Seattle’s superhero Phoenix Jones has garnered a lot of headlines over the many years he has been patrolling the Emerald City. But now, if he has his way, this will be the last. Superhero Phoenix Jones is retiring.
“My whole life has been about making a balance,” Phoenix Jones, aka Ben Fodor, told NW NERD Podcast in an exclusive interview. “And I’ve seen a lot of stuff on the street. In the end, there is not a balance. It doesn’t make sense. I’ve seen it on the streets. I’ve seen what people do to each other. And I live with it every day. Every day I live with horrible, horrible things. And I think to myself, ‘I made a difference.’ But I didn’t make a difference. It didn’t make a difference.”
“The difference was supposed to be the people who saw (a superhero), being inspired to not act this way anymore,” he said. “We have not gotten that lesson. We didn’t get it at all. The shots. The stabbings. The bullets. It wasn’t worth it. No one got it. Maybe I stopped an individual situation, but people were supposed to get better.”
Nearly 10 years ago, Fodor decided to take his special set of MMA skills built up at the gym and in martial arts studios and use them to fight crime and other disturbances on the streets of Seattle.
“I have a unique skill set where I really just didn’t have a lot of options,” he said. “I know it sounds weird to say it that way, but it wasn’t that far of a jump for me. I was a Taekwondo world champion … at that time I was a two-time martial artist champion. I was already a state bowling champion — if you do that you are going to get in a lot of fights in bowling alley parking lots. By the time I got out there, my fighting skills were ridiculous. There are people fighting like small children … and I thought ‘this is foolish, I can beat everyone on the streets right now. Maybe this will make them stop their behavior.’”
Emerging Phoenix Jones
He started out in 2009 climbing buildings and peering onto the streets below, hunting for crime like a frame from a Batman comic. He wore a “Boys 2 Men tuxedo” (as he describes it) that could tear away, revealing his costume underneath when he needed it.
“But then someone actually got mugged, and it took me like five minutes to crawl down the fire escape and get down there,” Fodor said. “The girl was like ‘What are you doing? He already left. You look like Count Chocula, you look stupid!’”
But he pursued the mugger anyway, up and down a building, and around the street. He got away.
“I’m like, ‘Man, I am so bad at fighting crime,’” Fodor said. “At this point, I’ve been fighting crime for like three weeks and I’m not fighting anything. I’m just running around in a freakin’ Boys 2 Men tuxedo looking stupid. To me, that was the scariest part, because no one thinks of me as a superhero. No one is taking me seriously. This is what mentally crazy people do.”
He tried to up his game using a net gun — a gun that shoots a net at a target. But he ended up getting trapped in the net himeself, face down in a ditch with four inches of water. The police came by that time, took some photos, had some laughs at his expense.
But things changed within a couple hours of getting caught in his own net. He was walking to his car, police laughter behind him, when he heard a woman call for help. It was another mugging.
“I come up and I’m like, ‘Hold on there evil doer,’ and right as I’m saying stupid corny stuff, the dude turns around and stabs me straight in the stomach. And it hit me, ‘What the **** are you doing man? You are running around in spandex, with no body armor, in a Boys 2 Men tuxedo … you are a world professional fighter. You have been the best at everything you have ever done. And you are going to die, stabbed by a homeless person, acting like an idiot.’ And it hit me — this ain’t funny. And I became a fighter. I went back to fighting. He swung another shot at me, and I was like tap tap, and he went down.”
Phoenix Jones took some duct tape and tied the mugger up. It wasn’t long before another Seattle cop pulled up in a patrol car.
“The cop comes out and goes ‘Phoenix Jones?’” he said. “It was the guy who just let me out from the net gun. He was like, ‘You stopped a crime?!’ So he calls some other cops and they show up … and I’m thinking this is the best thing in my life …. I remember thinking to myself, ‘this is the real thing, this is it. You fought some crime. Maybe they won’t call you a superhero, but you went out and you did something, you made a difference.”
“By the time I get to bleeding in my car … I’m ecstatic, because I’m not crazy,” he said. “I’ve been out on the street for six months calling myself a superhero, running around in spandex, doing nothing. So getting stabbed to prove I’m not crazy — I’m about that. Best day of my life.”
Retiring Phoenix Jones
That was how it started. This is how it ends.
Over the years the Phoenix Jones operation grew. It wasn’t only him out patrolling. Friends, mostly concerned for his safety, would help out — in a much less flashy, superhero kind of way. They would spot areas where certain crimes would uptick, and go there to prevent things from happening.
Sometimes friends of Phoenix Jones would dress up like homeless people, or bystanders, and they would communicate, watching for crime to happen. When something appeared to go down, that’s when Phoenix Jones jumped into action.
He’s learned a few things over the years — like he wears body armor instead of a “Boys 2 Men tuxedo.” He’s been stabbed, shot, arrested, and sued many times. He proudly boasts that he has beat every lawsuit. It probably helps that he has consulted lawyers to make sure what he does stays within the realm of the law. He’s also continued in his career as an MMA fighter.
But now he feels that people weren’t as inspired during this time as he hoped. He wanted others to stand up to crime and bad behavior as he did.
“I thought I would inspire people and show them that anyone can do this,” Fodor said. “I really thought we are all the same. I thought we were all alike. I didn’t get that I’m not a part of whatever it is that you guys are doing.”
“My character of saving people is a design flaw, that’s what makes people like it so much,” he said. “They look at me and go ‘Wow, I wish I could do that.’ And I’d look at them and I thought, ‘All you guys can. Just follow me. It’s easy.’ It’s not easy. It’s my special talent and my special gift. And every time I see a crime and I see a violence I will stop it, because that is what I do. Whether I’m in the suit or not. It’s not like I can stop being who I am. But I’m not going to do it for anyone else or some ulterior motive that makes anyone better. I’ll stop it because that’s what I want to do.”
Turning 30 in the past year, Fodor says he experienced some challenges off the street, away from Phoenix Jones. He started reflecting on his personal life and his friends. He began to question if a superhero can really stop people from behaving badly.
“I’m not sure if it’s a personal thing or a life thing — I haven’t quite figured it out yet,” Fodor said. “But I can say that my life has been a very interesting arc. Now I’m 30 and I’m learning about people. And a lot of my friends and a lot of personal things in my life have let me down in a way that has broken my spirit. I don’t think people are the way I thought they were originally. It kind of broke how I feel about the whole world in general.”
“I honestly hope I haven’t retired,” he said. “But the great thing about being Phoenix Jones, versus being a cop, is that when I wake up and I don’t feel the urge to fight crime, my life doesn’t depend on it, my family doesn’t depend on it. If I don’t want to fight crime, I don’t. And I wake up and I don’t feel the urge to go get shot for these people right now. I really don’t feel it.”
Hear Phoenix Jones’ full interview with NW NERD Podcast here, or listen below.