12:00 AM CST on Sunday, January 20, 2008
Eugene Robinson doesn't sound like the kind of guy that someone (a scrawny book critic, for example) would want to annoy. Standing 6-foot-1 and weighing 200-plus pounds, Mr. Robinson is a bundle of muscle and sinew. He boxed at the Boy's Club in Brooklyn and has since dedicated himself to the study of kenpo karate, muay thai (a form of kickboxing) and mixed martial arts (MMA). He is, he admits at the start of his new book Fight, a "fightaholic." OK, so I'll be careful what I say ...
Fight is Mr. Robinson's paean to what he calls the "fistic arts" and is replete with page after page of color photos of tattooed, bloodied men locked in some form of battle. Within you'll find a compendium of trivia, lists, advice and anecdotage about all forms of unarmed combat, from barroom brawls to boxing. He offers seven pages explaining different "grappling holds," offers advice on how to win a knife fight (first rule: Expect to get cut), as well as the mathematical formula for calculating the force of a punch.
If all this sounds like vulgar machismo to you, you're probably not one of the millions of viewers who tune into the many hours of television each week that features hand-to-hand combat, from the masked wrestlers of lucha libre to Discovery Channel's Fight Quest to Spike TV's popular Ultimate Fighting Championship.
John McCain once derided MMA as "human cockfighting," but in recent years it has become, if not entirely respectable, then at least mainstream. Even Mark Cuban has jumped on the bandwagon and, since September, has offered a weekly MMA chat show on his HDNet TV network.
Mr. Cuban should take note: Mr. Robinson might make a good host. The core of his book is a series of interviews with various fighters. The best known is boxer Evander Holyfield, who muses on having his ear bitten in a fight by Mike Tyson. Elsewhere, Mr. Robinson channels George Plimpton and entices some of the best brawlers in the business to beat him up.
Unfortunately, Mr. Robinson is such an enthusiast, he forgets that many of his readers may not be as devoted to the scene as he his, and his bravado risks alienating the uninitiated.
That is a shame, for there are some moments of intriguing journalism here, such as Mr. Robinson's conversations with a member of the Aryan Brotherhood who discusses how to survive a brawl in a 5-by-7-foot prison cell; the barroom bouncer who offers advice on how to take down a bigger opponent (get him down on the floor where his size isn't such an advantage); and an amateur fighter who inadvertently killed a man in a street altercation.
Needless to say pacifists should avoid opening the book. But most anyone else with a curiosity about this growing subculture – and let's hope for the sake of civilization that it stays a subculture – will be rewarded with a new knowledge of how to give and take and the professionals who do so for a living.