Far, far away from the bright lights of the UFC and big-time mixed martial arts, a number of small, underground organizations exist to provide willing participants with an outlet to punch, kick and grapple their way to self-gratification.
One such entity is Street Beefs, a backyard fighting club that originated in Harrisonburg more than a decade ago.
Founded in 2008, the group operates under the mission statement “Guns Down, Gloves Up,” encouraging young men and women to step out of the streets and into the ring in order to blow off steam and, in some cases, settle disputes with others.
For many, one of those two things--or both--are why they put on the gloves and risk getting a fat lip, broken nose or swollen eye.
For a few, like Delvin Hamlett, stepping into the ring is about so much more than those things.
Hamlett, a 26-year-old Culpeper County resident who fights under the moniker “Kuntry Hoodlum,” has aspirations of one day becoming a professional MMA fighter.
“To be honest, I’m trying to become the next Kimbo Slice,” Hamlett said, pointing out that the MMA legend got his start in backyard fighting. “I absolutely want to turn this into a professional career.”
Like the rest of Street Beefs’ combatants, Hamlett doesn’t get paid for his bouts. However, what he and anyone else who straps it up at the organization’s free monthly events does get is exposure.
Street Beefs’ YouTube channel currently has over 1.6 million subscribers. The club was the focus of a short video documentary by the New York Times in 2016, and it was also featured in an ESPN The Magazine article last year.
Hamlett’s arrival has coincided with the group’s meteoric rise. Since his debut in Dec. 2017, the muscular 205-pound heavyweight has crafted a perfect 8-0 record. He is the current champion in that weight class.
During that time, Hamlett has seen the popularity of his fights spike, going from a modest 20,000 views to as many as an eye-popping 4.8 million.
Hamlett is quick to admit that the notoriety he’s received thus far is surreal when compared to his modest upbringing in Fauquier County.
“Growing up, I fought in the streets a lot,” he said. “That’s just the way things were. Then I became a fight fan--I’d always watch fights on YouTube, whether they were old or new. I ran across Street Beefs one Saturday and saw that it was based in Virginia, so I reached out to them about participating.
“The following Saturday, I had my first fight,” he recalled with a smile.
Street Beefs’ champions are generally expected to defend their titles once every 90 days. Hamlett says his next bout will likely be at its October card, although that’s subject to change.
“The [matchmakers] haven’t found an opponent for me yet,” he said, “so I’m just waiting on someone to step up.”
In the meantime, Hamlett is focused on staying ready and promoting himself. He trains on a daily basis, sparring and jogging with friends either in his backyard or at Yowell Meadow Park. When he isn’t punching, he’s clicking--tagging some of MMA’s biggest names on Twitter in the hope that they’ll find a spare moment to watch him in action.
Dana White beware.
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