Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Book Selection: "Made in America: The Most Dominant Champion in UFC History" by Matt Hughes with Michael Malice


ToddSeavey.com Book Selection of the Month (January 2008 — on sale today): Made in America

Michael Malice, co-author of this blog’s first Book Selection of the new year, will speak tomorrow night (Wed., Jan. 2, 8pm) at Lolita Bar, with a rousing introduction from me and autographed bookplates at the ready to slap on your copy of the tome.

That tome may not inspire as much fighting, ironically, as my December selection by Jonah Goldberg did, but the January book itself is chock full of fighting. It is the life story of an ordinary-seeming Hillsboro, Illinois farmboy who grew up to beat the stuffing out of people for a living — and found Jesus.

Like a few people in my own New York social circle, Hughes grew up with something of an ancient warrior attitude displaced into the modern world. Whereas most of us (thank goodness) want to go through life avoiding physical conflict, Hughes and his brother always quite explicitly enjoyed fighting, even thinking that on nights when they went out to bars and couldn’t find women with whom to have sex, they could at least find other ornery men with whom to get in fistfights — a disturbing correlation if ever there was one but perhaps a good explanation for a lot of frat guy behavior.

That is not to say Hughes was exactly a frat guy, though: after going from farm to college on the strength of his high school wrestling record, Hughes would find himself enjoying moments such as the time he and his brother, having run afoul of some hostile actual frat guys, decided they could not hope to outrun all the frat brothers and so stood just outside the frat door as the frat brothers came pouring out after them, then punched each frat guy in the face as he emerged. It was sort of like the modern equivalent of the 300 facing wave after wave of Xerxes’ legions at the narrow Hot Gates.

In time, as the book relates with band-bio simplicity and directness, this sort of behavior — combined with the wrestling skills that would one day make “grappling” instead of jujitsu the dominant fighting style of Mixed Martial Arts — was channeled in a more disciplined (and more lucrative) way, in the increasingly-popular Ultimate Fighting Championships, which Hughes has won more times than any other fighter. Initially, any and all fighting styles (absent biting and eye-gouging) were allowed into the ring (or rather, the octagon). The family organizing the events expected to prove that its own style, Brazilian jujitsu, was best — but after a couple early years of fights like something out of a videogame, with sumo wrestlers facing kickboxers and such, grapplers like Hughes emerged triumphant, and a typical UFC now is a bit like watching two almost-perfectly-matched boa constrictors each trying to wrap around the other and suffocate him or knock him unconscious.

And it’s amazing to me that they don’t break more bones or tear off the occasional ear, but the fighters are so perfectly attuned to their own and their opponents’ weaknesses that everyone genereally knows when it’s time to tap out (to use a phrase that has now given its name to a popular UFC-inspired clothing line, one facet of the ever-expanding UFC empire).

Yet Malice, in his roll as organizer and clarifier of Hughes’ tale, reportedly modeled the structure of the book not after books about boxing or warfare but after the biography of one of the stars of Golden Girls, that show being a Malice favorite — and combative in its own way (thus the “metaphorical truth” one senses in something like this painting of Bea Arthur wrestling velociraptors). Like a Canadian making jokes about the U.S., though, Malice’s nerdy and urban outsider perspective on this very jocky and rural tale no doubt helped to foreground Hughes’ most illustrative anecdotes.

Along the way, we also hear how one of Hughes’ greatest personal successes was his decision to become Born Again, better enabling this violence-prone, sex-prone son of an angry, uncommunicative father to be a loving husband, parent, and churchgoer — who just happens to make his living beating up opponents. Some play the oboe, Matt Hughes chokes people until they pass out. We all have different skills.

P.S. Of course, there are always strange tales that didn’t quite fit into the book — and for some of those, again, please join us this week at Lolita Bar. There will be neither physical combat nor refereeing (which is to say, our usual moderator Michel Evanchik will be sitting in the audience for this one), but I expect a burlier than usual audience and a revealing look at a different, more primal world — sort of like how I felt taking a couple hours away from my usual writing about libertarian topics to go see Gladiator a few years back.

P.P.S. And since today is New Year’s Day, I leave you with a link to the U2 video by that title — sung by Ultimate Fighting fan Bono, of course. It’s as cold and wintry and martially-inclined as was my strange teenage soul (but for those keeping track, Malice doesn’t like U2 even though he was a New Wave DJ in college).

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