The Beginning…

Monday, December 12th, 2011 by Tony Reid

The moment was finally here. We, as red blooded Americans, between 14 and 16 years old, were waiting with great anticipation for this crazy spectacle to start. My friend’s dad had recently won the lottery so he was always willing to pay for us to get every pay per view event a high school freshman kid would want: Survivor Series, Summer Slam and of course, Wrestlemania. But this was supposed to be different. These guys are going to fight, for real. We had to see this! So there we were, a bunch of us huddled up around the TV. Bowls of chips, popcorn, some pizza, soda and other beverages high school freshman shouldn’t legally be drinking. We got set to watch Karate Masters who could kill a man with a single pinky finger fight boxers and wrestlers who actually wrestled. They would randomly lock horns with undefeated street fighters with records of 300-0 with 300 kills. Being so dangerous to mankind we had to openly wonder how these lethal maniacs were not in jail. Ok, so maybe their records weren’t completely accurate. We also saw Sumo wrestlers, Savate practitioners and even Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. What the hell is Jiu Jitsu? And who is that skinny little Brazilian dude? It all became very real very quickly. When the very first fight in the sports existence has a spectator in the third row becoming the proud new owner of one of the competitor’s teeth, you know it’s real. Some might even say as real as it gets. And all this happens in a cage? How hardcore can you get? Who needs WWF and the fake steel cage matches when you can watch real fights? The characters and personalities involved in the UFC in the early days were priceless. Now we all know the Gracies, Shamrocks, Severns and Fryes of the world but equally as interesting and entertaining were the Art Jimmersons, Harold Howards, Keith Hackneys, Emmanuel Yarbroughs and Joe Sons of this same world (Who could forget Joe Son Do?). How about that Kimo guy carrying a cross on his back as he walked to the Octagon? Don’t forget about Rich “The G-Man” Goins, Bruce Beck, or Jim Brown and his colorful headwear. Last but not least is my love and admiration of Jeff Blatnick and his prolific sweat glands.  I could go on and on. All joking aside, those were the great details, the nut shots, the hair pulling, the stomps, the cage holding, the hitting to the back of the head, the gis, the sweatpants, the sneakers, the one boxing glove and the fine points that helped make our sport what it is today. They are called growing pains, my friends and in this case it is meant in the truest sense of the word. The sport was built off the backs of the pioneers of the early days, inside the cage and outside of it. This was a historic, monumental and beautiful time in the development of the great sport we love today. This was our dirt track, this was our leather helmet, and this was our peach basket.

In the early days I was just happy to see a good fight but as I grew and as the sport grew the very basic foundation of the sport became more and more appealing to me. It was so real, so pure in that it pits one man against another man and they are literally locked in a cage. At first glance that sounds incredibly barbaric and inhumane but if you dig past the dirt on the surface you will find the gold and diamonds underneath. With such discipline, such honor, such courage and something so pure you can’t help but be an admiring fan. These warriors walked to a cage to fight another man with little or no knowledge of that other man, his background or his style. Can you imagine the intestinal fortitude it took to do that? This is the truest sense of sport, of self, of honesty and of truth. The fighter can’t blame a teammate for dropping a pass; they can’t blame someone else for pitching a bad game, for missing a shot or for anything else for that matter. It all falls on their shoulders good or bad, win lose or draw. All praise, all glory, all adulation go to the winner and the defeated man shoulders responsibility for any shortcomings, and 99% of the time they do it with class, even in the early days. How can you not respect that?

The basics and foundations of most, if not all martial arts disciplines, are qualities such as Honor, Respect, Honesty, Work Ethic and Warrior Spirit coupled with the open mindedness to learn and improve constantly. It’s about looking within yourself to see what you can do better, what you can learn to become a better person day after day after day. These are great qualities to employ in every aspect of life and traits that are, for the most part, sorely lacking in other sports in this day and age. I was a fan of those “other” sports for my entire childhood and throughout my early to mid twenties. But as I watched day by day, week by week as this sideshow turned slowly into a legitimate sport I ended up following the other sports less and less. I was a Sportscenter Junkie, watching the same episode over and over every morning, never missing a baseball game in the summer or a football game on Saturday or Sunday during the fall and winter. But my attention and love of sport permanently shifted, little by little every day toward mixed martial arts, until I was no longer watching any other sport. This little freak show had grown and become a passion to me, something bordering on obsession and most definitely a way of life. I have a strange feeling I’m not the only one.