From my senior year in high school back in '03 well into my freshman and sophomore year in college, I'd been what many would consider a "casual fan" of MMA. Also, like many horny young men exploding at the seams with a seemingly boundless wave of testosterone with no end in sight, I loved a good fight, be it at a party or on television -- the bloodier the better.
My experience and knowledge of MMA up to that point had been Rampage slams and the beautiful violence displayed by Wanderlei and a young and hungry (and healthy) Shogun.
***There Be Blood Yo***
I sat there with my roommate, then a spry, naive and all-around cretin ready to see bombs thrown and blood flow. Little did I know I was in store for one of the most legendary bloodbaths ever caught on camera.
Beers in hand, chips on the table, we flipped over to Spike; I waited with fervent anticipation, my roommate vague curiosity. I'd only watched half of the first season of TUF, often turning it off when they fell back on those worn out Survivor tropes with silly physical missions and whatnot. That being said, over the course of the show I had developed a liking for Kenny Florian, Griffin, Bonnar and my favorite of the season, Nate Quarry.
Thinking I knew everything, I turned to my roomie and said: "Bonnar's boxing is too crisp for Forrest – TKO round 2." Cue collective eyeroll.
Then the match began, and the two wannabe pugilists started to slug it out -- rather poorly -- over the course of fifteen minutes. And then the blood started to flow.
Wide-eyed, my roomie turned to me and literally said: "Dude, what the fuck: This is REAL?" "Uh huh," I replied, myself transfixed by the grainy luminance of violence unfolding before me.
Scrambling, he snatched up his mobile and proceeded to frantically slap at the digits. Realizing what he was doing, I picked up my own phone and we both messaged and called everyone we knew. "Adam, turn to Spike N–I don't care if you're watching Arrested Development, turn this shit on NOW. These two dudes are fucking each other up!"
Needless to say, we jumped, screamed, howled, laughed, roared and cheered before falling silent as Bonnar fell to his knees when the decision was read, crestfallen and utterly beaten by not only Griffen's fists, but the cruel injustice the world had so hatefully displayed.
I had never before in my life experienced such a wide range of emotions: elation, sorrow, fear, worry, wonderment, joy, anguish. It was at that moment I knew this sport was going to blow up and really go somewhere. While I had always liked Pride FC, I knew they weren't (or at least perceived it to be the case at that time) that heavily marketed in the states, as the majority of the events took place in Japan.
The UFC had a winning and marketable product on their hands. I wanted more.
***From Just Bleed Bro to Rabid, Educated Fan***
While I was content with watching UFC events for KOs and the occasional bloodbath, I knew there was more to the sport than merely banging. Having been a practitioner of a martial art for over 10 years of my life at that time, I decided to do a bit of research into what exactly these fighters go through training-wise.
Thus, I decided to pop in my old pride DVDs (mostly of the Bushido variety, but I did have some great ones like Body Blow, Final Conflict, and one of the greatest cards of all time, Pride 33) and focus on the excellent commentary from Bas and Quadros to learn more. It was there I developed respect for the unique array of contrasting styles, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
It was during this time that I really began to develop a deep respect for Fedor Emelianenko and Shogun Rua, though for different reasons. With Fedor, I was routinely left speechless by his ferocity, speed and power, the entirety of which coalesced within a pudgy 230-Ib frame forged out of pure indomitable will. With Shogun, it was his speed, power and technical grace, all of which could disappear at a moment’s notice if he had his quarry hurt and opted to unleash a violent barrage of stomps and soccer kicks. **Hearing the sound of heads thudding helplessly against the ring mat and shin slapping against meat makes me cringe to this day
As my ravenous appetite for more grew, I sought to sate my hunger through watching as many fights as possible. **Yes, this meant downloading cards and streaming illegally when I couldn’t afford them. I was poor. Fuck off.
To close out this section, I’ll offer some of my favorite fights of all time:
1) Fedor/Nogueira 1
2) Shogun/Machida 1
3) Penn’s entire lightweight run as contender and champion/Shogun’s middleweight Grand Prix run (Tie)
4) Shogun/Henderson 1
Honorable mention: Maia/Fitch (this was a truly beautiful display of ground control and an amazing chess match. I cannot say enough wonderful things about this fight)
***The Fall of Emperors and Broken Warriors***
I can proudly say that I’m a hardcore MMA fan, far past the point of unbridled fanboyism. My love and respect for Fedor, Shogun, and BJ Penn caused me to develop an unnatural hatred for their opponents if I felt they’d been wronged or slighted, e.g. Penn/St-Pierre 1 or Henderson/Shogun 1 (it was a 10-8, goddamnit!).
To this day, any time I’m at home watching a video and one of the three are mentioned, I scare the dog shit out of my soon-to-be- fiancé (she just doesn’t know it yet) with a wide-eyed snarl and primal intonation: Sho-guuuuuuuuuun WHOOOOOO—WHAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!
I’m truly grateful to have lived during the reign of such incredible champions, both inside and outside the ring/cage. Though, as with all good things, their reigns had to come to an end. Fedor, via a slick triangle from a wily veteran in Werdum who many felt played possum to lure the aging, grizzled emperor into committing the first of several mistakes; Penn, via a dubious decision in his first bout with Edgar; and Shogun, via an outright heartbreaking ass whipping at the hands of someone I truly despise and will likely continue to until he loses, just because I’m that petty and vindictive, Jon Jones.
It hurts my heart too much to see Fedor mangled beyond recognition at the hands of Antonio Silva. It tears me up inside to see Penn start off so strong against Nick Diaz, only to see the latter systematically pick him apart for the final two rounds. It kills me a little inside when I see my favorite warrior of all time, Shogun Rua, not just soundly beaten, but finished.
I can’t take it anymore. I’ve invested more than my time and energy into following this sport – I’ve invested my heart and soul into following these three men during their ups and downs. They continue to amaze and inspire me by getting back up after getting knocked down, but it’s as if the burden they shoulder and the punishment their bodies receive has taken its own toll on my heart. I can’t stand to see these men hurt and broken. It’s not worth it to me anymore.
I have to take a break from mixed martial arts. I have to take a break from following the sport. I have to take a break from being a member of this community. The constant rec-whorring and fighter bashing has also taken its toll on me, and to be honest I’ve grown weary of the duplicity, sycophantic armchair musings and ad hominem bandied about without care for others solely because the Internet offers a thin veil of anonymity.
So that’s it. I’ll return to being a rabid fan of MMA at some point, though it will likely be after Shogun and Penn retire. I may continue to lurk as well simply because I love the staff commentary and Eugene’s ricockulous rants.
Take care everyone.