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What Does It All Mean?

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Author Sam Sheridan talks to MMA Digest about the transformative potential of fighting:

Q: From your research and observations, what can the personalities of a fighter transform into through being in the sport?

A: One of the big things about the book which is in the last chapter, is that I notice once they break through and become kind of great in a sense, is the fighters really become just unbelievable beautiful human beings. Some of the nicest people I've met are definitely the great fighters. Look at the reverence and way Muhammad Ali is looked at. People look at him as if he's a god of some kind, and what was he? He was a guy who use to knock people out. What did he do? He didn't solve any problems or cure any diseases. But it's so important to people and I think the great ones develop this kind of Buddhist or Zen or just very peaceful air, and there's no meanness in them, there's nothing base or low about them and they're really concerned with the bigger questions. For example, Pat Miletich is a great guy, Apidej Sit Hirun in Thailand was the Muay Thai fighter of the century and is an amazing guy. And I'm sure you've met some of these guys and there's sort of a warmth and gentleness in these great fighters. The lower level guys who still have a lot to prove don't always have it, but the top guys always do.

Q: How does this transformation happen?

A: Well again, it's in the book man. (laughs) In the last chapter. There's an interesting thing that this classics professor at Harvard talked about which is that an athlete in ancient Greece would go through the ordeal of the athletics and become transformed, almost become a god very briefly. And I remember this one boxer talked about when you go into deep water in a boxing match, which Ali called the trombone room or something along those lines-he would see crocodiles playing trombones-where he was almost knocked out. When you go into deep waters and you've really tested yourself to the fullest and you just know yourself so completely and you know other men, it just really comes down to a lot of self knowledge. So those kinds of events are very transformative and I think they're also very very addictive and is why fighters have trouble stopping. Mario Sperry talked about how addictive it can be. Sperry said you can feel God in the ring--when you're fighting a guy and you've been training for 6 months for him and you can feel God come out in you, which is something the ancient Greeks would totally identify with.

Q: I believe Pat Miletich said something along the lines that warriors or fighters can be among the most compassionate people because they have seen the best and worst in people, and have a wide range of experience in that sense.

A: Absolutely. That's a good way of putting it. If you've had your ass kicked, you become a lot more compassionate. (laughs) You know what I mean? You can really identify with it.

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