While Mixed Martial Arts is a relatively new sport when measured against the other long-established giants that dominate the North American market—the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, even the PGA—there are plenty of interesting stories and characters that fans want to learn more about. To this end, Mike Straka, host of HDNet’s ‘Fighting Words,’ has conducted interviews with 15 assorted figures in MMA and condensed the material into a book, aptly titled ‘Fighting Words: In-Depth Interviews with the Biggest Names in Mixed Martial Arts’ (Triumph Books, 2011).
Prominent names among the collection include legendary MMA pioneers Frank Shamrock, Ken Shamrock, Bas Rutten and Renzo Gracie; MMA promoters Dana White and Scott Coker; the UFC old guard of Matt Hughes, Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell; new blood in UFC champions Frankie Edgar, Jon Jones and Cain Velazquez; and durable lightweights Clay Guida and Josh Thomson.
It goes without saying that controversy is endemic in combat sports; author Straka makes explicit his decision not to delve too deeply into the issues by prefacing the material by stating, “This book is not a hard-hitting look at the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.” He has little choice in the matter, as revealing personal details about the lives of his interview subjects that they themselves didn’t volunteer for publication would be seen as a betrayal of his professional and personal relationships within the tight-knit MMA community.
Straka’s book does a great job of subtly approaching critical issues in MMA while giving a voice to all sides of the key issues. The interview subjects themselves often talk about the realities of MMA in articulate and revealing ways.
For instance, in ‘Fighting Words,’ Scott Coker states, “I’ve heard UFC stands for U-Fight-Cheap. Frank Shamrock told me that one.” Talk of a fighters union is breached with Couture stating, “The first guys that step up and push it through, they’re going to get blackballed.” Ken Shamrock finally opens up about steroid use during his interview transcript with Straka, a revelation that has become easier to make as the best days of Ken’s career are long behind him.
Give credit to Straka for his veteran insight into attitudes in the sport. He explains the chip on Matt Hughes shoulder as the ‘nobody understands what I have to go through’ mentality. An MMA fan who ridicules Clay Guida to his face by telling him ‘I don’t recognize you without seeing you in your own blood,’ is gently rebuffed by Guida telling him, ‘Dude, that’s not very nice.’
There’s an interesting tie-in between Mexican-American Cain Velasquez and the anti illegal immigrant laws passed in his former residence of Yuma, Arizona. Velasquez lends his voice to the Mexican illegals—explaining the hard work his parents put in, working the most difficult jobs in the fields. One wonders if Velasquez is just an entertainer to his fans, and whether any readers will take his story to heart in terms of politics or social leanings.
Frequently, the casual fan wants to understand why guys like Georges St-Pierre or Jon Jones are at the top of the MMA game, often chalking it up to raw physical talent. ‘Fighting Words’ acknowledges the underlying truth—that Jones and St-Pierre are indeed, incredibly humble guys, with Renzo Gracie noting that “[St-Pierre] will listen to a white belt telling him what to do. He has the patience to do it.”
Despite the wide array of interviews available in television, MMA magazines, news sites and so forth, this book is still valuable as an excellent primer for readers who want to understand the personalities and landscape of the modern MMA game. There’s just enough description of key moments that’s balanced with interesting factoids to keep the story fresh and relevant.
‘Fighting Words’ is worth checking out, and with any luck, Straka will return with a sequel in 2012.
On a side note, back in June of 2010, when I was at the open workouts leading up to Fedor vs Werdum (hosted at American Kickboxing Academy), Frank Shamrock was on hand to emcee the event. He was also graciously giving out copies of his own book to the media, ‘Mixed Martial Arts for Dummies,’ a guidebook for understanding MMA.
Many of Straka’s other interviewees have published their own autobiographies including Matt Hughes, Chuck Liddell, and Randy Couture. Big John McCarthy’s book, ‘Let’s Get It On!: The Making of MMA and it’s Ultimate Referee’ is due out this September.
Brian J. D’Souza is a Canadian writer who has covered Mixed Martial Arts for ESPN.com, FoxSports.com and FIGHT! magazine.
Frank Shamrock’s book