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Ben Fodor and the rise of Phoenix Jones: Fighting crime, going against the grain, and leaving a legacy in MMA

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Ben Fodor has one of the most unique stories in all of mixed martial arts (MMA). The fighter-turned Seattle superhero known as "Phoenix Jones" gave MMAmania.com a glimpse into his life from behind the cowl, as well as inside the cage.

WSOF

Ben Fodor didn't ever set out with the intention of fighting crime. But, several years ago, when his son Freedom was cut by the broken glass from a car break in, the concerned father wasn't going to just stand idly by; he was compelled to do something. What would he tell his son, that it just happened and to let it go? No, he was going to find the man responsible for it.

Already a burgeoning amateur mixed martial artist at the time, Fodor decided to make a difference and his crime-fighting alter ego, Phoenix Jones, was born.

Like a superhero from your favorite comic book, Fodor held down his day job where he works with autistic children and continued training. But, when the sun went down, his crime-fighting suit went on, and under the guise of Phoenix Jones, he began to patrol the streets of Seattle, taking the law into his own hands, intent on fighting the criminals, law breakers and n'er do wells of his respective city.

Not quite handling matters like Paul Kersey, the blood-thirsty vigilante portrayed by Charles Bronson in the 1974 film, but more like Batman, Jones caught the crook responsible for the car break in that left his son wounded.

A success that would spawn a new path in his life.

"That was the first guy I caught and that was supposed to be the whole thing," said Fodor, who first referred to himself as Jones when our interview began, before adding everyone has been calling him that, but either name would be acceptable.

Sidebar: he will be referred to as Jones for the remainder of the story.

Soon after, Jones, 26, was in full force and others wanted to join his efforts. And the Rain City Superhero Movement had begun. To no surprise, Seattle law enforcement did not take kindly to Jones and his fellow masked crusaders parading the streets of Emerald City. Eventually but not shockingly, Jones found himself in trouble after an incident involving his use of pepper spray while breaking up a street fight. He was later released and no charges were filed, but he was forced to reveal his true identity.

The real-life superhero knew he had to tone his brand of heroism down a bit, or his reign of protecting Seattle would be short lived.

"In the beginning I was beating people up and running away," said Jones, who faces Emmanuel Walo at WSOF 20 on April 10, 2015. "It was not like it is now. After a while I realized I'm going to get arrested and go away for a long time if I don't stop with this shit.

"The cops don't condone what I'm doing but they don't try to shut me down actively. As long as I'm cool and I don't do anything super crazy. They will definitely arrest me in a heartbeat if I do something stupid."

Jones and some of fellow crime-fighting friends like Omega, Thorn and Gemini started to make a difference by breaking up fights, and chasing away car thieves on a nightly basis, among acts of humanitarianism. Of course, being dressed as a superhero, he became a polarizing figure. Many were cheering him on, but he was bound to attract some negative attention.

"THE COPS DON'T CONDONE WHAT I'M DOING, BUT THEY DON'T TRY TO SHUT ME DOWN ACTIVELY."

"It is what it is," said Jones. "It's hard to break out of the mold, to go against the grain, even if it is something you believe in, you make yourself a target."

In a well-documented incident, Jones, after being challenged by a street adversary, agreed to mutual combat, which is legal in the state of Washington. That resulted in a swift beat down at the hands of the MMA fighter with minimal use of force. Afterward, Jones left his lawyers business card in case of any legal blowback.

"People don't get it," Jones stated. "They watch the video and think I was being mean. They don't understand I was being nice as possible. That was just leg kicks. I mean, I put him down, but he only got one punch in the face. If I was throwing combos, he would've been eating shots all day."

Fighting crime was becoming a huge part of his everyday life, and Jones had a solid routine: go to work, hang out with his son, have dinner, put him to bed, spend time with his girl and then "it was time to go out and pick criminals up," he said.

At that point in his amateur MMA career, Jones was 15-2, but keeping Seattle safe at night became his number-one priority, and in a surprising move he walked away from MMA completely.

"I couldn't do both man," said Jones, who mentioned Nightwing and Thunderfall as his favorite superheroes. "One of them I wasn't the best at yet. One of them I felt like I was. I realized that one of these could kill me. If I don't put enough time into this, I'm going to end up not succeeding, I'm not going to fight any crime and I might end up dead. I don't want to do that. I have to find a way to do this the right way and not end up dead. I found the focus and that is when I walked away.

