Rattling the Cage Book Review: A Fighter’s Heart by Sam Sheridan

Monday, August 29th, 2011 by Tony Reid

In “A Fighters Heart: One Man’s Journey Through the World of Fighting” Sam Sheridan attempts to answer the age old question of why two outwardly normal men or women would get into a cage and try to harm one another. He does so by first hand accounts of his time spent traveling around the world to some of the top MMA gyms, BJJ camps and dojos on the road to self discovery through combat sports.  He takes us behind the scenes as a “farang” in Thailand traveling to the country to learn the great art of Muay Thai. He wrote in such great detail that I don’t feel like I would be a “farang” if I chose to visit Thailand.

He also takes us along for the ride as he heads to Bettendorf, Iowa to train with the world famous boys a Miletich’s Fighting Systems. He didn’t mention whether he became a member of MFS Elite but he spent such quality time with the guys that it seemed like he became one of them. One particular excerpt that struck me was the loneliness he felt at his shack of an apartment when first getting to Iowa. After his time as an outsider in Thailand he went to Iowa with no money, food and barely a roof over his head his and described loneliness unexpected now back in the states. He spent a good bit of time paying his dues, sparring with some of the greats and most importantly, gaining the respect of the guys in the room, including Pat Miletich himself (Even though Tim Sylvia joked that he “couldn’t hold his mud”).  He took us on a first hand account through his first MMA fight and some insight into a well known promoter that screwed him over in the process of getting that first fight.

Sheridan also takes us behind the scenes into the weed smoking, surfer culture that transfers into the sport of BJJ from time to time, including time spent with the guys from OTM. He makes a trip to Rio to learn the fine art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He gets up close and personal with legends Mario Sperry, Murilo Bustamante and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.  He was there as Big Nog took on Fedor in PRIDE for the second time. He took his back luck (from MFS, following Robbie Lawler at his UFC 47 loss to Nick Diaz) to Japan as Big Nog took a tough loss to Emelianenko.  He offered some insights to the Pite Boys in Rio, the Luta Livre and BJJ rivalry and an interesting story involving Wallid Ismail and Darrell Gholar, all of which I found at least somewhat interesting. Most interesting was the story involving the human corpse the Nogueira Brothers got their hands on. I will leave that one for the book.

One of the deepest and most well written stories (and chapters) of the book was that of his time spent (1 month) in Oakland training with Olympic Gold Medal winning boxer and WBO NABO Super Middleweight champion Andre Ward. Ward’s trainer Virgil really took Sheridan under his wing and trained him alongside his boxing thoroughbreds and a promising female boxer. Sheridan seemed to develop deep, lasting relationships after long talks at the coffee shop with Virg, Andre and Antonio.

There are a number of key points he touches on throughout the book that really stopped me for a second to reflect on what I had just read. The first of such was his reference to every man as having a “handsome face”. I wouldn’t have noticed if it was mentioned once or twice but by the 15th time it started to stick out. Toward the end of the book he states that “I can walk away from anything or anyone, not that it’s something to be proud of.” That point hit home with me on a personal level. Sheridan did a great job of explaining the “Gameness” factor found in all great fighters, whether they be human or otherwise as he delves into the touchy subject of dog fighting.  Another such point was that of the “I could have killed you” moment after a fight in which the victor most assuredly could have, and might have taken the loser’s life had they been on a deserted island or in a real life or death scenario. Some might find that derogatory but I see it as the most pure form of self expression and finality of any competition or event known to mankind.

After the cage is cleared out, all the fans go home and the fighter is left in his hotel room staring at the ceiling. This is, figuratively, where we enter the mind of Sheridan and share the thoughts at his core. He finishes strong with a great final chapter and a great excerpt from that chapter “I do not believe that men were meant for games, that that is their highest purpose. Work is nobler than play. I believe that men were meant for work, that their highest calling is to build, not destroy or even protect. Learning to fight, trying to embody the virtues of the hunter and the warrior- these things are useful and important, even essential. But don’t be content with being a warrior, be a builder as well. Make something. The true calling of man, real manhood, is about creation and not destruction and everyone secretly knows it.”

I feel the book was an excellent read. Sheridan took us behind the scenes and into the fight game from the perspective of a newbie training and fighting, a cornerman, a friend and confidant and although he had a few letdowns and anti climactic moments as far as his fighting career is concerned, such as not being able to take certain fights and working through a few injuries that limited him otherwise, his points still hit the mark and remain valid. As a fan of combat sports, I feel that the book is worth the time to read.