The entrance music prefigured the styles and ring personas of the two fighters perfectly. Liddell’s music was slow, gliding, full of danger, and intimidation. Wanderlei’s was a manic, lightning-paced, overwhelming tidal wave of energy. The Japanese reporter sitting next to me on press row had his head bowed in prayer. Wanderlei Silva had been the biggest mega star in Japan for years and Liddell was the most recognizable fighter in the UFC. Liddell with his Mohawk, and Wanderlei with his baldhead tattooed to look like a fireball, were ready-made to market the sport and their fighting styles were camera-friendly as well. When they won they did so in highlight reel fashion, knocking their opponents out with explosive violence.
They represented the same stage in the evolution of the sport; namely the reaction of the striking arts to the early dominance of BJJ and wrestling. Both Liddell and Silva followed a similar strategy: don’t get taken down and while you’re on your feet, swing away. In Japan, where kicking a downed opponent was a legal maneuver, Wanderlei’s favorite technique was to toss his opponent to the floor and soccer kick him in the head until the ref pulled him off. Liddell was a little subtler. He liked to set up his long-range punches, including his trademark: a cannonball of a right hand, with footwork. His gangly barrel-chested physique belied a good deal of physical grace and just by looking at him you wouldn’t suspect that he’d once cleaned out the light heavyweight division, making seven successful defenses and winning all by impressive knockouts.
Continue reading “Show Business: Liddell vs Wanderlei”
ou must make friends with suffering!” Greg Jackson shouts to a group of about 15 professional fighters and one aging, but aspiring, participatory journalist as we all struggle up a diabolically steep and absurdly huge sand dune on the outskirts of Albuquerque, NM.
I’d arrived the day before for a two-week crash course at Jackson’s famed MMA camp. The trip caps a six week course begun in Atlanta in preparation for my first professional MMA fight. When I got there, Jackson told me about the brutal conditioning to come and why he was throwing me in the deep water right off the bat.
“I want you to get to that terrible place in your mind,” he said, (referring to the dark mental space familiar to all fighters and athletes who train endurance events) “ and get used to being there, because that’s where you’re going to live for the next two weeks.”
On only my second day at the gym, Greg had “ambushed” his team by springing on everyone that we were running the dunes that day. The object is to run up the huge sandy hills five times, then for the final time, you put another fighter on your back and carry him up. Before we begin, Greg had cautioned that we’d all be struggling to walk up it by the second time up. Then he added ominously that we’d “end up crawling, scratching, getting up any way you can. That’s the point. Having the will to make it through. ” The fighters who had been at the dunes before nod in grim agreement. “Only two rules– stay positive and keep moving forward,” says Greg as he trots up to his Zen-like perch atop the hill.
Continue reading “Motorcyle Hill”
giant statue of Vladimir Lenin, the father of the Russian Revolution stands in the courtyard of the massive Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. The statue gazes out across the black Moscova River and onto the city it names. The stadium, which was originally dubbed the Central Lenin Stadium when it was built for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, is in the old Soviet tradition: utilitarian, colossal, uninspired. The name was changed in the Nineties when the Communists fell out of power after their 80 year choke hold on the nation and today the city is still in transition between the chaotic energies of the Russian brand of “anything goes”capitalism and the baggage left to it from so many years struggling under the failed Communist system.
On billboards all over the city, familiar western brands stand out amidst the strange Cyrillic writing and ubiquitous Madison Avenue-inspired images of impossibly rich and beautiful people living the good life. The billboards are everywhere punctuating the otherwise drab industrial buildings that comprise most of the city. Years ago, there might have been propaganda posters espousing the dream of a worker’s paradise, but today there are skateboard parks with posters touting the latest NBA stars and Adidas shoes.
Old Soviet era junkers populate the streets alongside expensive sports cars and the chauffeured sedans of the country’s new elite. Oligarchs and made rich by government connections and the country’s mineral wealth, have made Moscow, a city where the average person makes about $8,000 dollars a year, more expensive than New York, London or Paris to live in. As a cautious gesture of healthy respect to the powerful Russian Mafia in the city, the real bigwigs cruise around in armored Mercedes flanked by SUVs filled with security teams of heavily armed men.
Continue reading “After the Fall”