This was originally the subject of an essay for my Western Cultural Tradition class, as I'm currently a freshman in college. Hope you enjoy
It has long been revered as a stunning, enigmatic, and brutal way of life. Many view it as a magnificent test of body and mind, while others condemn it as barbaric and inhumane. Rarely is blood not shed; never is someone not hurt. It is practiced differently all across the world, but unified in its purpose. It is humankind’s first and final test of power. It is the fight: the one-on-one battle for physical dominance. In 1993, fighting became an official sport in the United States, under a company named the Ultimate Fighting Championship. In its short lifespan, the UFC has risen to the tallest peaks and the lowest valleys. The martial artists who fight under its banner have careers much like the lives of characters in the Bible. An analysis of the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship reveals that professional mixed martial artists parallel the characters in the Old Testament of the Bible.
The Book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, focuses on the lives of the Patriarchs. Despite knowing Abraham is a man of faith, God tests Abraham, commanding, "Take your son, your only son, your beloved Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, where you are to offer him as a burnt offering." Despite his deep sadness and confusion, Abraham obeys the command. Just as he is about to sacrifice his son, an angel of God intervenes, calling, "‘Do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your own beloved son.’" Likewise, the Ultimate Fighting Championship began as a test, a test of faith in combat. Rorion Gracie, the brain behind the UFC and a master of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, wanted to prove to the world that his family’s style of martial arts fared superior to all others. He created an eight-man tournament of fighters of all different styles to compete in no-holds barred combat, which would serve as the first ever UFC event. To represent his family, Rorion chose his scrawny brother, Royce Gracie. Matched up against much larger fighters such as 210-pound shoot fighter Ken Shamrock, 216-pound Savate master Gerard Gordeau, 244-pound Taekwondo practitioner Kimo Leopoldo, and 240-pound NCAA hall of fame wrestler Dan Severn. The 170-pound Royce Gracie defeated them all, confirming his brother’s faith in him and solidifying Brazilian Jiu-jitsu as the most effective martial art of its day. Both Abraham, the first patriarch of Canaan, and Rorion Gracie, pioneer of the UFC, underwent tests to prove their faith, going so far as to put their own family members in danger. However, both passed their tests with flying colors, and just as the world learned how powerful Gracie Jiu-jitsu is, God learned how faithful Abraham was.
Royce Gracie went on to win eleven consecutive fights before leaving the UFC, and as his dominance continued, the UFC gained popularity. However, as the new sport received more attention, it also met harsh criticism for its violence. Senator John McCain even dubbed mixed martial arts as "human cockfighting." Thus, the UFC entered its "dark ages," where events were not even available on pay-per-view. The Hebrew people fell into a "dark age" as well, subjected into slavery in Egypt. The new Egyptian Pharaoh, intimidated by the number and power of the Israelites, enslaved them, "making their lives miserable with hard labour: with digging clay, making bricks, doing various kinds of fieldwork – all sorts of labour that they imposed on them without mercy." The Israelites caught the attention of the tyrant pharaoh, who immediately labeled them as threats to society and oppressed them into slavery. Likewise, the media and governments noticed the rapid expansion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and quickly denounced it as sadistically violent. The Israelites spent several generations oppressed in Egypt. The UFC was banned in thirty-six states and canceled on pay-per-view. The new sport seemed to be on the verge of extinction.
[I know details of this next paragraph are not perfectly accurate, but for the sake of wordiness, I took advantage of my professor’s lack of UFC knowledge and simplified.]
Like the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the Israelites appeared doomed to live in misery forever. The enslaved Israelites prayed to God for deliverance from their living hell, and Yahweh heard their plea. In the form of a burning bush, God spoke to Moses, "I have come down to rescue them from the clutches of the Egyptians and bring them up out of that country… So now I am sending you to Pharaoh, for you to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt." With the help of God, Moses led his people out of Egypt, and eventually, to the Promised Land. In 2001, a semi-professional boxer named, Dana White became the UFC’s Moses. Knowing the UFC’s huge financial troubles, he and casino owner Lorenzo Fertitta bought the struggling business from Semaphore Entertainment Group. White, the new president of the UFC, supported stricter regulations to ensure fighter safety. He and Fertitta, the former commissioner of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, worked with government athletic commissions to write the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. With new rules and new leadership, the UFC started to be sanctioned throughout the country and rose again in popularity. Even John McCain, who previously attempted to ban the sport nationwide, said in a 2007 NPR interview, "They have cleaned up the sport to the point, at least in my view, where it is not human cockfighting any more. I think they’ve made significant progress. They haven’t made me a fan, but they have made progress." White has shown his appreciation for McCain’s involvement in the sport, saying in a Sports Illustrated interview, "I consider John McCain the guy who started the UFC. If it wasn’t for McCain I wouldn’t be here right now." White bought the UFC in 2001 for $2 million; it is now estimated to be worth well over $1 billion. The UFC truly has gone from its dark ages to its promised land.
