Greg's Reviews > Blood in the Cage: Mixed Martial Arts, Pat Miletich, and the Furious Rise of the UFC

Blood in the Cage by L. Jon Wertheim
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May 27, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: face-to-fist-sports, biography
Read from May 27 to 30, 2011

This is the first MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) book I've read that is written for people who aren't already fans. The author, a Sports Illustrated writer, sets out with the basic question is MMA a real sport or is it in the words of failed Presidential hopeful John McCain, "human cock-fighting"? (Or is it just merely a spectacle a la professional wrestling? Or is it a barbaric blood-sport?)

The author starts out not being a fan, or even terribly knowledgeable about the sport or the people who participate in it (he admits to looking up Randy Courture on the internet to find out who exactly he is right before his first interview with him, which for non-MMA fans is sort of like if you had an interview with someone like Larry Bird having to google him to find out that he was a really important player for the Celtics back in the day); which is a blessing to the book. Instead of getting a fanboy account of the sport you get someone who has no real knowledge and is curious to figure out what the appeal could be. He ends up becoming enthralled by the sport and the book turns out to a multi-thread narrative that mixes a brief history of MMA with the personal story of the first UFC Welterweight World Champion Pat Miletich and a skeptical telling of the UFC's history.

It's an interesting approach to the book. One, because Pat Miletich isn't exactly the first person you would think of focusing on if you were going to write an MMA book for non-fans. He was (is) important to the sport first as a fighter but more importantly as a trainer and coach to fighters like Matt Hughes, but he's not exactly a huge name. Partly because he stopped fighting in the UFC back in 2002 and coaches aren't exactly celebrities in the sport (and if you were going to go for a 'celebrity' coach you'd obviously go for Greg Jackson (free betting / picking a winner tip for an MMA fight? When in doubt, if one of the fighters is coached by Jackson pick him, his fighters always have phenomenal game plans that work really well against their opponents). There are flashier and bigger names from the early UFC days that could be featured in a story about MMA. The second interesting approach to the book is the amount of criticism thrown at the UFC in all its various incarnations. The UFC doesn't like it's dirty laundry aired and it routinely black-lists journalists whom don't toe the party line. I don't imagine a fanboy author would have given as realistic picture of Dana White (UFC President and the 'face' of the UFC) out of fear that their career of writing about the UFC could be in serious jeopardy.

So how is the book? It's good. If you've done something sort of dumb and ordered every MMA biography you could think of from the library and read them in the past month there will be quite a bit here that is re-hash and that is where the focus on Pat Miletich is a welcome bit of fresh-air. His story is kind of sad, in that he was a fairly important fighter in the early / middle days of the UFC who got left behind and never had a chance to personally cash in on the bigger money that came along later. Some of it had to do with injuries, some had to do with the fact that he had to choose between himself and the fighters he was training at Miletich Fighting Systems, and some with his uncompromising approach to life and way he fought. Like just about every other fighter I've read about recently, at some point Miletich was fucked over by Dana White and Co., (in his case it was getting snubbed at being a coach on the second season of "The Ultimate Fighter" after he had been privately promised the spot) but unlike everyone else he for whatever reason he didn't kiss and make up to be dragged back to have the shit beaten out of him by younger fighters for bigger paychecks (I mean, to have a comeback---seriously, you guys are dragging Mark Coleman out again for a fight this summer? Really? Can't he just retire already). There is also the case that Miletich fought well, and fought to win but he generally fought in the 'boring wrestler' style of dragging someone to the ground and grinding out a victory through superior grappling. Critics of his style like to call it, "lay and pray", because to most people it looks like one guy is just laying there on top of the other guy. The dominant fighter is 'winning' the round since he's controlling the fight but unless you are fascinated by the nuances of the wrestling game there isn't much excitement to the fight. This style of fighting has become less prevalent lately for a number of reasons. One, fans don't like it much and generally a lot of boos will be heard when there is just a lot of laying around on the mat. Two, the organization and the refs know this so they are quicker to stand up fighters who aren't being active enough on the ground (which is sometimes a good thing and sometimes gets in the way of some interesting technical fighting, but that doesn't happen to often). And third, fighters are much more dynamic, or well rounded these days. When in the early days someone who was predominately a boxer met a wrestler, the wrestler could usually take the boxer down and once on the ground the boxer was like a fish out of water, these days there are specialists in the game but no one can compete at the level of the UFC by being a specialist while totally ignoring all other facets of the fight game (ie., everyone knows enough wrestling to generally not be completely dominated by some guy laying on top of him).

Fuck, what does any of this have to do with the book? Not too much I guess. I guess everything I just wrote in the second half of the last paragraph is a nice way of saying that as a fighter Miletich was something of a throw-back to the earlier era of the sport. But as a coach he did help create a Miletich 2.0 in Matt Hughes who is usually given the superlative, the most dominant champion in the UFC history (this same superlative is used for Anderson Silva, too. And I wouldn't be surprised that GSP hasn't been described as the most dominant too, although both of them are more likely to be described as 'the pound for pound best fighter in the world', this particular superlative is used for at least Jose Aldo and Fedor Emelianenko regularly (not to mention fighters currently in the Bellator Fighting Championship, where all of their champions are described as potentially 'the pound for pound best fighter in the world'). Similarly just about every fight on every UFC card has a fighter who has 'arguably the best stand-up / take-downs / take-down defenses / jiu jitsu / wrestling / knees / elbows / hands in all of MMA'. The use of superlatives in the world of fight commentators is astounding), so in a way Miletich did get his redemption in the UFC he just did it by molding another fighter into a newer sleeker version of himself.

