“The cage door swings shut, and I’m a different person.” The sweat coming off the fighter is copious. It springs forth from every pore on his swollen flesh to form rivulets that trace the sharp contours of his body and rush to drip onto the soft practice mats that carpet the gym floor. I worry about his hydration levels.
Tommy Tate has been cutting weight for the last few days, and he’s either where he needs to be or damn close. Sitting where I am, cross-legged mere feet away from the warrior, I can see every vein, every striation of muscle. An anatomy student would have a field day with his physique. Me? I’m just intimidated. It’s as though waves of aggression are radiating from this finely tuned machine of muscle, bone, and determination, and they’re crashing hard on my resolve and forcing me to question everything I’ve done with my own body over the course of my three all-too-short decades on this planet.
“Was that your last question?” he asks, blinking at me through sheeting curtains of perspiration. I’m shaken out of my trembling by the softness of his voice, how alien it sounds drifting out of his scarred face.
“Uh, no,” I say in a voice so small it shames me. I clear my throat. That doesn’t help. “I wanted to ask you about the violence.”
“What about it?”
“What does it mean to you?” I ask.
He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. He had been crouching there, like a coiled animal, ready to leap. Now he slumps down and slips into a lotus position with such casual grace that I’m taken further aback by how in tune the man is with his physical self. It’s humbling and intimidating and marvelous, a sucker punch that knocks the wind right out of the sails of my self-esteem. He opens his eyes and grins.
“You really need to relax more, brother,” he says, and I only get tenser. “To answer your question would take much longer than I’m willing to speak right now. Perhaps someday I’ll write a book on the topic. It’s one that interests me greatly. After all, should not the good person strive to live a life free from violence? Away from the risk of harming others, and not for the visceral joys of the flesh but of the uplifting of the spirit?” He laughs a low laugh. “Where is the love between the jabs, hooks, and crosses? How is compassion possible when you’ve got your fellow man in a rear naked choke? Now, I can’t speak for the other fighters, nor would I ever try to. I don’t want your readers to think that I represent my sport or organization or anything other than my own self, because I don’t. I only know what I know, and what I know is this: I do what I do simply because it feels like it’s what I was born to do. For better or worse, for all the suffering that inextricably woven into my life, it’s the path that I find myself on, and I make the best of it. I know what the audience sees, because before I was in the cage, I was one of them, and to some extent I still am very much a wide-eyed fan of this great institution. We see the journey of would-be champions, and winners. Winners via the incapacitation of other human beings, beating them to such a degree that they’re unwilling or unable to continue fighting. There is a great purity in this, seeking that condition of victory over another person. And it’s not a ‘good’ thing, either, but matters of good and bad are best left for philosophers and spiritualists to debate. I’m neither. I’m a fighter, and my world is blood and pain. I believe that many of us are born to fight, and the world has adapted to facilitate us by offering these gladiatorial arenas in which to exercise our primal desires. Without this sport I don’t know where I’d be or what I’d be doing. Maybe I’d be living a monastic existence filled with real, harmless love. Perhaps in the next life.” He sighs. “I’ve already said more than I wanted to.”
I thank him for his time and stand up to go. He rises with more grace than I could ever muster and claps me gently on the shoulder. “Some of us fight,” he says, and with that he’s given me the title for the article. I smile, and leave.
2015.01.03 – 2023.08.04