His identity no longer a secret inside the court, Ben decided to inform the public on his own terms outside the courthouse. He and Phoenix Jones were suddenly the same person for anybody who cared to look. Had he truly come to terms with why he had invested his time, money and body into what he calls his “Jonesing?” What makes someone ignore the broad contradictions inherent in a grown man trying to solve the world’s problems by putting on a mask and apprehending bad guys in a reality where nuclear weapons are stockpiled by nations the way that children hoard candy?
Ben shocks me by quickly name-dropping “Watchmen,” arguably the most revered superhero deconstruction of all-time. Aware of the philosophical questions posed by the 1986 comic series, he says he actually attempts to apply the work to his real-life pursuits. However, whereas Ozymandias -- the story’s primary antagonist -- attempts to save the world from inevitable nuclear war by staging a phony alien attack that kills millions of people in New York City, Fodor operates on a slightly smaller scale.
“Ozymandias is convinced that the world is designed to destroy itself, and the only way to shake it out of apathy is to trick people into believing that they are getting what they want, and that’s what I did,” he says. “People are more interested in watching YouTube than helping me with my son, so I’m going to put my message on YouTube and make it the most watched thing possible. That’s my way of capturing the people who wouldn’t normally help me.”
To those who say he is motivated by fame or money, Ben -- a skilled bowler in addition to his other athletic abilities -- says there are easier ways to make a buck, the simplest of which would have been to click the “monetize” button on his YouTube clips, which he claims have earned 33 million views. Of course, he could always climb back into the cage, but then that would not be about money.
Building a Symbol, Closing a Door
When the sun comes up, the suit stays at home. Ben hits the gym and then heads to work. This would be the job that does not involve criminals, Tasers, net guns or body armor. Stationed at his godmother’s home, Ben and brother Caros tend to the family business, segmenting the workload to avoid interacting with each other.
As it now stands, Caros tells me he would have no problem squaring off with his brother in a prizefight, though he admits their mother would be less than pleased, stating that friends far closer square off in the cage and then learn to live with the results. Ben believes that pursuit would end in futility, as it would only add fuel to the fire that burns between them. Instead, he makes a bold statement out of the blue, calling out veteran lightweight Pat Healy -- the last man to beat Caros -- primarily to prove to his brother he is the better man.
That drive to win has always been part of the relationship, Caros says, in part because their personalities are so different. Four years older than his brother, Caros recalls that Ben’s quest for attention as the younger sibling would sometimes result in fistfights, the majority of which Caros dominated due to his size. As a result, Ben would eventually follow in Caros’ footsteps as a mixed martial artist, partially to score points in that great invisible fraternal ledger but also out of physical necessity.
“It was sort of a competition thing, but it was more of a survival tactic. He started learning how to fight, and, all of a sudden, the big-brother-picking-on-little-brother [game] is now me getting put in a fricking rear-naked choke and tickled for an hour,” Ben explains. “Once he got done, I realized that I had to learn this stuff. Otherwise, I’m going to be obsolete here, you know?”
Oddly enough, the need for competition that initially drove them apart also brought the brothers back together for a time. Caros enlisted in the Marines right out of high school and served one tour in Iraq, returning home in 2003. After a period of estrangement following his time in the service, Caros and Ben bonded as they excelled as amateur mixed martial artists. “About mid-2005, we were starting to get pretty close to each other. I was totally on board with him fighting, and I was stoked. I was probably one of the loudest people screaming for him,” Caros tells me. “We were actually doing great up until about seven months ago.”
This is where the accounts split and brothers become strangers. Ben says the two gradually built the gap between them over the last year-and-a-half, spurred by Caros making fun of his superhero activities. Conversely, Caros recalls last Christmas as the specific tipping point, citing a dispute over a personal matter that he elects not to share.
“He’s always known I think his whole [crime fighting] thing is ridiculous, but that has nothing to do with why we quit talking. His Phoenix Jones s--- is way bigger than what I’ve accomplished in Strikeforce, so he shouldn’t feel [slighted] at all,” Caros says. “But there are people out there who see him as a big target. It’s not worth it. He has a kid. If he makes some money, makes a living, good for him, but right now, he’s risking his life. He’s got a family he needs to worry about, and I think he could be making a lot more money and have a better career and life if he was doing bowling or MMA or something like that.”
Ben admits it is difficult to contemplate suffering life-threatening injuries due to the amount of preparation he has taken. Motivation comes from conjuring up an image of someone mugging his wife and son while he is unable to help.
When asked if there is hope for the relationship, the brothers say a truce would be “nice,” but neither believes that outcome is likely. Ben says each man would have to make large strides -- this only minutes after telling me he wants to fight Healy -- in order to make that suggestion a reality.
“He’s gonna have to stop belittling me and admit what I am and who I’ve become, and I doubt that he’s able to do that,” he says, “and, in the same breath, I need to stop being challenging, and that’s hard ’cause that’s my nature. There are two sides to every coin, and my brother in no way is the villain of the story. “I think that I could walk into the other room and just say, ‘Hey, this is dumb,’ and we’d be cool for a week -- until one of us got something that the other one wanted,” Ben adds with a chuckle. “We're gonna have to cool down with time. If things are gonna get fixed, it will be fixed by time.”
For Caros, the solution is simpler. He wants an apology dating back to Christmas, an apology he does not expect to receive any time soon. While Ben views time as a potential ally in remedying the situation, Caros believes the opposite may be true.
“I don’t wish ill will to him at all, but in my heart I feel like I was wronged, so I’m not about to make the first step,” he says. “In his eyes, he might think I owe him [the apology]. I think if we both feel that exact same way, it’s probably not gonna happen, and we both seem to be doing pretty well without each other right now. The longer this goes on, the less likely it will ever get fixed.”
Phoenix Jones has been involved in more than 250 police cases during his time as a full-time crime fighter. He has been shot, stabbed, arrested, embarrassed, cheap-shotted, celebrated, challenged and called-out, but, for all of his training and toughness and ability, the masked man who has made it his business to personally defend Seattle holds no jurisdiction to negotiate whether two brothers are friends or foes. Indeed, the divide that currently separates Ben and Caros Fodor seems to be one imbalance not even a superhero can set right.