No Holds Barred
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.”
A Fighter’s Heart
A Fighter’s Heart: One Man’s Journey Through the World of Fighting by Sam Sheridan, 3/5
Sheridan put a lot of blood and sweat into this appropriately self-deprecating foray into the world of martial arts, which sees him train Muay Thai at the Fairtex camp, MMA with Pat Miletich of UFC fame, BJJ with Brazilian Top Team, tai chi, and boxing with Virgil Hunter and Andre Ward, before veering off-topic for a unsettlingly positive take on the sport of dog fighting and finally ending a bit lamely on a Hollywood set. While Sheridan is a thoughtful and competent writer, he is by no means an insightful one. I found it frustrating that he rarely achieved more depth than a men’s magazine article would, despite being surrounded by legends and, as a paid writer, enjoying opportunities beyond the reach of the average amateur fighter. Still, it was an entertaining read and could have been unimaginably worse if written by a less enthusiastic personality.
Why I read it: Jake from the gym recommended and lent it to me.
Tapped Out: Rear Naked Chokes, the Octagon, and the Last Emperor: An Odyssey in Mixed Martial Arts by Matthew Polly, 5/5
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.]
Got Fight? The 50 Zen Principles of Hand-to-Face Combat by Forrest Griffin, with Erich Krauss, 4/5
This in-your-face manliness manifesto was much, much funnier than the front cover lead me to expect, what with its bashed-up author and stupid title (to which Griffin vociferously objected, to his credit). What it is: an R-rated, surprisingly witty, expletive-filled, laugh-inducing series of ramblings that are mostly centered on martial arts and dubious advice about being a Man. What it is not: a martial arts how-to guide or factual account of Griffin’s MMA experience.
[Why I read it: I love MMA and pounced on this after my dad picked it up at the thriftstore.]