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Pillow Fight Championship: South Florida's new combat sport is for slumber party pros

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

From the field to the ring - on Saturday night outside Miami, two championship bouts were live on pay-per-view in a curious new combat sport - pillow fighting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Ladies taking exception either way. And Nunes with a 360 backhand but slips back.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Kendahl - she swung so hard it rocked Nunes.

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

Sixteen men and eight women qualified for the inaugural Pillow Fight Championship. When all the dust and synthetic stuffing settled, two athletes emerged with $5,000 and championship belts.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: In the red corner, Istela Nunes.

SHAPIRO: To be clear, this is actually grown adults bludgeoning one another with specialized pillows in what looks like a boxing ring. They try to land blows for two rounds, 90 seconds each. The championship match goes three rounds. The athletes mostly come from the world of MMA - mixed martial arts.

PAUL WILLIAMS: My brother basically came to me. He said he wanted to start an MMA business. We, you know, discussed it, and I basically thought it was a horrible idea.

KEITH: Paul Williams devised professional pillow fighting with his brother, Steve. The idea came during the pandemic.

WILLIAMS: My brother and I both have fond memories of running into mommy and daddy's bed in the morning, you know, jumping on the bed and dad tossing us in the air and clobbering us with pillows, as he used to say. And those memories stick.

KEITH: He recognizes that pillow fighting may not sound like a serious sport, but he says it has all the strategy and intensity of boxing or MMA with more satisfying impacts and less gruesome injuries. And his athletes, many of whom are professional former fighters, would agree.

VINCE EDME: Pillow fighting is actually really tiresome. You'll get really tired really quick. Think about it. What you're doing is you're swinging a two-pound pillow, swinging it round and around and around with one arm.

SHAPIRO: Vince Edme is a U.S. Marines recruiter and a pillow fighter. He says while his Marines training prepped him mentally and physically, he had no idea that pillows would leave him reaching for ice packs.

EDME: Believe it or not - laugh at me - my arm was sore. My neck was sore. I don't know how (laughter). But it was definitely a workout.

SHAPIRO: The PFC also has a youth division, PFC Kids. It coordinates with local martial arts dojos - food for thought the next time a spontaneous, unprofessional pillow fight breaks out between children in your own bedroom arenas.

(SOUNDBITE OF KYLE DIXON AND MICHAEL STEIN'S "STARCOURT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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