Imagine the space shuttle taking off with a really fat customized exhaust pipe or the Visigoths sacking Ancient Rome with kicking bass tubes fitted to their 4-by-4s. Or 20,000 supercharged male orgasms. Simultaneously. And you have some idea what it sounds and feels like in Montreals famous Bell Centre tonight for Ultimate Fighting Championship 83, as a spunky young carrot redhead in shorts pins an auburn lad on his back with his heels somewhere around his ears. I think the technical term for this is a full mount. Or maybe its ground and pound."
As the chiseled and blond bad guy with the low-slung shorts (Cam Gigandet) in the recent mixed martial arts (MMA) exploitation flick Never Back Down says leeringly to the doe-eyed brunet boxer good guy (Sean Faris) new to MMA, the good news is that in this sport you can choke, kick, punch, pin, and throttle; the bad news is that its gotta end with you looking like a bitch in front of everybody. Perhaps it was bad news for him -- and for the auburn lad in the ring tonight -- but certainly not for the 22,000-strong overwhelmingly young-male audience for the biggest-ever UFC event.
Over 2,500 miles away in Las Vegas, slapper Brit boxer Joe Calzaghe is tonight defeating light heavyweight Bernard Hopkins on points. In the long-established world of boxing, there is rumored to be an ancient and secret tradition called the perk, or perquisite -- by which the losing man may be required later to literally give up what he has lost symbolically. In other words, the fucked getsreally fucked.
I dont know how much truth there is to the perk, though the breathless trash talk of modern-day boxers in the run-up to a fight -- Im gonna make you my bitch/girlfriend/punk -- certainly doesnt discredit it. But Im fairly certain that the perk doesnt exist in the full-contact brave new world of mixed martial arts, an omnivorous blend of boxing, freestyle wrestling, judo, tae kwon do, kickboxing, karate, jujitsu, and Thai boxing that is rapidly replacing boring old traditional boxing, especially among young men, as the fighting sport. It isnt needed. Because in MMA you get fucked in the ring in front of everybody. On pay-per-view TV. The perk is the whole, er, perking point, man. And UFC, by far the most successful purveyor of MMA fights for the cable TV voyeur, looks remarkably like gay porn for straight men: ultimate fuck-fighting.
In the octagonal UFC cage set up over the Bell Centre ice hockey rink -- octagonal perhaps because it better affords multiple angles than a square boxing ring -- Mac Danzig is still on his back; his sweaty, pumped white torso is flushed with the auburn heat that auburn skin produces when it is aroused. His panting, fetching head has been pushed up against the cage by redhead Marc Boceks energetic pounding, as if the cage were in fact a headboard. Bocek isnt making love, however, or at least not the vanilla kind. Hes hammering the living daylights out of Danzig with his gloves, stoking the crowd into ever-higher waves of frenzy. Although the Octagon is right in front of me, Im watching all of this on one of the giant screens overhead: MMA is mostly a horizontal sport -- one that requires multiple zoom lenses and a big TV to enjoy properly.
Bocek pauses for a moment to grab his partner/adversary by his hips, almost tenderly, and drag him backward while still kneeling between his legs, not wanting to break contact and negotiate that tricky reentry. It isnt, though, out of consideration for his chums cricked neck. Hes worried that Danzig will use the cage to get up off the canvas -- and then get him in the bitch position. MMA is all about fighting for being on top. (Or maybe for being a truculent bottom.)
Unfortunately for Bocek, Danzig succeeds in breaking away anyway, jumps to his feet, and deftly, impersonally, brings up his knee and smashes it against Boceks left eyebrow, which provokes another roar of excitement from the crowd and opens up a very nasty laceration that spills hot blood everywhere, streaming into his eye, across his face, down his chin, and splatters across his lily-white chest -- and all over his opponent. MMA is definitely not safe sex. The ref pauses the fight to examine Boceks eye. If the blood is preventing him from seeing, the fight will be declared in Danzigs favor.
