A Violent Metaphor: Victorville

Twilight on the edge of the Mojave Desert. A jackrabbit the size of a terrier loped into the middle of the road, where I stood outside my parked car. I made eye contact with the animal and it stared back brazenly before darting off. I hadn’t realized it was possible for a rabbit to look mean but that one sure did. Huge crows flew overhead and a rooster called somewhere in the background. All around me, dozens of Joshua trees writhed eerily in their fibrous, fire-resistant bark. In the distance a wiry feral dog, maybe a coyote, eyed me opportunistically.

The starkness of the California Desert was a counterpoint to the mist of perplexity back home. My life was going well on the surface but underneath things weren’t clicking. My work at Fight! Magazine, which had begun as an attempt to ferret out the nobility of an obscure and eccentric sport, was I feared, devolving into mere sophistry. I had becoming copywriter not a journalist or artist. I was disheartened by the legion precisely tuned psychological manipulations that were the stock and trade of media and which seemed necessary to keep the culture functioning.   The tidal wave of knowledge, disinformation, art, banality, wisdom, absurdity, beauty and vulgarity that was the information culture had behind it, I dimly perceived, some force directing it forward towards an unknowable end, propelling it through the momentum of a billion chattering voices. What was it into which everything was being so rapidly absorbed, an invisible hand bidden by a new global mind?

Social media, the great boon to marketers, journalists and revolutionaries, was turning individuals into brands and what is a brand but an illusion, an agreed upon construct. We had become our Avatars. Everybody was playing everybody else, managing images, wearing masks. It was a thin reality and slipping into nihilism but people couldn’t log off long enough to realize it. Those existential crises you hear about really exist because I was having one and it was a doozy.

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A Violent Metaphor: Xtreme Couture

As I entered the Xtreme Couture gym in Las Vegas on my first morning, Randy’s daughter, Aimee, greeted me from behind the front desk. I got approved for the pro class, signed the waiver and bought a month pass for $300.

Randy’s oldest son, Ryan, also worked the gym, splitting his time between helping to run the place and training for his MMA debut. He was unassuming and soft-spoken, like his old man. We were about the same size, so we end up training together a lot.

In addition to the many stars that called the gym home, Xtreme Couture drew up-and-coming fighters from all over the world. The gym housed a steady stream of unknown fighters hoping to learn from and test their skills against the best in the sport. They rolled in almost daily, and the talent and athleticism of many of these “walk-ins” amazed me.

It was a good sign for the future of mixed martial arts, but training around them could be humbling. I once saw a monstrous young heavyweight warming up on the mats.  6 feet 4 and 250 pounds of solid muscle, I watched him float weightlessly across the floor in series of five perfect cartwheels. “What am I doing here?” I wondered.

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A Violent Metaphor: The Orleans Ballroom

“Don’t think about winning the fight,” Frank Mir told me as we sat together in the dressing room. In about an hour I would make my MMA debut for a promotion called Tuff-N-Uff in front of 2,000 fans at the Orleans Ballroom in Las Vegas. Mir, former and future UFC heavyweight Champion, and Robert Drysdale, who was the 2007 ADCC champion and one of the best pure submission grapplers in the world, agreed to help work my corner for the fight. It was a major advantage for me, tantamount to having Albert Pujols and Tony Gwynn as little league batting coaches.

“Think about looking good and not making any mistakes,” Mir continued. “Concentrate on doing the things that you know you can do well.”

It’s great advice that quelled my anticipatory anxiety. I had begun to panic once I realized the enormity of what I was about to do. After a month of intense training, I had only three rounds to make it all count. If I lost, would it matter how hard I had pushed myself? At this moment, it didn’t seem like it. Pat Miletich once told me that there was a time to train and a time to “get after it.” Now I knew what he was talking about. I ran over the fight plan I’d developed over the last month: stay light on my feet; keep my distance and use angles; throw three-punch combinations when my opponent came in; finish with a left hook; be ready to sprawl and, most importantly, do not get taken down under any circumstances.

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