"It was hard, but the one thing about being successful, is you know how much work it takes to do it. When I looked at both things I knew I wasn't going to put in enough work to be successful at crime fighting or MMA if I didn't' pick one. I would've been a crappy fighter and a crappy super hero and I didn't want that to happen."

Over a six-month gap, Jones had an attorney teaching him the legalities of what he could and couldn't do and he began to study the ways of the law so he wouldn't get himself or his fellow Rain City Superhero Movement partners into any trouble. While doing that, Jones was working doubles at his day gig in order to fit the budget for his sophisticated costume.

This isn't a simple cape and cowl by any means. It's more like the prototype uniform from the Christopher Nolan Batman films with parts designed and ordered by Lucius Fox. Jones says his suit is worth around $10,000 dollars and "wasn't easy to get a hold of." Equipped with a Nomex fire-retardant undersuit, D30 material, which is a liquid padding that hardens when brought into contact, a rubber layering that has wire within it to protect against knife attacks and his utility belt, Jones is more than prepared to make the rounds while keeping himself protected.

On his utility belt he has a taser and a phaZZer gun, which shoots rubber bullets. In case of anything else, Jones carries a shield made of three-inch rolled steel that is similar in style to that of Captain America's. I joked with him about adding a vehicle at some point and he shot back with, "I don't know, but I know I'm going to have some money after my fight. So, I'm going to be able to sit down and take a look and see what I want to get for it. I'm going to have something cool. Maybe a motorcycle with a side car."

So how do Jones and his motley crew of super friends actually put their vigilante patrol into motion? Much like the intricacies of his impenetrable suit, there is a method to the madness of the Rain City Superhero Movement patrol. They aren't wandering around aimlessly like trick-or-treaters in search of houses with the most candy.

"If you just roam around you won't make it. It is a big area with small pockets of crime that you have to hit relentlessly," Jones explained, before giving the rundown of how their nightly operation works.

"Basically about three people wear suits and then 14 walk around with radios and they radio us when they see crime and they have Go-Pros on so we can see where to go and what's going on," he said.

Thus far, by Jones count, he and his companions have made a pretty big dent in Emerald City's criminal underbelly.

"That is the cool thing about it. People think it's crazy, but they don't realize we have over 200 crime stops," Jones said. "There are over 200 people that we have put in jail, arrested or stopped from doing crazy stuff: stabbings, shootings, finding girls shackled in basements. We've seen crazy stuff."

"THAT IS THE COOL THING ABOUT IT. PEOPLE THINK IT'S CRAZY, BUT THEY DON'T REALIZE WE HAVE OVER 200 CRIME STOPS."


And you can bet that those he has apprehended have made many a threat that Jones will eventually pay for what he has gotten himself involved in.

"Yeah I hear that all the time," a cavalier Jones said. "I've spent a lot of money to have my identity blocked and my address blocked and everything else. I always do an open challenge. If you can find my address, Facebook me and I will send you a tee shirt. The only place you can find me is the comic book store where I get my mail."

To say Jones was noticeable would be an understatement. So while doing what he does, and sticking out like a sore thumb to most, he was spotted by ESPN, while they were in Seattle shooting something else. One of the crew members spoke with him, relayed the story back to the powers that be and the global sports channel reached out to him for a feature story. "Right place, right time," said Jones, who, of course, had made the news before, but not on a scale of a channel that is viewed in over 90 million homes nationwide.

Jones had returned to MMA in the fall of 2013 due to financial difficulties and the need to fund his superhero lifestyle. He turned pro and has gone 5-0-1 in seven fights; his last victory a rear-naked choke over Jason Novelli in the Super Fight League, a regional promotion. Even with fighting back in his life, he still wasn't doing particularly well, but once the ESPN feature on him played on a Sunday morning a few weeks ago, everything changed.

"It's just weird. It went from literally zero to sixty," Jones said. "I couldn't believe it. It was like ESPN airs and then within hours I had offers going into the next day."

"IT WENT FROM LITERALLY ZERO TO SIXTY. I COULDN'T BELIEVE IT. IT WAS LIKE ESPN AIRS AND THEN WITHIN HOURS I HAD OFFERS."