This is the one book I'd recommend to booknerds who might be interested in knowing what the appeal of watching MMA is. Oh, and what is the answer to the basic question behind the book? Yes, it is a sport with world-class athletes. No, it's not human cock-fighting and it isn't a blood sport and it's actually safer than boxing and professional football, there just happens to be a copious amount of blood in some of the fights. But if you were already a fan of MMA you already knew that.
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Comments (showing 1-21 of 21) (21 new)

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message 1: by karen (last edited Jun 13, 2011 06:43AM) (new)

karen jesus christ, how many ufc books can one person possibly read??


Greg I finished another one this afternoon, I'm going to wait a while before ordering any more of them from the library.


message 3: by karen (new)

karen two votes for greg!!


message 4: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! when someone who was predominately a boxer met a wrestler, the wrestler could usually take the boxer down and once on the ground the boxer was like a fish out of water,

Remember the movie Bloodsport with Van Damme? It had this kind of scenario. Kumite!


Greg I've never watched Bloodsport, one of the books I read recently (they are all mixing up in my mind) called it the Rocky of MMA.


message 6: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Well...kind of. He was never really an underdog. But he did have to avenge.


message 7: by trivialchemy (new)

trivialchemy Eh?Eh! wrote: "when someone who was predominately a boxer met a wrestler, the wrestler could usually take the boxer down and once on the ground the boxer was like a fish out of water"

Who was the guy who was a "Gracie" Jiu Jitsu expert who -- I think sometime in the 90's -- embarrassed pretty much every fighter in the UFC by coming in to every fight by taking his opponent out at the knees and putting him into a classical grappling submission? I was in a Jiu Jitsu-like training program recently where they showed that video, and it was pretty astounding. Here were these 220-pound kickboxing monsters screaming for mercy from this scrappy little dude, and as a viewer you couldn't even tell what was going on or how it was being accomplished.

It is true that in every bar brawl/street fight I've ever seen/been in, it is extremely rare for more than 2-3 punches to be thrown. The fight will end up on the ground almost immediately every time, simply because of the mechanics of dominance. You want to get in control of your opponent, step one is to put him on the ground.


message 8: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! All my fight knowledge is from crappy, patriotic movies (that are now all approaching 20 years of age...time passes). But I believe it, that strength is important but knowing how to leverage it is even better.


Greg That was Royce Gracie.


message 10: by trivialchemy (new)

trivialchemy Oh shit, so they named that style of Jiu Jitsu after him?


Erzsebet Please stop reading your silly MMA books right now and watch Bloodsport immediately. You will thank me later.


Erzsebet Also, after you watch Bloodsport, you should track down the LA Times article that disproves the entirety of Frank Dux's memoir. I envy the amount of enjoyment you have in front of you (great movie, unintentional JCVD comedy, a hilariously inept but persistent fraud being exposed, etc.).


message 13: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Heh, it's a fun movie.

I'd heard of that Dux thing! And the JCVD thing, about his "records" that turned out to be bogus.


Erzsebet I think Van Damme's record was only briefly questioned because he fought under his birth name rather than his movie name. Also, he was way too adorable back then to stay mad at for long.


Erzsebet I think he still holds many very prestigious cocaine consumption/career collapse-related records even today.


message 16: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg I'm through with MMA books for a while, so I'll go look for Blood Sport now.

Isaiah, Royce was just one of many Gracies, they had already trademarked their school name. The family had created the fighting system a few generations back and if it's not taught at a Gracie school it's just called Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. When the UFC started they chose Royce to be their representative because he was so small and they figured that showing a small guy dominate all the larger fighters would prove that their way of fighting was the best in the world.


message 17: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg Netflix doesn't have the first Bloodsport available to watch on-demand, but they do have some movie called Confessions of a Pit Fighter and it stars "Rampage" Jackson and Flava Flav. I think I'm going to watch this one tonight!


message 18: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Eszebet wrote: "I think Van Damme's record was only briefly questioned because he fought under his birth name rather than his movie name. Also, he was way too adorable back then to stay mad at for long."

Didn't he claim to be world champion of something? Most KOs? I thought there were stats involved.

Hahaa, but yes, the way he always did the splits and showed his butt in every movie (and in one memorable scene, at the same time), was pretty, um, endearing.


message 19: by Erzsebet (last edited Jun 14, 2011 07:38PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erzsebet I had to research this (because it is extremely important, obviously): Frank Dux claimed he had the most consecutive knock-outs and the fastest knock-out ever. He was also allegedly the first Westerner to win a purely fictitious martial arts tournament of such magnitude. I couldn't find anything about Van Damme claiming similar feats, but i hope he did because verisimilitude in '80s action films is absolutely vital to me.


Erzsebet Greg...it is deeply troubling that a pit fighting movie starring Flavor Flav managed to come into the world without us noticing. i feel like the internet has failed us in a spectacular and utterly unforgivable way.


message 21: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg The movie is terrible in every way imaginable. I highly recommend it.


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