In its opening pages, Jonathan Gottschall, a struggling college English professor, becomes a willing test subject by immersing himself in the body-breaking world of mixed martial arts -- a blood sport maligned for its brutality and culture of machismo. In the process, he delves into the nature of self-confidence, masculinity and violence. What he learns from the black eyes, stints on crutches and hyper-extended limbs -- as well as a near-scientific analysis of martial arts and careful examination of pugilistic history -- surprises him and likely will offend many.
On the surface, this book seems like a man who has watched Fight Club one too many times living out his fantasy of defeating his own cowardice and cutting closer to the fascia of our nature. In fact, every time he mentions the book, I found myself wincing. But Gottschall is more deft than that. He knows he's traversing well-traveled territory of writers and journalists who have either fought themselves, or written extensively about the subject, such as Joyce Carol Oates, George Plimpton and Norman Mailer. What sets him apart is his willingness to to look closely into the mirror to find out what fighting means for man and mankind.
Will I ever be able to watch an MMA event without a twinge of guilt? Or hear the thwack of leather smashing into a skull without recoiling? Or watch Muhammad Ali nod off during a live interview without feeling sorrow? No. No. And no. But like Gottschall, I accept why people want to step inside an octagon or a ring and throw bones at each other. And I respect them for it.