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The Epic, Bare-Knuckled Sibling Rivalry Of 'Phoenix Jones' And His Brother Caros

Gabriel Spitzer
Ben and Caros Fodor grew up together, train together and kind of hate each other's guts.

Caros and Ben Fodor didn’t always hate each other’s guts.

“Like, at birth, when he was first adopted, we were close, because he didn’t talk,” Caros said.

The irritation is mutual.

“Caros and I really didn’t get along growing up,” Ben said. “I don’t even know how to describe that guy. He’s kind of an a------, but he’s not like your stereotypical jerk. He’s got his own little way of ruining things.”

In many ways, Ben and Caros couldn’t be more different. Caros is quiet, 32 years old, a Marine Corps veteran who says he doesn’t crave attention. Ben is the opposite of that: He is better known in many quarters as Phoenix Jones, Seattle’s real-life 'superhero.' He has never shied away from publicity.

These days the two brothers train together as professional MMA fighters, though they say they can hardly stand to be in the same room. Their sparring in the gym is little more than a continuation of their full-contact childhood.

Credit Courtesy of Caros Fodor
Caros (center) and Ben (left), along with brother Frank, during their childhood.

“I’d walk out into the yard with my friends, and get hit in the face with a paintball —with no mask, no gear on —just get dropped. And my brother would be on the roof sniping people,” Ben said.

Caros confirmed that tale.

“My mom would spend a lot of time crying and trying to pull us apart because we would really go at it,” Caros said. “I mean, broomsticks, bats. I accidentally stabbed him once in the hand with a pocketknife.”

Part of the problem was their mother was extremely busy: She ran a large foster home and, besides handling her adopted children, had foster kids with special needs to take care of too.

“People need to think, like, if you were to let your kids go in the backyard and just do whatever they wanted to do, what would happen?” said Ben. “That’s what our rivalries were like.”

A Bruising Sibling Rivalry

In 2005, Caros had returned from Iraq, and found himself drinking and brawling a lot. He found his way to MMA, and his brother Ben followed suit a few months later at a different gym.

“Ben did well from the very beginning,” Caros said. “He lost once, I think, but he had like 14 wins, a lot of them by knockout. [He was] extremely exciting. But then he started doing the Phoenix Jones thing, and then MMA went to the background.”

The “Phoenix Jones thing” involved Ben donning a black-and-gold rubber suit and fighting crime on the streets of Seattle. Caros can’t help rolling his eye whenever it comes up. That, along with his day job and his son, took his attention away from fighting. Ben wound up leaving the sport for about three years, but in 2013 he found himself pulled back into the ring.

Credit Justin Steyer / KPLU
Ben Fodor as Phoenix Jones patrols the streets during May Day demonstrations.

“I had fought a lot of crime, and I basically had a lot of legal trouble,” he said. “I had legal bills, I had suit repair bills … and I’m like, I don’t know how I’m going to make, like, $5,000 or $6,000 super quick.”

Ben Fodor found a gym, won some pro fights and made his money. But then things started to go sour, and he had a falling out with his coach. There to help pick him up was, of all people, his brother.

“That really blew my mind, man,” Ben said. “Caros came at me at a time when I really needed help, and he came at me with open arms in a very, like, almost loving way. It was very weird.”

Caros brought Ben in to own his gym in early 2014, and helped get him trained up for a major fight in Tacoma. Ben won that fight, and says Caros was the first guy to hug and congratulate him.

“Since then, it’s been a little different.”

‘I’m A Ferrari; You’re A Mazda’

The Tacoma fight was a big moment for both brothers. But make no mistake: They still genuinely can’t stand each other. It was pretty obvious once they were in the same room together for a joint interview, at a library in Kirkland.

“I’m a Ferrari; You’re a Mazda,” Ben taunted Caros, his face about six inches from his brother’s. “How many championships did you win?”

Sometimes when Ben is talking to Caros, building up head of steam, Caros will simply take out his phone and look at it to just to avoid engaging, or even looking at, his brother.

“It’s just an easier way to deal with it, just tune him out a little bit,” Caros said, while Ben jeered.

In any case, that Tacoma fight was nothing compared to the main event they have in mind: a full-on, promoted, no-holds-barred cage match between the two brothers.

“There’s just always been a little confusion over who’s the better athlete and who’s the better fighter,” said Ben. “You could win a world championship, and my mom would probably still think Caros could beat me.”

They both agree that Caros is the better technical fighter. And he’s better in the gym: He almost always wins their sparring sessions. But a big high-wattage fight is a different story.

“When me and him spar, I kind of throw technique out, just big brother versus little brother,” Caros said. “I don’t want him to think I’m using technique to avoid a fight.

Say Something Nice About Your Brother

It’s worth mentioning that these guys may seem like bare-knuckled brutes – and they are – but there is more than one side to them. Ben has long worked with kids with autism and with sick kids at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Ben is a full-time caretaker for one of his mother’s former foster kids, who has intellectual disabilities.

And neither brother seems to want pats on the back for it. Having grown up together in their mother’s foster home alongside many kids with challenges, they see it as simply following in the family business.

They even say nice things about one another from time to time.

“You, honestly, are a mirror that reminds me of everything I hate about myself that I can’t do,” Ben said. “He’s great at all the things I’m bad at. Being able to take me and help me train for my fights and get me a world title, something that he doesn’t have … it was honestly an amazing gift and something I couldn’t have done in return.”

“I appreciate how he feels about it, and I love him too. It’s not going to change how we interact day to day though,” Caros responded. “We’re just opposite people.”

And of course, Ben got the last word in.

“Does that mean I’m good-looking and you’re not, or that I’m skilled and you’re not?”

This story originally aired April 23, 2016

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.