partners, doctors – those are the people capable of describing my limitations. Those individuals (say) I'm capable."
He plans on fighting again, better trained, more experienced and hopefully against a lighter opponent. Did you actually think he was going to quit? You can be repulsed. You can be encouraged.
The picture doesn't fade. The voice on the phone doesn't either.
- Kyle Maynard
- mixed martial arts