Sunday, February 01, 2009

My own private St. Pierre

G-S-P. G-S-P. G-S-P.

About 250 young men chant Georges St. Pierre’s initials in this dingy North York bar. They are drunk on testosterone (although remarkably little else. Many bodies here are temples). Their pretty girlfriends look on, mostly bored.

Sitting in the corner by myself I fight of the urge to join them. We’ve all just watched Georges St. Pierre -- Canada’s George St. Pierre – kick the living crap out of his opponent BJ Penn. Vicariously the rush is real. When you get right down to it we’re a simple bunch, us men. Fighting and fornicating are pretty much what sustains us. There has been plenty of the former tonight. I’m not going to speculate on the latter.

Is it possible to be a casual Mixed Martial Arts fan? That’s the question I sought to answer as I ventured out three hours ago with my laptop in hand. The destination was any place with the UFC card on, Wi-Fi in the room and a carefree attitude about weird guys sitting by themselves writing on their computer. Surprisingly it didn’t take me long to find this nameless dive.

So I sat for two hours abstractly watching the undercard. All the time I tried to understand what it was that so passionately attracts people to this sport. Violence, I get (see paragraph two). But, if you look carefully enough you’ll see that MMA isn’t really all that violent. In its current state it more closely resembles an amateur wrestling match than it does the old school tough man competitions that so many associate with the sport.

The fighters dance and throw punches, but the true violence – the can’t look away it’s too compelling and I sort of feel dirty for thinking that way violence – is rare. I try to watch. I try to stay interested, but soon I find myself reading soccer boards and IM-ing with a drunk friend in Pittsburgh who’s telling me of his plan to be buzzed by noon for tomorrow’s Big Game (tm).

I’m finding the crowd more interesting than the fights. Other than myself, is there anyone older than 22 here? Although I’m sure there are female MMA fans, why don’t any of these guys date them (‘cause the ample amount of impossibly attractive women here are paying less attention to the fights than I am. Their boyfriends are paying even less attention to them). Why does everyone have a shaved head and Asian lettering tattoos?

The mind boggles.

The big fight is here. The crowd’s loyalties are clear (it’s all about the tribe). The volume cranks up. Everyone – me, the girlfriends, the bar’s staff – are transfixed by the spectacle.

St. Pierre is a slightly more ripped twin of 90 per cent of the men in the room. They all dream of being him. His every move in the ring is revered – often loudly.

Finally it’s on. And...

Well, it’s more of the same. Dancing. Feeling out. Nothing much to grab hold of as a casual (although the hardcore find it all fascinating). I sit in my corner wondering what flippant one-liners I can come up with to describe the action. My friend in Pittsburgh tells me about his soccer injury. I feel that I’ve wasted my night.

But, then the second round starts. Suddenly St. Pierre is more aggressive. More assertive. More manly. He’s got Penn on the ground. He’s controlling him. Punch. Elbow. Knee. The roar of the crowd blends with the noise from the TV. Our man is kicking ass, ‘nuff said.

The next 15 minutes are more of the same. Liberal guilt tells us that we should be pacifists. As we watch the Canadian dominate our gut tells us that passivity is against our nature. This is not a time for a rational discussion of anything, least of all why what’s happening is compelling. It just feels.

The fourth round ends with a series of blows delivered by St. Pierre. Penn looks defeated. The crowd screams out for more, harder punches. At the bell they rise up as one. The chants have begun. When Penn’s corner says no more you can briefly feel the disappointment. They wanted more blood. If I’m honest with myself, so did I.

G-S-P. G-S-P. G-S-P.

I don’t join in but I want to. Maybe the next time I will.


Andrew Bucholtz said...

Great post, Duane. That sums up the dichotomy of MMA very nicely; it's at the same time easy to appreciate and tough to really get into.

Yes Im Peter Ing said...

The violence in MMA is overstated.

What MMA is, or can be, is graphic. But it's misleading. Excessive cutting (a result of elbows and knees) and the nature of submissions can give the impression of extreme violence, but it's all very momentary and exaggerated. A blood stained canvas and the sight of limbs being contorted in all manners unholy will do that. But the amount and nature of the punishment being doled out is a walk in the park compared to boxing, where the violence is sustained, focused, and, unfortunately all too often, permanently damaging. MMA fighters will often look worse for wear when exiting the ring/octagon, but it's typically nothing they won't shake off and/or recover from.

In boxing, it's not unusual to see fighters in the prime of their careers lose that prime in the course of 12 rounds. They enter the ring at the top of their game, but they leave it having lost something they never get back, both mentally and physically. Melderick Taylor is the best example of this, but there are many more. It's a big reason why promoters are so paranoid about match-making, and why in the MMA fighters are brought up on a steady diet of tough opponents, while in boxing young up-and-comers are fed gimmes and light touches. There's just more on the line.

I've never seen this phenomenon in MMA. Granted, though, I'm new to the sport.

But the blood and splatter gives off the impression of extreme violence, and this is something your shaven headed friends at the pub tend to like. They enjoy the idea that they're watching the real-life equivalent of Mortal Combat, even if that's not quite the case.

Re: GSP. I want to love GSP. I really do. But – and I'm probably going to get blasted for this – the same question enters my mind anytime I watch him fight: how did this guy vote in '95?

It sounds harsh, but the fact of the matter is GSP's popularity in this country is based on the fact that he is, in actuality, a Canadian. So isn't fair to ask if that fact means anything to him?

His fanatic following is dominated by English-Canadian fans. Even in Montreal, when he fought Matt Serra, Quebec flags were outnumbered 10 to 1 by Canadian flags. Yet despite this fact, GSP remains, from what I've seen and heard, strangely reluctant to throw these fans a bone in the form of anything resembling patriotism. Of course, this wouldn't be too big a deal if his he didn't have the fleur de leis pasted everyone on his body, from his fight trunks to his calf.

I want to be wrong. I'm always on the look out for any sliver of evidence to the contrary – that's all it would take to put my mind at ease. But I've yet to find it.

This isn't an attack on the guy. He's welcome to his political views, and however he may feel about the issue of Quebec sovereignty doesn't change the fact that he seems to be, for all intents and purposes, a decent guy and a fantastic athlete. But if I'm to embrace him the way so many have based on his nationality and the idea that he's representing “us”, then I'd like some assurance that he's as enthusiastic (or at least not totally against) his anointed position as MMA flag-bearer as we are.

sager said...

GSP was born in 1981, so he wouldn't have voted at all in 1995.


Yes Im Peter Ing said...

I actually figured as much, but at three in the morning it wasn't worth checking, nor was it worth changing the post as I saw it my mind. ;)