Streetbeefs: Fight Day (July 2016)

Harrisonburg is a college and poultry town of 51,000 in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. It’s a pretty peaceful place, with only four murders in the last six years. One resident, who says he has personally known several men killed in the city, has developed an alternative to escalated violence that he hopes will contribute to keeping that murder rate down: refereed fights.

WES RAY: Let’s go!


It’s a recent, grey Sunday afternoon in “the yard.” A board with handpainted rules -- no cameras, kids, alcohol, or drugs -- leans against a trashy brush pile overlooking a leafy, muddy ring demarcated with old tires and two bar stools.

[Fight sounds]

Fight organizers are keeping close tabs as two men swing at each other, kick with their bare feet, wrestle each other into awkward-looking positions in the mud. Between rounds they pace, or sit on a tire, catching their breath.

Six years and more than 50 beef-settling fights ago, two mutual friends asked Chris Wilmore and his associate Wes Ray if they could have a fight about a beef. Wilmore’s yard had already played venue for sparring and boxing matches, so they agreed to host.

WILMORE: And it just kind of took off from there. We had people asking if they could come over and settle something and before we knew it, we kind of had that reputation.

If talking doesn’t solve the disputes between the men, and sometimes women, who come to Wilmore, they head to “the yard” for a “Streetbeefs” fight, in hopes of preventing worse violence. Wilmore, who goes by “Scarface,” for the marks across his upper body from a childhood house fire, says that even the losers of Streetbeefs fights come away satisfied.

WILMORE: It's a strange phenomenon. A lot of these guys shake hands and they feel like, cause both men going into the fight are afraid. Even for me. I've fought a lot, and it's scary. So you feel like you got through it together even though it's against each other.

One of the men in this recent fight gives only his street name -- Sinjay -- as he doesn't want his new business's image to be tarnished. He explains the cause of the fight.

SINJAY: Cause some guy wants to talk a lot of smack, and I'm going to end it today. Cause he's been talking about it for months and months. Just disrespectful shit, that's all, disrespectful stuff, sorry. Elsewhere, cause he can't say it to my face. This one's going to be to my face.

The other man says his name is Yousif Yousif.

YOUSIF: Just we fight. Just for fun. I don’t care what he say, I want to just fight. I will lose, I will win, I'm a man, you know. I don't care, but I'm a man, I'm not going to lose. I'm going to fight.

WILMORE: So listen, after the fight, we want to squash the beef, okay? You solve it in the yard and we leave it, agreed?

The usual three rounds is extended to four in this fight. Even after the extra round, though, the winner isn’t obvious.

[Fight applause]

After shaking hands with Sinjay, Yousif slips away pretty quickly, if that says anything, but even Sinjay, who is taking off his gloves as he rests on the ground, isn’t sure.

SINJAY: Who won? Did I win? I feel good. I feel like I got the best out of it. Hopefully he never talks shit again. That's all I wanted. Yeah, it's settled. I'm done. I don't want to fight him or nothing no more. That's it. Scarface, was there like a winner or loser in this fight?

WILMORE: I think it's pretty clear you won.

Wilmore estimates that over three quarters of the beefs taken to “the yard” are successfully squashed, and he expects that this is one of those.

WILMORE: Sometimes all it takes is to be humbled a little, to get you to leave the next man alone. You know, this is nothing new. In the 1800s and before, two men that had a dispute dueled. These gentlemen, who were English gentlemen, who were highly educated would get together, slap each other with a glove, and challenge you to a duel. Somebody had to die. The difference is, at least in our duel, everybody goes home.

But there’s a twist to the Streetbeefs story: In recent months Wilmore was charged with and in June convicted of misdemeanor assault, he says for allegedly threatening another man with a knife in a dispute over $10 and a broken laptop computer. In the weeks awaiting his court date, he said that the other guy was just too violent to settle the matter in a Streetbeefs fight.

WILMORE: He's dangerous. He's a dangerous individual. He's not the type of person who could handle a Streetbeefs fight. Streetbeefs is for people that could be violent, but at the same time, they at least possess some common sense and some understanding of consequences, and anybody who could set a house on fire in the middle of the night with children in it isn't that type of person.

Wilmore was fined $100, and continues to host fights behind his house.