I admire the work of and the principles held by writer Brian D'Souza, who has a new book out.
I can heartily recommend the book, “Pound For Pound: The Modern Gladiatiors of Mixed Martial Arts,” for anyone who is already an MMA fan, or anybody curious who wants to get a better sense of the sport, and the standout athletes in that realm.
I chatted with friend-of-TSS D'Souza and present that chat in Q 'n A format, so you hear more from him, than me.
Tell us about the book.
Pound for Pound: The Modern Gladiators of Mixed Martial Arts is the story of the five greatest fighters in the history of the sport—Georges St-Pierre, BJ Penn, Anderson Silva, Maurício Rua and Fedor Emelianenko. The structure is simple: five biographies that cover critical details of each fighter’s upbringing, exposure to martial arts, professional career, personal relationships, financial issues (a big issue with so many managers stealing from fighters) and other areas that fans want to know about.
When did you decide to do it, how long did it take?
I read David Remnick’s best-selling book on Muhammad Ali King of the World back in 2000. Jonathan Rendall’s This Bloody Mary is the Last Thing I Own, I probably read around 2007. Those books inspired me to get involved in the fight game, but since mixed martial arts was the new thing exploding in popularity, that’s where editors wanted coverage.
Right from the first time I interviewed UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre in 2008, I wanted to be the one to tell his unique story. I drafted a proposal for an MMA book in 2009, and really invested in finding the best sources possible to tell a bigger story about both what it takes to excel in mixed martial arts and the swirling undercurrents of treachery and betrayal that underpin virtually all careers in the sport.
What were the toughest parts to do, and what was the biggest unexpected joy?
It was hard to negotiate with certain MMA managers. They are often the intermediary who keeps the fighter under control, and serves them up to the promotion. A few are talented, tireless and honest, but many others don’t want unnecessary complications that can arise when someone asks tough questions about financial accounting, the percentages they are taking from the fighter or any side-deals they have made without their fighter’s consent/knowledge.
My biggest joy was exposing someone who was taking advantage of one of my favorite fighters. No one ever thanked me, and the way legal settlements are structured, no one is probably able to come out and acknowledge the wrong-doing that occurred. But the people who were involved on the inside know the truth, and I sleep well at night holding that close to my heart.
Also, of course, hanging out with the biggest names in the sport on their home turf, like Jose Aldo, Junior dos Santos, Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida in Brazil. Or training Muay Thai with Georges St-Pierre’s instructor, Phil Nurse in New York. Being with Fedor Emelianenko in the days before his shocking loss to Fabricio Werdum was surreal.
Of the athletes profiled, how did your assessment change from start to finish?
When I interviewed BJ Penn in early 2010, I saw him as someone who was unbeatable at lightweight. His fight with Frankie Edgar at UFC 112 in April 2010—that was a turning point where he lost the decision, and his career momentum shifted forever. You can’t look at a string of losses near the end of an athlete’s career and say, “Well, he really wasn’t that good.” Could Frankie Edgar or Benson Henderson take Georges St-Pierre or Lyoto Machida to a decision that could go either way? Could they go into those fights with people expecting them to win? That’s part of what made BJ great from start to finish.
It doesn’t lessen Fedor Emelianenko’s legacy that he lost three in a row, either. Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva are still steaming ahead, still going strong, but that could change in an instant—via a high kick from Carlos Condit, or the wrestling acumen of Chael Sonnen—losses won’t erase their unparalleled achievements to date.
You stand out as someone who speaks truth to power…how did you come to be this way? Is it “scary” to be one of the few, in that realm?
Once people turn their backs on you, the incentive to play along is gone. You see it in the character Kevin Spacey plays in American Beauty, Lester Burnham. Having a sycophantic middle manager hovering, sizing Burnham up for weakness so he can cull him from the company—that’s reality. Instead of supplication, Burnham flips out and chooses freedom.
I could play things differently in order to please those around me. They would be the ones who are happy, though. I’d be miserable knowing what I know and having that truth eating away inside of me.
Is it scary knowing that Toshiro Igari, the Japanese lawyer who helped get the cease-and-desist order to get PRIDE taken off of Fuji TV died in 2010, probably by yakuza hands? Or that certain top-level MMA journalists aren’t allowed to be credentialed as media at UFC shows? You bet I know the stakes.
Those fears are supplanted by the big picture: a world where everyone makes compromises isn’t one that I want to live in. It’s worth the price to tell an accurate story, even if it involves paying a heavy price. Like the Spartans used to say, “Come back with your shield—or on it.”
Check out a trailer for the book:
You can click here to order the book on Amazon.