Jonathan Gottschall, the intellectual who embraced MMA and went toe to toe

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A university professor moonlighting as an MMA fighter, Jonathan Gottschall in a photo from Washington and Jefferson University in Pennsylvania, where he teaches / Photo: website/publicity

A 39-year-old professor of English Literature in Pennsylvania, USA, Jonathan Gottschall has published six books and a number of interesting theories. Some of them may even be revolutionary, like the one about the importance of works of fiction in the development of the human race, a theses he presented in his latest book, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human.

In other words, he’d be a nutty intellectual like all the rest, were it not for one detail: his fixation for MMA, a sport he started practicing a year and a half ago, for which his brutal curiosity led him to… step into the ring and go toe to toe just a few weeks ago.

“By practicing MMA I learned, above all, that I’m a man of contradictions. I didn’t do it for personal reasons, but intellectual ones. I wanted to understand why men fight in ritual combat and the reasons that lead a gentle personal like myself to delight in these spectacles of barbarity,” said the writer.

An interview with Gottschall was featured in the latest issue of Brazil’s Veja magazine, more excerpts of which you will find to come:


“Both literature and social sciences have shown that through combat man pursues status. It may seem like a vain reason but status determines where an individual figures in the hierarchies. Being at the bottom of the hierarchy, both for man and animals, is a bad place to be—and of course, it’s an obvious risk to survival.”


“When I started watching, back in the 1990s, I was impressed by the violence of the sport. I couldn’t believe such a form of fighting could be legal. Honestly, the fights turned my stomach. I still get sickened by some situations. MMA doesn’t impose limits on aggressiveness. Besides being the utmost expression of human brutality, it is a very eclectic style, one that accepts modification and is in constant evolution. Other styles, like karate and judo, have established rules, don’t incorporate new moves. I’ll go out on a limb and say that MMA is the most evolved form of martial art.”


“It was my first and last fight. I don’t want to do it again. I was defeated by armbar, but that wasn’t the problem. The worst part was the ultimate anticlimax. I wasn’t sweaty or even tired. After a year and a half of training, dieting and a month of anxiety leading up to my stepping in the cage, I was disappointed. It all went so quickly. I was hoping for something more epic, prolonged and brutal. Something like Homer’s Odyssey or Iliad.”

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