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Medieval MMA. Rugby with Battle Axes. Human Demolition Derby. There's nothing like armored combat
Are you ever just mindlessly scrolling through your social media when something makes you stop and gasp in wonder? That was my experience when I saw a video from Pittsburgh Armored Combat with axes and bodies flying as crowds roared in approval.
I had to know more, so I instantly reached out to Chris Sanner, who heads up the combat sport in Pittsburgh, and entered a kingdom I never expected. Shine up your armor, grab your sword and give your best war cry as we delve into this hard-hitting phenomenon.
Before I describe it, I think it's best to simply watch a bit from the video below:
If you're wondering exactly what you just watched, that's okay, so was I at first! Pittsburgh Armored Combat is best described as Medieval MMA, where fighters don gleaming armor and blunted weapons to do real battle inside a cage or similar enclosed structure. This isn't WWE or the local ren fair, the armor is real and these combatants are full-contact fighting for glory as they attack, grapple, throw and go for takedowns.
The fights you'll see in Pittsburgh can vary. One-on-one battles have weight classes, a time limit and scoring system, similar to rounds in other combat sports, as fighters rack up points for edge strikes with their weapon, disarming their opponent and taking them to the ground.
Then, there's team fighting. Instead of points, these melees are last person standing affairs as our heroes take their opposition to the dirt by any means necessary. There's no weight classes in team fights, leading to inventive matchups as quicker fighters try to outwit their taller adversaries or team up for takedowns. Bodies are flying around the cage as dogpiles, individual duels and jumps make for a fracas accentuated with by loud clangs of metal on metal and a rapt audience responding to every elimination.
Now that you understand the sport a bit more, it's fun to delve into the details, starting with the armor you're seeing in these photos and videos. You can't get this equipment off of Amazon. Instead, armor and helmets are custom made by expert armorsmiths in the Ukraine or Russia for each fighter. The full armor set weighs anywhere from 50-80 lbs, making every aerial and acrobatic move all the more impressive.
Medieval tournament fighting is a 900-year-old sport and operates largely the same today as it did back then. Fighters aren't trying to hurt or maim their opponents, this is a display of skill and respect as well as combat prowess, which leads to a very healthy community that has caused armored combat to thrive as a sport.
Affectionately described as rugby with battle axes by Sanner, armored combat started surging in popularity after the Knight Fight television show debuted on the the History Channel. Since then, the tournament scene has blown up with tournaments almost every weekend culminating in Carolina Carnage, their Super Bowl with 400 fighters looking to be crowned champions on a national stage. Celebrities have taken note too, with Arnold Schwarzenegger showing a special interest in the sport and actor Tom Hardy even donning the armor to fight.
Chris Sanner of Pittsburgh Armored Combat was always into combat sports, practicing martial arts, boxing and jiu jitsu, as well as interests in Dungeons & Dragons, history and video games. But in 2019, he was watching the aforementioned Knight Fight tv show when everything changed as he saw all of his personal interests come together.
"My first reaction was 'is this real,'" said Sanner. "It looked like human demolition derby."
Unfortunately for Sanner, he could only find one active fighter in Pittsburgh at the time and was similarly slowed by the pandemic. But much like a brave tale of old, Sanner soldiered on and established himself as a well-known fighter while building a cadre of fellow fighters.
Not only is it fun to don armor and swing an axe at people, but Sanner also emphasizes what makes this so appealing for fighters.
"This is something I do because it has a positive impact on the people I train with. Armored combat keeps people interested more than the gym, it helps with mental health, it helps with weight loss and it gives you martial arts training all in one sport."
Trained and battle-hardened, Sanner and his knights are now bringing Pittsburgh Armored Combat to the people of Pittsburgh.
Sanner's group puts on live events throughout the city with fight cards brimming with group battles and individual duels to ever-growing crowds. Their next event is Sept. 2, 2023 at The Waterfront. This event is free, so it's an awesome day to head down on Labor Day Weekend to shop, see a movie and cheer on these skilled combatants.
If you're reading this afterwards, check out their Facebook page which is always updated with upcoming events. Or, if you're ready to become a fighter yourself, send Chris an email to get started.
I hope to see you cheering alongside me at the next Pittsburgh Armored Combat competition as we can see, in my favorite quote from A Knight's Tale, who is weighed, who is measured and who is found wanting.