No Holds Barred: The Complete History of Mixed Martial Arts in America by Clyde Gentry III, 2/5
Relentlessly packed with names, dates, dry facts and endless acronyms, this book is about as appealing to read as the world’s longest Wikipedia article (a comparison that could be considered a compliment if you account for the fact that it was written before Wikipedia even existed). The author has performed an impressive amount of research, including a jaw-dropping 125 interviews, but unfortunately seems completely incapable of telling a story, even when equipped with firsthand knowledge of the dramatic events and larger-than-life personas associated with the history of MMA. His blow-by-blow descriptions of classic fights are excruciatingly boring and he somehow sucks all the life out of even the most amusing or astonishing anecdotes. Adding to the faults of the original edition is a half-assed update written 10 years later that sees the clumsy addition of multiple-page “sidebars” (literally marked with bars) that completely disrupt the text’s already inadequate narrative flow, two off-focus chapters tacked onto the end, and multiple references to himself awkwardly as “this author” that made me grind my teeth every time they assaulted my eyes. In the preface, the author mentions that this book was supposed to be the first in a series that “never happened” and, after reading it, there is no question why.
Why I read it: A gift from my dad, accompanied with the warning “it will probably be terrible.”
This entertaining account of a middle-aged writer’s transformation from overweight fixer-upper with a distant background in kung fu to competent mixed martial artist is impossible to put down–I started it at 2am last night, meaning to read just a little before falling asleep, and the next thing I knew it was 2.5 hours later and I was on the last page. Polly is a good writer with a great sense of humour and seems to know how to embellish a story without exaggerating it all out of proportion. Famous figures in MMA appear throughout and I’ll admit to a few fan-girl squeals along the way. Probably the fact that I’ve been doing a lot of kickboxing, grappling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu this year made the book even more enjoyable–a lot of Polly’s experiences as a beginner were hilariously relatable. I enjoyed the book so much that I’ve already ordered Polly’s American Shaolin from the library.
[Why I read it: I came across it while looking for BJJ books in the library database.]