The city of Mosul is in the northern part of Iraq on the banks of the Tigris River. A sprawling city of nearly two million inhabitants, it has existed here in one form or another for thousands of years. Mosul is built on the ruins of the ancient city of Nineveh where the prophet Jonah was traveling when swallowed alive by a “great fish” in the famous story from the Bible. It’s said he is buried in the city, beneath a shrine located in the Nabi Yunus Mosque.
I was ruminating on the Biblical prophet’s peculiar mode of transportation as I traveled towards the city myself, in the belly of a different kind of giant beast. Thousands of feet above the Iraqi desert inside a C-130 military transport plane, I was traveling together with a large group: three fighters, two promoters, three judges, two referees, a corporate sponsor, a matchmaker, a sanctioning official, two ring girls, a documentary film crew, my intrepid staff photographer Paul Thatcher and about a dozen soldiers going on deployment. We were are all being ferried to forward operating base Marez on the outskirts of Mosul, which in a few days would be the site of a historic mixed martial arts event.