Turning to my beautifully produced glossy fight program, which includes full-page color pics of the topless young fighters (including short rundowns of their vital statistics) arranged opposite one another and their vital statistics, I learn that Danzig is 5 foot 8 and 155 pounds, 28, and a Cleveland native. His feisty opponent, Bocek, from Woodbridge, Canada, is 26, and is also 5 foot 8 and 155 pounds. As someone who has a thing for redheads and short-asses, Id say they are well matched.
The ref continues the match -- and why not? Blood looks good on TV. There are only a few seconds left of the third and final round (UFC fights only go to a maximum three rounds at five minutes each -- about the average length of a porn scene). Bocek, despite the turned tables and his pasting and what must be death-tiredness, is still putting up an astonishing fight. Danzig scores a takedown almost straightaway and moves, as they say in MMA, directly to the mount. Bocek gives up his back to try to save his ruined face from further punishment but is then caught in a rear-naked choke by Danzigs powerful, fatally inviting arms. He taps out (submits) at 3 minutes, 48 seconds.
I dont know about Bocek, but these were some of the longest 3 minutes, 48 seconds of my life. Im aroused and inspired and exhausted and confused. For my money, Bocek won that fight -- morally speaking. Which of course means that he lost very badly. His face is roadkill. He is really fucked. But he displayed that quality you hear people talk about reverently in MMA: heart.
Despite the gore, MMA is generally safer than boxing -- there are fewer fatalities and brain-damage injuries. Because the fight is full-contact, the head doesnt take all the violence. When it does, though, its pretty gruesome. Yet amid all the mayhem, there is a touching tenderness to MMA. Not because it looks to my twisted, queer eye like very rough sex -- but because of that heart business. After a bout is over, most fighters hug each other in a pseudo-postcoital embrace that reenacts the warlike hug earlier, only this time its a hug of warm brotherhood.
There is another huge, manly Gallic roar. The arenas giant screen is now tuned to the locker room; a rangy young blond fighter with a skinhead has peeled his shirt off, revealing a well-oiled fighting machine. The light behind him and his piercing blue eyes gazing into the camera, not to mention the low position of the locker-room cam, give him the cast of a demigod. Its Georges Rush St.-Pierre, the handsome, stylish 26-year-old local Montreal boy who tonight is hoping to seize back his UFC Welterweight belt from Matt the Terror Serra, 33, the no-nonsense Long Island master of Brazilian jujitsu who dispossessed him of it last year with what some people said was a lucky punch.
Weve only been watching the hors doeuvre. All this blood has just been so much foreplay.
STOP LOOKING LADIES! some guy in the audience shouts. Its the weigh-in, a day earlier. Ed Short Fuse Herman, another 20-something boy-next-door redheaded fighter, from Vancouver, Wash., is naked on the stage under the spotlight, a towel held up by two lieutenants to shield his short fuse. Funnily enough, its mostly men rather than ladies doing the looking here in this packed auditorium. Though some are perhaps doing more looking than others: From where Im seated at the side, I manage to catch a glimpse of Eds white butt as he bends over to slip off his briefs (a day later he will fight in shorts cheekily advertising CONDOM DEPOT -- on his butt).
Several guys have had to take their underpants off -- to cheers. I cant help but wonder whether the UFC officials, for showbizs sake, pretend some of these guys are closer to the weight limit than they are.
UFC knows all about showbiz. According to Forbes magazine, its pay-per-view shows have drawn well over 2 million viewers, most of them male and ages 18 to 49. Formidably shrewd, motor-mouthed former boxing promoter Dana White hosts The Ultimate Fighter, UFCs hit PPV series on Spike (a men-only Big Brother with grappling gloves), which has taken MMA, essentially a semi-organized barroom brawl in the 90s, cleaned it up, introduced some rules -- including no stomping, no spitting, no throat strikes, no punches to the back of the head, and no groin attacks of any kind -- and made it into a hot, multiangle, high-impact PPV commodity.