Jones chose to sign with the WSOF, because they weren't going to put any restrictions on his crime fighting. Like any promotion, they had some concerns, but Jones said they just wanted to know if he was going to be smart and use common sense. Or has he put it, "they wanted to know if I ever pulled out of a fight because of an injury while Phoenix Jonesing."

"I told them, 'look, I'm not going to be neglectful. I appreciate this opportunity,'" Jones continued. I don't want to be told what to do, in case there is a fire downtown and my city needs me. I'm not going to be out in the ghetto the night before a fight in a bulletproof suit looking for criminals. That's negligent on my part. I'm not going to be told what to do, but I'm certainly not going to throw this opportunity away."

Once they had a mutually understanding, it was more or less an unwritten understanding between two parties that Jones wouldn't be out on patrol if he had a fight on the horizon.

"They didn't negotiate any terms," Jones explained. "They said if you can give us a few days before a fight where you are not fighting crime and you are not in dangerous areas looking for criminals we would appreciate it. And I said 'sure.' There is nothing in my contract. There is no clause."

Jones trains at AMC Martial Arts in Kirkwood, the home of UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson and renowned trainer Matt Hume. "When you are going up against top-level competition, it just makes sense to go to the best place around," Jones said.

Also training at AMC is his brother, Carlos Fodor, who he has had a very rocky relationship with in the past.

"I wouldn't say it's a rivalry, especially now that we train at the same gym," Jones said. What it really is, is he doesn't respect what I do as Jones. He thinks it's stupid. He was super mad when I walked away from my MMA career. At the time, he was like, 'you are the better of the two of us. You can't just do this.' He thought I was really stupid for that. He was like 'you are just dumb.'

"Once he stopped respecting what I wanted to do with my free time, I started getting mad at him and it just kind of spiraled out of control. We are a lot cooler now. We train together and help each other out and especially now that I'm in the WSOF, it's a lot better. But, if we get the chance to beat each other up, we would take that fight in a heartbeat. I would love to publicly beat him down."

Wait, what? He would fight his own brother? MMA is filled with fighters who won't even fight one of their own teammates.

"Oh, I think that if we didn't fight each other at some point in life, I would be super sad," said Jones. I think it's because we are adopted. I honestly do. Because we are close, but it's not like I'm beating up my own blood. Like, I would never fight my son, you know what I mean. I don't have that same attachment to Carlos. I like him, but I would beat him up for a dollar."

With an amateur record of 15-2, and currently undefeated as a professional, the newest WSOF welterweight was asked about his best attributes.

"I don't know," he says surprisingly. "I guess my strength is probably my heart. I've been dropped in every one of my fights so I wouldn't say I have good hands. I've been losing most rounds on the ground. I don't know. I guess the difference is I have great cardio. I'm moving very fast and I'm always going for stuff constantly. I'll catch you. I'll either knock you out or submit you because I'm always looking to finish, but I wouldn't say I'm good at any one thing. It's just a determination thing."

The crimefighter/MMA competitor prides himself on his unwavering resolve. Willingly walking the streets of your city during the witching hour searching for perps takes a level of intrepidness and valor that the average person does not possess. The same can be said for those that step into a cage for combat as a living. Jones "does not want to go back to being broke," and his persistence will be on full display at WSOF 20.

"I was losing a fight the whole time once and I threw 17 guillotine attempts until I caught him. I'm just relentless, because I know what I want. I'm not going to let you ruin my dream. I don't care how competitive you are or if you have more skills than me, I'm going to come after you. And I'm going to keep coming after you and I'm going to find a weakness and I'm going to attack it until you are done, no matter what it costs me."

"I'M JUST RELENTLESS, BECAUSE I KNOW WHAT I WANT. I'M NOT GOING TO LET YOU RUIN MY DREAM."

The man he will be attacking, Walo, a member of the U.S. National Guard is 7-2-1, and Jones thinks it will be a tough fight. Not only that, it's keeping him up at night, he's been in the gym non-stop and his nightly patrols of Seattle have been forced to take a back seat for the time being.

"The weirdest thing happened to me and it hasn't happened to me in years," Jones began to explain. "I used to just fight and then I would get my check and I would take my check and say 'ok now I get to go fight crime.' Since I've signed to the WSOF, I've only been out fighting crime one night. I've been living in the gym. I can't lose publicly on television. I can't do it. I can't go out there and just lay an egg. My mind won't let me do it.

