First off, respect. Plenty of it.
Luis Fernando Verissimo, 75, is the Anderson Silva of Brazilian chroniclers, a role he has performed since 1969. His writing starts out thin like Anderson’s voice, and invariably ends with a resounding knee—a move one of his characters, the Analyst of Bagé, once used.
In his column from the day before yesterday, published in every major newspaper in Brazil, Verissimo was again in fine form. The target, however, was MMA.
A point of view is like a belly button, everybody has one. But Verissimo’s description of two fighters on the octagon floor is amusing; “like a creature with two torsos and eight legs suffering convulsions,” are the words he used.
The best-selling writer is no layman when it comes to martial arts, in absolute terms. He told us one time that he would watch MMA fights late night during the days of Pride FC out of curiosity, like everyone did. He wrote about Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali on a number of occasions, and on one of them he tried buying tickets, unsuccessfully, to witness the boxing legend’s farewell bout, back in 1980.
“Perhaps it was for the best. Ali’s final fight was a melancholic affair. He could have avoided it. But he believed in his own magic and thought he could pull it off,” Verissimo wrote on the occasion, adding, “But the man will live on in the history of the United States, not just in that of the sport. He was an active participant in a number of revolutions, like the one that gave African Americans new perspectives, as well as the one that ended American involvement in Vietnam. He was always a fascinating mixture of jester and superman.”
Anyone puzzled by the success fist-fighting has seen on TV perhaps isn’t aware of how the first sporting event ever filmed, in human history, was a fight. Another point for boxing. Nearly a century thereafter, though, MMA on TV is still getting battered and bruised.
The fact is that a lot of good folk like MMA. And a lot of good folk detest it. A lot of them still don’t quite get what’s going on when the fight hits the ground. Nothing out of the ordinary, it’s just a new sport, one consolidated in 1993. And yes, it is brutal. But describing MMA as “just violence in its purest form,” as Verissimo did, seems to be a bit overboard. That’s kind of like watching a skier jump a ramp on TV during the Winter Games and saying, “That’s just a lunatic launching himself into the abyss.” There’s technique, there’s training, there’s a healthy dose of courage, and there’s even a bit of lunacy. Nothing too out of the ordinary.
Often, someone who doesn’t practice martial arts doesn’t comprehend that sporting a gi, shadowboxing or trying to take an opponent down, whether through brute force or intelligence, is as edifying and invigorating a pleasure as taking a walk on the beach, swimming in the ocean or chasing after a ball.
Be it what it may, there is a superb lesson and perhaps even a certain contribution to the sport at one point in Verissimo’s musing:
“ … [MMA] is pro-wrestling stripped of its costume, with real blood. There’s no good guy or bad guy, just two fighting machines fighting.”
That said, could there be a lot of good people thumbing their noses at MMA because they see the athletes as being merely machines? For not knowing their backgrounds, what they’re thinking, and what they’re trying to prove with that victory?
Of the Jiu-Jitsu black belts in MMA, Forrest Griffin once worked as a policeman. Minotauro, having been run over by a truck in his youth, is walking inspiration for those who are going through hard times. Wanderlei, who helped his father work the bar, has a lot to teach us. Renzo, one of the pioneers, reads James Joyce between bouts. Toquinho’s training was taking down cattle, and he slept under an overpass before starting at BTT. Demian, who’s fight today in the UFC will air on Fox network in the USA, nearly became a journalist, and he may well have even dreamed of being someone like Verissimo.
As you can see, the sport has its own “supermen,” besides its pranksters, and all of them are fascinating. Maybe that’s what’s missing from the UFC, especially on the big screens during the show. Maybe they’re not showcasing enough, or are too brisk in showing, the human side of the artists in the spectacle, for the accidental spectator to see. Who’s the villain in that fight? Who’s the guy going to root for? That was something that Pride FC did masterfully.
In the end, more drama and less blood wouldn’t do anyone a bit of harm, nor perhaps getting rid of elbows on the ground.
The one saying so isn’t even us, it’s the expert Verissimo, that fan of Ali, Tyson, and one day maybe even of the stars of the UFC.