Described memorably by John McCain in 1998 as human cockfighting, and under threat of a total ban, MMA has become a different, more saleable, less relentlessly violent kind of cockfighting in the nurturing hands of the UFC -- so much so that McCain himself recently relented: The sport has grown up. As a measure of just how grown up, UFC -- for which casino owners the Fertitta brothers paid $2 million in 2001 -- is today valued at roughly $1 billion. Cultural respectability has arrived too in the form of a recently published $2,500 MMA art book titled Octagon with a foreword by man-loving straight playwright David Mamet, who wrote and directed the MMA-themed movie
Redbelt. MMA is also coming to major-network TV: CBS recently announced plans to air four MMA fights (non-UFC) annually -- despite the disapproval of CBS chairman Sumner Redstone. Im a lover, not a fighter, he said.
There is a lot of passionate hero worship in the world of MMA, not so much homoerotic as hero-erotic -- or herotic. Straight male fans and fighters themselves will enthuse with shining eyes about my idol, but perhaps thats not so surprising, since MMA owes a lot to those notorious warrior homos, the ancient Greeks. Although todays MMA came to us via Brazilian jujitsu (alas, not conducted in Speedos, as the name may suggest), many consider it the modern version of pancratium (also spelled pankration), a combination of boxing and wrestling that was the basis of combat training for Greek soldiers and an original Olympic sport. With lethal purity, pancratium had two primary rules: no eye-gouging or biting. Fingers were often snapped off. Sometimes death or unconsciousness was the only form of submission -- in other words, rather like this years Democratic primaries.
MMAs younger fans are not likely to acknowledge their sports homoerotic heritage. For most of these young men, many of them blue-collar and swooningly in love with masculinity, gay means unmanly and passive -- and therefore major turnoff. MMA is gay porn for straight men because its violence not only justifies the intimate, protracted, eye-popping physicality of the sport but also preserves its virility -- the very thing that gets many of its fans hot. These fighters cant be fags -- look how fucking tough they are, dude! Its a bit like how in gay porn real tops never bottom -- for the sake of the bottoms watching.
Sometimes the MMA fighter really is homo -- like professional MMA fighter Shad Smith, who was recently profiled in The New York Times. From a tough blue-collar background, Smith was desperate to hide his sexuality at first. I was petrified because I didnt want anyone to find out, he told the Times. And I would try to be the toughest person around. That way no one would suspect. No one would ever say it. No one would think it. Doubtless there are quite a few Shad Smiths who became very good, very determined, very motivated scrappers because they werent escaping to college or opening a hairdressing salon.
The tough-guy image is something of an illusion -- if an entrancing and convincing one. Surprisingly often, fighters turn out to be sensitive, introspective loners -- fags who arent actually fags -- such as Mac Danzig, the beefy auburn-haired killer who is in fact a vegan and whose main pastime, when he isnt turning another lads face into tenderloin, is nature photography. Thats the story of Georges St.-Pierre, who when stripped of his title pendants and clad in designer clothes looks rather metro. As one observer put it: Hes the kind of flash Europunk you might think you could wipe the floor with if you came across him in a bar, but youd be very, very wrong.
You might expect a fight between Serra and St.-Pierre to be billed as good ol USA versus Frenchy fag, but youd be wrong. Because GSP -- to give St.-Pierre his brand name -- is generally considered to be an exceptional fighter, genuinely excellent in several disciplines, or maybe because its such a visual medium, he has begun to look like the David Beckham of UFC, albeit one who actually reads books and is interested in philosophy. His photogenic face and body and his workouts have been splashed across countless health and fitness magazines.
