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We Spoke to Billy Corben and Dada 5000 About Illegal Street Fighting in Miami's Suburbs

Billy Corben's latest film, Dawg Fight, shows the people behind the punches in Dada 5000's illegal backyard fighting league.
All Dawg Fight production stills courtesy of Billy Corben

Director Billy Corben has been interested in the brutal Miami street fighting circuit ever since he read a Miami New Times article about the scene in 2008. Corben, a former VICE contributor and the man behind Cocaine Cowboys and Square Grouper, became so entranced by the characters and subculture of the underground fighting league, led by Dhafir "Dada 5000" Harris, that he shot the fighters for a year and a half, and recently turned the footage into a film called Dawg Fight.


Dawg Fight's sepia-toned look at amateur brawlers duking it out in West Perrine is probably the nicest the brutal imagery has ever appeared. It's higher resolution, louder, and bloodier than anything yet shown in the popular YouTube footage of the same events. This makes the fights more grueling to stomach, while sucking the viewer into the plight of the fighters stuck in the suburban purgatory of West Perrine, Florida.

While the film appeals to the curious, cigar-smoking fight fan looking for some action—dudes get knocked the fuck out, wrists are broken—it also looks at families that are torn apart by violence. Corben was looking to tell a story about something more than just a bizarre Florida sideshow. We see some fighters make it to the pros while others are unable to escape the cycle of violence they were born into.

VICE caught up with Billy Corben and Dada 5000 to talk about fights, fighters, and the film, which has been released on Corben's Rakontur website and will be coming to Netflix this May.

VICE: Since you finished making Dawg Fight, has Dada put on any more fighting events?
Billy Corben: We documented what amounted to the end of the regular organized backyard brawls. I'm not proud of this: Because we were shooting there and other people were seeing our reel, we kind of contributed to the demise of this illegal, unsanctioned world. That wasn't our intention, but we certainly did. After we stopped shooting, Dada would have an event here or there, but it wasn't happening with the same frequency as before. Last year when he tried to do an event, he got a cease-and-desist letter, so Dada was at a crossroads. He had a choice—to go back underground again and make it more secretive, or to go legit. He's having an event in June. It sounds completely fucking insane. They found a way to preserve the pirate nature of the backyard fighting, but legitimize it with fighters getting trained and medical on hand.


Did you enjoy watching the fights on a personal level?
I was a little more invested in [the story] than to just watch human cockfighting. I was interested in it from a cinematic and dramatic standpoint. I was interested in the stories and guys. It's difficult because it's really fucking brutal. I remember this one day, all of a sudden we're filming and this guy breaks his wrist. It was bare knuckles. All of a sudden, there's a medic who appears. I didn't know who he was or what he was doing there. I thought he was maybe a porn star on the way home from a Bang Bros shoot. That would be so fucking Miami, right? I feel like he was just a spectator who just happened to be a medic, because I never saw him before or after that.

There's something about the brutality and watching Dada weigh these guys in on his mom's scale. Everybody here was willing to risk [that violence]. There's a demographic in our community that believes [fighting] is their best hope. There is an inherent tragedy to that.

Do you see Dada as a purely benevolent guy or as someone just out to exploit these fighters?
Somewhere in the middle. He did not make a penny off those fights. I don't think he was necessarily proud of that. His mom is the one who revealed that he hadn't taken a dollar. He wasn't taking money out of these fighters' pockets. Perhaps even to the detriment of his own family. I think there is an unquestionable benevolence to his character. There were opportunities for him that he deliberately did not exploit.


There's a demographic in our community that believes [fighting] is their best hope. There is an inherent tragedy to that.

Why is Miami a place where this kind of stuff can happen?
You have the second highest income disparity in the country. You have the second highest food stamp usage in the United States. The Miami of today is the America of tomorrow. You want to know what challenges and calamities will befall Florida? You will see it here: the immigration and the drugs and the Medicare fraud and the sea level rise, income disparity, land fraud. We're the canary in the coal mine. We're this Thunderdome-esque future for America. Unfortunately, it'll be more like Waterworld. Miami is where people take a vacation from accountability. Why should our government be any different?

Dada 5000

I was also able to speak Dada 5000, the P.T. Barnum-meets-Don King ringleader of Miami backyard fighting and the protagonist of Dawg Fight. He's now scheduling a cruise ship extravaganza in the Atlantic Ocean where fighters will duke it out in a diamond-shaped cage ring. He Don Kinged the shit out of this phone call, and implored me to post his phone number so fans could call him.

VICE: What did you think of the film?
Dada 5000: It showed a different side of Miami, the side they don't talk about, the dark side. It's real, raw, and authentic… There are certain things that people aren't going to identify with because they're not from that walk of life. They don't understand, they don't agree, they don't see that it's relevant. But I'd rather have these guys in my backyard trying to earn an honest buck, rather than waiting in your backyard waiting to cut you up. Credit to Billy [Corben]. He was not inside the lion's mouth for this project, he was in the lion's belly.

That's what those guys need. I'm just bringing out what's in them that they can't bring out on their own.

Do you think that the people who watch these videos on YouTube and go to these matches are exploiting fighters?
I'm not going to say that there's no racism and no prejudice there. The guys know what they're there for. They're looking at it as a way out. They see the cameras out there. They think, If I can do something good enough, and someone out there can see the true talent that I have, someone will call and give me a shot. I'm going to create a lane for myself.

What should Dade County do to improve the lives of people in West Perrine?
Give these individuals a system. Put together programs to help these guys be independent. Create a system with them. Partner up with employers willing to give these guys a job. Work hand in hand with the labor pools. These guys would love to work. They don't have a high school diploma. They don't have an education. We need a reduction of unemployment. It will motivate the community and generate money for the community and the community will thrive.

You wear a lot of hats: promoter, referee, manager, booker. Do you ever worry that those responsibilities might conflict?
That's a gift, right? The fighters are one aspect of it. I'm another aspect of it. If I wasn't shouting like that, it wouldn't be as exciting as it is. You see me jumping around with that energy. That's what those guys need. I'm just bringing out what's in them that they can't bring out on their own.