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Is Phoenix Jones real? Or, said another way, what is a ‘Ben Fodor?’

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Peter Tangen, WSOF

The thing about Phoenix Jones is that you genuinely get the feeling that none of what he does at night is a publicity stunt. Or at least very little of it. He’s only fighting Friday in the World Series of Fighting so he can further fund his crime-fighting initiative. He only signed with WSOF because that particular promotion was rogue enough not to intervene as he goes about thwarting totalitarian street thugs in Seattle.

Publicity is merely a side effect of his day job.

If you don’t know, Jones -- whose real name is "Ben Fodor," a fact that’s both insignificant and important -- has a whole superhero get-up, which includes a mask, a bulletproof vest, an eight-pack of armor abs, and a phaZZer gun, which fires rubber bullets. It’s many thousands of dollars worth of comic book badassery. And he takes his duty damn seriously. When he’s not fighting in the cage -- which might be the most anticlimactic thing about him -- he’s patrolling the meaner neighborhoods of the Emerald City, making the people there think twice about breaking the law. When they do, he steps out of the shadows like an avenging angel of conscience.

Really, what’s not to admire about a bootleg Batman with a chip on his shoulder?

(Well, the police up there certainly don’t know what to do with him. He isn’t exactly making them obsolete. And the fuzz can’t help but give him sideways glances because you just know they’re like what the hell? And some of the citizens aren’t sure what to make of him either. The what the hell’s are a little contagious. Make no mistake, there are insurance issues. But other than those easily overlooked matters he’s a perfectly acceptable crusader of justice).

And it isn’t a publicity stunt, even if what I’m doing here right now -- and what lots of us are doing over the last couple of weeks -- is giving him publicity. He’s been quietly improving his superhero outfit for years, adding flame retardant material and stab plates, all kinds of supergeeked out accoutrement as his income allows. And he’s been exacting his brand of street justice, night-by-night for over five years, one purse-snatcher at a time. He’s not above stopping for a selfie, so long as it’s taken en-route to some place positively red with crime activity.

It just took ESPN a long time to getting around to that SportsCenter profile that rocketed his fame. And really, that was all sort of incidental. Phoenix Jones would have just continued going about confronting the raging Seattle crime spree whether the cameras ever showed up or not. It’s all very unlazy, what he does. Very noble and unnerving. He’s a person who converted an urge to action into his own personal cause. (In his third job, he works with kids going by the name "Ben Fodor." The onion has many layers).

Yet the guy who walks into the cage to fight Emmanuel Walo -- by the way, a super-villain’s name if there ever was one, The Evil Dr. Walo -- at Foxwoods Resort and Casino on Friday night will be doing it so that one day he can afford a Phoenixmobile. Or a newer, superer high tech suit of armor. He’s doing it so that he can fight more crime. Bigger crime. Perhaps even one day white-collar crime, against the iciest of the world’s most loathsome perps…fraudsters, extortionists, embezzlers, lawyers, publicists.

Phoenix Jones versus The Wolf on Wall Street has a ring to it.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Phoenix Jones versus Random Criminal A is pretty unique for the sports world. Phoenix Jones the fighter (5-0-1) versus Emmanuel Walo is happening because of it. Phoenix Jones as a concept keeps falling between fiction and nonfiction. Phoenix Jones the vigilante is enough to inspire the imagination. What to make of this character? And will our unmasked hero escape the clutches of The Evil Dr. Walo in the dungeon at Foxwoods, or will he meet with certain doom?

Stay tuned…