His opponent, Matt Serra, may be breezily unpretentious and resemble an unpainted fire hydrant, but he is definitely no idiot: I think they look at Georges as the Crest poster boy with the sparkle in his teeth, the looks, the physique, the body and the athleticismthe real version of what Van Damme was doing, hes said. And then comes me -- the Joe Pescistyle Heyooo! But its cool, man. Im down with it. I fit in those shoes real well. Im just looking forward to having another good fight.
When he turns up for his weigh-in, a relentless tidal wave of boos greets him. An Italian-American pocket battleship at 5 foot 6, Serra weighs in at 169.5 pounds; he appears indifferent to the roiling sea of audience hatred. The booing doesnt stop when the host offers him the microphone, and whatever he says is completely drowned out. He offers the crowd two fingers, meaning two times and V for victory -- and perhaps fuck you.
Ecstatic cheers greet his challenger St.-Pierre, whos taller by four inches but in stature by several feet. St.-Pierre fluidly strips down to his tasteful black underwear and also weighs in at 169.5 pounds. Offered the mike, he graciously tells the crowd they shouldnt hate Serra and that I dont fight with anger -- I fight with my heart. The two men pose for the cameras in a fighting stance and then they hug, GSP kissing Serras huge neck.
There was no trash talk in the quieter surroundings of the press conference the day before. The fighters had been polite, respectful, even friendly. Cmon, Ive got nothing against the French, protested Serra when the journalists dug up some Frenchy quotes from the past. St.-Pierre, for his part, was touchingly open. Im nervous and scared to fail but thats normal, he admitted. I have butterflies. but I have to make the butterflies fly in formation.
The Bell Centre outdoes itself as Georges St.-Pierre, surrounded by his lieutenants, makes his way to the stage in a natty red jujitsu jacket. Climbing into the Octagon, he peels off his silky, tight black T-shirt. He pulls off his trousers -- he sports tight black trunks with just a white fleur-de-lis on the side of his firm right buttock. It matches the tasteful tattoo on the back of his steely calf.
Cheers turn to boos. Matt Serra has arrived in a baggy black T-shirt with big white lettering: BUY GUNS SELL GUNS -- GUNSAMERICA.COM. The stats on the big screen make difficult reading for Serra: GSP is taller and younger and has a longer reach. Also, he is more popular and better-looking and has nicer pants. Hes the favorite in every way.
The bell rings, and they touch gloves. In a flash St.-Pierre has Serra on the canvas. All that frustration, regret, resolve, training -- and heart -- have exploded. All over Serra. To tire him out, St.-Pierre lets him get up, keeping him within range of his own fists but out of Serras. Then he takes him down again. St.-Pierres purposeful, ominous shoulders rise up like medieval armor, like Joan of Arcs.
End of round 1. Serras eye is swelling up badly. He looks beaten already.
Round 2. Plucky Serra tries a kick.
St.-Pierre catches it and takes Serra down. After Serra stands up again, St.-Pierre lets fly a barrage of punches. Serra is too groggy to parry them. St.-Pierre -- part panther, part lethal dancer -- comes in for the kill, easily taking his opponent down again. Serra offers his back, and St.-Pierre knees him repeatedly, athletically, professionally in the ribs.
The ref stops the match, and its all over: technical knockout. Canada has won. Montreal has beaten Long Island. The butterflies flew in formation. Terrifying formation. And judging by the noise from the crowd, the entire world and its dad have just climaxed.
A grinning St.-Pierre executes a winning somersault. The crowd chants, Fuck you, Serra! Fuck you, Serra! He has been fucked. He was fucked. He is fucked. He is without any doubt the fuckee. But he exhibits no resentment. The warriors embrace warmly, another kiss from GSP to that huge neck. Serra holds St.-Pierres arm up for the crowd, hoists him on his shoulder, and carries him for a few staggering steps.
If MMA is gay porn for straight men, then tonight a part of me wonders whether, for all its spilled blood and mashed faces, it isnt the better kind. After all, no one could really accuse gay porn of having heart.