The Old Testament prophets all delivered a specific message to the Hebrew people, and each of their stories is told in the career of a UFC mixed martial artist. The upright and god-fearing Job is analogous to former UFC lightweight and welterweight champion, BJ Penn. Satan ascertained that Job only revered God because of his good fortune. He challenged God, "‘You have blessed all he undertakes, and his flocks throng the countryside. But stretch out your hand and lay a finger on his possessions: then, I warrant you, he will curse you to your face.’" While sturdy in his faith at first, Job became indignant and cursed the day of his birth.
Before even his first professional fight, BJ Penn was heralded as one of the greatest mixed martial artists the world. Not only did he receive his Brazilian Jiu-jitsu black belt after only three years of training, that same year, he became the first non-Brazilian to win a gold medal in the World Jiu-Jitsu Championships.
Undoubtedly one of the most talented fighters ever to live, the question always revolved around his heart when faced with adversity. In his first lightweight title fight in 2002, a heavily favored Penn was outworked by Jens Pulver for his first career loss. Penn’s heart faltered again in his 2006 welterweight title fight, and for a third time in 2009 for the welterweight championship. In both fights, his spirit was overtly broken by Matt Hughes and Georges St. Pierre, respectively. Penn’s talent, like Job’s uprightness, was never in question; however, when faced with the toughest challenges, both faltered in maintaining what made them great.
Before he was called to be a prophet, Amos was merely a shepherd. "I am merely a herdsman and dresser of sycamore-figs," he admitted. Amos is a true underdog, never earning the respect of the priests of Bethel. Matt Serra is the Amos of the mixed martial arts world. Before his welterweight title shot against Georges St. Pierre in 2007, Serra was regarded as an eleven-to-one underdog. But the 5’ 6" Serra knocked out the champion in the first round, winning the title and pulling off the biggest upset in UFC history. Like the priest, Amaziah, who said to Amos, "Go away, seer… never again will you prophesy at Bethel," many UFC analysts called Serra’s title shot undeserving. But Matt Serra, like Amos, defied his critics and became the UFC’s most unlikely champion. Both Serra and Amos exemplify the little guy who rose to the challenge and succeeded.
In both the Old Testament and the UFC, even the greatest amongst men have moments of shame. David, the most highly regarded of the kings of Israel, committed one major sin that eventually led to his downfall. Upon seeing the beautiful Bathsheba bathing, David summoned her to his chamber and had sex with her, despite knowing she was the married to Uriah, one of his soldiers. Bathsheba became pregnant, and after unsuccessfully attempting to convince Uriah that the baby was his, David staged an attack where Uriah was sure to be killed. David thought that as king, he could do whatever he pleased without regard for consequence. Even amongst the most righteous of kings, power corrupts, and David was no exception to this rule. Anderson Silva, the current UFC middleweight champion, underwent a similar experience. After demolishing every challenger thrown at him, Silva became complacent with his ability. In his seventh title defense against Demian Maia, Silva displayed his arrogance in the octagon. From bell to bell, Silva mocked and insulted Maia, danced around the ring, and barely engaged at all. The crowd booed profusely, and UFC President Dana White criticized, "I don’t think I’ve ever been more embarrassed in the 10 years of being in this business." King David and Anderson Silva became too comfortable with their positions and acted as if they were better than everybody else. David believed that, as king, he was above the law. Silva, widely regarded as the pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet, became disdainful of his challengers and angered the whole UFC fan base with his antics.
In addition to similarities between the lives of Old Testament characters and the careers of professional mixed martial artists, the history of the Biblical Israelites mirrors the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The lives of Amos, Job, and King David reflect the careers of Matt Serra, BJ Penn, and Anderson Silva, respectively. Like the Israelites, who were oppressed into slavery in Egypt and liberated by Moses, the UFC entered a dark age of censorship and near extinction, only to be saved by Dana White. To engage or to retreat, that is the questions every fighter must answer in combat. To defy or to submit to God, that is the question the Hebrew people struggled with throughout the Old Testament. The worlds of mixed martial arts and the Bible are strangely intertwined. In Thales Leites’ 2009 middleweight title fight, the words on his trunks read, "Jesus Didn’t Tap."
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Amos 7: 12-13
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The New Jerusalem Bible. (New York: Doubleday, 1999). Genesis 22: 2