Sweat-soaked ode to and passionate defense of a sport many have compared to human cockfighting.
Brutal as it may seem to outsiders, mixed martial arts (MMA) is hardly any nastier than boxing, and it’s certainly less corrupt. That’s a point Sports Illustrated senior writer Wertheim (Running the Table: The Legend of Kid Delicious, the Last Great American Pool Hustler, 2007, etc.) makes time and again in his pseudo-biography of early Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) star Pat Miletich. Simply tracing the history of this young sport wouldn’t make for much of a book: Wertheim takes care of that in a few decisive strokes and wisely chooses to pivot the text around one of MMA’s most legendary masters. A pugnacious scrapper from Iowa who once had dreams of wrestling glory (a common fantasy in that grappling-obsessed state), Miletich instead spent years in wage slavery and bar fights as his family collapsed around him. Finding an outlet in martial arts, particularly the stealthy and mysterious fighting style of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, he eventually opened a training gym in the decidedly unglamorous Quad Cities region on the Illinois-Iowa border. Wertheim’s awe of Miletich’s unpretentious, workmanlike manner is palpable, and it’s hard to resist feeling empathy for this astonishingly successful fighter who worked his way up the ladder of a no-respect sport but peaked before it achieved mainstream success. Besides celebrating Miletich’s plucky story, Wertheim also tries to slay a few hobgoblins of cliché, particularly the assertion that the tightly regulated MMA matches are little more than gladiator-style blood fests.
By the end of this vigorous history, most readers will have at least a grudging respect for the chess-like stratagems that go into MMA, which is fast overtaking boxing and pro wrestling in popularity.