Bloody Elbow Book Review -- Total MMA: Inside Ultimate Fighting

80838_mediumI just tore through "Total MMA: Inside Ultimate Fighting" Jonathan Snowden's excellent history of MMA. Its a hefty tome at almost 400 pages -- with 32 pages of color photos and 11 pages of notes(!) but a very quick and entertaining read.

If you're looking for a one volume history of Mixed Martial Arts it would be hard to do better than this. The evolution of MMA in both America and Japan are covered nicely with a natural emphasis on the UFC and PRIDE. Early Pancrase gets a good amount of attention as well.

Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, Frank Shamrock, Kazushi Sakuraba, Frank Shamrock, Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and Bob Sapp get the most attention. Yes, Bob Sapp has a full chapter dedicated to his career. Flipping through the table of contents I was a little non-plussed to see that, but on reading I realized Sapp's odessey was an excellent way to tell the story of Japanese MMA's brief time at the crest of pop culture. No single fighter better epitomizes the status of MMA in Japan than Sapp.

Snowden draws on Erich Krauss' "Brawl" (2002) and Clyde Gentry's "No Holds Barred" (2005) a good deal as well as many web sites, original interviews and back issues of Full Contact Fighter. He does a good job of interweaving the various strands of his tale although sometimes the chronological jumping can get a little confusing.

As a lunatic obsessive I would have liked to have seen a little bit more about Shooto and the Dutch, Russian and Brazilian events of the 1990s but I totally understand Snowden's decision to focus on more central events and promotions.

The book is even handed, dispelling the Zuffa myth at length but also giving Dana and the Fertittas credit for their accomplishments. Snowden even spends the better part of a chapter reviewing the Ferittas family history in illegal gambling in Galveston, Texas in the 1930s to 1950s.

He likewise understands and conveys the strengths and weaknesses of Ken Shamrock and the Gracies. Pulling no punches when describing their failings but also very clearly conveying what they did to achieve greatness and make major contributions to MMA.

The account of Frank Shamrock's split with the Lion's Den is the best I've read anywhere. Snowden does a good job of telling both Ken and Frank's side of the story.

Check it out if you get a chance. Snowden is a talented writer who cares about MMA and put a lot of work into documenting its history.

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