"I'm having a hard time sleeping at night. I'm having nightmares. I had a nightmare that I was in the cage and I had like an asthma inhaler and every time I inhaled I got fatter and slower and I was just...everyone was laughing at me. It was terrible. I don't know what's wrong with me, but I am in no way, shape or form focused on Phoenix Jones right now. I'm all about cage fighting for the next 30 days. I don't know if I can change my mind. I feel like something happened inside me that's just not going to let me go out there and look stupid."

A month of abstaining from actively hunting down criminals didn't seem unreasonable to attain, especially if he traveled away from the city he has sworn to protect. However, it became apparent Jones follows the "once a superhero always a superhero" creed, when he sprung into action this past week, while having lunch in New Haven, CT with his girlfriend. He didn't have his cowl handy, but he did put on his bulletproof vest before running into the fray to allegedly disarm a knife and protect a man who was being attacked. "Stopping crime is a lifestyle. Mask or not, I know what to do," Jones said.

*New Haven Police could not confirm to MMAMania Jones' involvement and said no arrest was made.

His reputation as a successful crime fighter, new deal with WSOF and newfound fame with the ESPN feature have thrust him into the limelight and he knows everyone will be watching him come April 10th on NBC Sports and live at Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut.

That is why he has been more focused than he has ever been in his athletic career.

"That is part of the reason why MMA is so important to me," Jones explained. That is part of the reason I had to come back so hard and strong. People can say whatever they want about me fighting crime, but it's come to the point now where it's public knowledge that I have been effective.

Now the question in fighting is, 'It's public knowledge that at one point you were effective. At one point you were the man and now what are you?' And for me I feel like it is important that I solidify that I am good at all these things and I'm not crazy and that I care about people and I care about you, and I care about what is going to be left behind. Because when it's all done, my life is so awkward and so weird that if I don't accomplish something great, I'm just another crazy person.

"I want to make sure that when I come back it's raw and rough. I want people to look at it--and I don't care if they say 'oh he doesn't have skills and he doesn't have this.' I want them to say that its one of the most violent things they've seen in a long time. Like, 'did you see that fight? That guy went crazy out there. I haven't seen someone put that much energy into something in a long time.' I went them to be in shock and look up and be like 'holy shit. What did I just watch?'"

"i WANT THEM TO SAY THAT IT'S ONE OF THE MOST VIOLENT THINGS THEY'VE SEEN IN A LONG TIME."


Perhaps the biggest motivating factor for Jones is his six-year old son. Freedom, was the reason he donned the cape and cowl to fight crime in the first place. And he definitely wants his son to be proud of what he will accomplish in his MMA career also. Jones voice changes a little bit when he speaks about his son. You can tell how much he means to him. He talked about Freedom holding the teardrop bag while he worked out at the gym when he was only one. He proudly recalled seeing him hit a sprawl recently while wrestling with his buddies and said he is "unknowingly good" as an athlete already.

They also watch WWE together and Jones doesn't hide the fact that he is a huge fan.

"Sting is back," he says with excitement before gushing about a recent episode of Smack Down. "I'm standing at the screen and my son is like 'what is going on dad?' And I'm like 'Sting is back.' My son is like, 'the old guy with the Crow face paint.' It brought everything out for me and I was like 'you don't get it. You are never going to get it.' I was freaking out and my son was like 'what is wrong with you?'" he laughs.

Right now Jones says his son's friends at school "think it's cool" that his father is a superhero and pro fighter, but kids can be the cruelest creatures on earth once they get older. However, Jones doesn't seem too worried about whether or not his son can handle it though.

"They haven't started being dicks yet, but in middle school he is going to have a hard time I'm sure," Jones said. "He has a good left hook and he is a pretty tough kid, but we'll find out."

He hasn't yet stepped in the decagon for WSOF and has only fought six times professionally, but Jones is uncontrollably stricken with what kind of impression he will leave behind when his career is all said and done.

"People are going to be talking to my son in ten years and they are going to go "I can't believe your dad is that super hero, WSOF champ of the world. That is crazy,'" Jones says. "He'll be like, ‘nah he's just dad. It's not that weird,' but I have to make sure. As weird as is sounds to talk about legacy before your first fight. My legacy needs to be of success, not of a man who tried hard."