In lieu of fights, MMA DVDs, books could keep your attention
Like Water follows Anderson Silva leading up to a fight against Chael Sonnen
Fightville depicts life in a Louisiana MMA gym and minor-league fight promotion
Two leading MMA book titles are The Voice of Reason and The Laws of the Ring
With the UFC 151 fights you were counting on to help get you through this long weekend having been canceled, how will you manage to amuse yourself? One way to pass a few hours is to settle into a comfortable chair and watch a movie or read a book.
Oh, it's combative entertainment you crave? Well, the suggestion doesn't change a bit.
Let's put this in terms you'll find familiar and perhaps even comforting, by building a fight card that pits a pair of MMA-related DVD releases in the main event and a couple of fighter-penned books in the co-main.
Like Water vs. Fightville
Tale of the tape: Like Water (75 minutes, $19.98, Lionsgate), directed by Pablo Croce, follows UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva in the weeks leading up to his 2010 title defense against Chael Sonnen; Fightville (85 minutes, $24.98, MPI Home Video), directed by Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker, depicts life in a Louisiana MMA gym and local minor-league fight promotion, focusing on two young athletes, one of them Dustin Poirier, who has since moved up to the UFC.
Key matchup: One film is about the sport's biggest star, the other about rough-around-the-edges unknowns trying to make it in the fight game. Both quote martial arts icon Bruce Lee, so let's go there. In Fightville: "The key to immortality is first to live a life worth remembering." But Like Water takes it a step further, drawing its title from this Lee quote: "Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless -- like water. Now, you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend."
The pick: Do you have friends who don't understand your love of mixed martial arts, don't comprehend the sport's appeal? Invite them over for a double feature, one film going behind the scenes in the life of the greatest fighter on the planet, the other delving into the dreams of young men who need something to bring meaning to their lives and are in the process of learning whether they've found it. After watching these rich, rugged documentaries, there's a good chance your reluctant friends will get MMA.
Like Water is especially fascinating if you remember the buildup to the first Silva-Sonnen bout. Silva was under pressure from the UFC, after having put on a bizarrely lackadaisical performance against Demian Maia. He was a mystery man, a status amplified now that he was facing a man whose loud mouth was capable of drowning out anything the champ might want to let us know about him. But while we didn't get much of a glimpse into "The Spider" back then, it's all here now.
We see Silva as husband and father, as friend and training partner, as professional athlete and human being. As the film and the fight buildup progress, we witness the transformation of Silva from happy-go-lucky to dark and brooding. We see the frustration his manager, Ed Soares, experiences in dealing with the many sides of Silva. For those of us who aren't his manager, it's fun to tag along in what seems an all-access ride. One cool scene is of Silva at airport security, sticking his UFC championship belt in one of those plastic bins that you put on the conveyor belt to be scanned. Just think, air travelers: Your shoes might have ridden in the same bin as the middleweight leather.
There's a championship belt in Fightville, too, signifying a title in the USA MMA promotion, which is decidedly minor league. Which is to say it's a stepping stone to something bigger. Well, it is for Poirier, who has gone on to the UFC, where he won four straight bouts and was on the verge of a shot at the featherweight championship before losing to Chan Sung Jung back in May. As for the other fighter the film focuses on, Albert Stainback, the storyline is not a straight line of ascent. You'll just have to watch the film to see how it goes for him.
Shot and edited with a sensitivity to neither glorify the fight game nor dwell on its more sensational (that is, gory) aspects, Fightville is a thing of beauty. Watching Stainback practice his weigh-in stare-down in a mirror, then walk out for his fight to the theme from A Clockwork Orange, tells you a whole lot about this young man. And the scene of Poinier training for a fight during Mardi Gras time, with clips of him sparring and sweating intercut with shots of Louisiana families enjoying a colorful parade, shows us what sets apart fighters from the rest of us. And nice touch by the filmmakers, by the way, editing the sparring clips so that Poirier is in rhythm with the marching brass band. Details like that really knocked me out.
The Voice of Reason: A V.I.P. Pass to Enlightenment vs. The Laws of the Ring
Tale of the tape: The Voice of Reason (220 pages, $24.95, Victory Belt Publishing) is by Chael Sonnen; The Laws of the Ring (223 pages, $25.99. William Morrow) is by Urijah Faber with Tim McKeown.
Key matchup: Anything involving fighters and words would seem to heavily favor Sonnen, the most loquacious and eloquent figure in MMA. But the X factor here is Faber's "with." McKeown is a ringer, a writer who has co-authored bios with the likes of hoops weirdo Dennis Rodman, diamond talent Josh Hamilton and Pawn Stars wheeler dealer Rick Harrison. In other words, he's been around the block on the mean streets of the Dewey Decimal System.
The pick: Both books are to be lauded for being about something larger than jabs and takedowns. Then again, be careful what you wish for. At times Faber's tome plays out like a Tony Robbins weekend seminar, each chapter a life lesson under a heading such as "Let Passion Lead" and "Tough Love Is an Art." As for Sonnen, he has some things to teach you, too, and in so doing comes across like your dogmatic Republican uncle. Do you have a preference?
One of the strengths of The Laws of the Ring is also a weakness. McKeown sometimes applies too much polish to the prose, such as in the book's opening scene, set at Faber's first pro fight: "I look at the people in the stands and wonder how every roughneck -- and his mother -- found his way to the Colusa Casino, dropped down in the middle of rice fields and orchards north of Sacramento, California. ... Maybe the semi-illicit nature of the spectacle has them amped up, or maybe it's the booze or whatever else is coursing through their veins."
OK, it's not Hemingway painting a Technicolor picture of a Pamplona bullfight, but the writing is way more, um, writerly than one would expect from "The California Kid." I realize it's foolhardy to criticize a book for being too well written, but often as I read, the voice I heard in my head belonged to the ghost writer, not the surfer dude pictured on the cover.
There's no such distraction in The Voice of Reason, which is all Chael all the time. The publisher need not release an audio edition, because the voice you hear when the words jump off the page at you is pure Sonnen. And Sonnen and more Sonnen.
There's the rub. Chael is a lot of giggles when you're hearing him riff on Anderson Silva in a two-minute TV interview. But when he unleashes his wit over 220 pages of shotgun pontificating on topics far afield from the octagon, there's going to be collateral damage. Never mind that the credibility of his argument proclaiming na´ve victimhood in the real estate scandal that made him a convicted felon goes out the window when you see him lauding Richard Nixon in another chapter, explaining away the disgraced president's Watergate cover-up thusly: "Nixon found out, and like a man he tried to bail out his guys." Um, yeah.
That aside, I actually enjoyed reading Sonnen's arguments for why The Godfather isn't as great a film as everyone else says it is (I disagree with him) and why "It Don't Come Easy" by Ringo Starr is a great walkout song for a fighter (I agree). But getting inundated by such bluster, chapter after chapter, gets to be a bit much. So consume this book in bite-size pieces, and it'll sustain you until the next time Sonnen is hyping a fight.
Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the SI.com MMA mailbag, click on the e-mail link at the top of the page.
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