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Review: Brian J. D’Souza’s “Pound for Pound” MMA book is top-class reading

By Zach Arnold | January 1, 2013

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In 2012, MMA fans were spoiled with some really, really great books. For 2013, there’s already a candidate for book-of-the-year that deserves your attention.

Brian J. D’Souza’s new book, Pound for Pound: The Modern Gladiators, is a fantastic read. Yes, it is lengthy (over 350 pages), but there’s just no other way someone could write the kind of subject material that he did without using a long-form writing style. When I say that this book is incredibly well-sourced and detailed, I’m not kidding around. And, yet, the book is a surprisingly easy read for those who have short attention spans… which means it has a lot of appeal for the MMA fan in your life.

The book’s introduction gives you a clue as to what is in store for the reader should they stick all the way through.

MMA fighters often find themselves on the short end of the stick in financial matters, most often being woefully underpaid or ruthlessly exploited. Their desire to win and prove themselves works against them as they risk their health and ease of body for executives and an audience that is all too eager to move on on the next big name. Not every fighter reaches pound-for-pound status, but whether limited by internal or external factors, there’s something unique about each story.

“The mystique of watching a spectacle where either participant can be severely damaged makes it compelling right up to the end. Yet the audience can get up and walk away when the fight is over, while the people who performed as the main attraction are entrenched in an all-consuming lifestyle that they have sacrificed nearly everything for.

“Most MMA fighters wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The book is divided in sections, with each section about a famous fighter — Georges St. Pierre, BJ Penn, Anderson Silva, and Mauricio Shogun. Although the sections are longer than a typical short story, the sections are an easy read. If you’re concerned that a book that focuses on the industry’s business practices is a negative read, think again. Brian does a great job of analyzing the hardships that each major MMA superstar has gone through in order to reach their goals. He doesn’t sugercoat their struggles behind-the-scenes or in the gym, but he does share a great appreciation & respect. What makes Brian’s writings about each fighter unique is that he tells you facts and stories about each fighter that you may have known but forgotten or never had heard before. Rather than a boring summary of fight facts from each bout the superstar has been in, the reader has the chance to see — from a training & business perspective — what the fighters have had to go through in order to make their money in the business. There’s plenty of talk about agents, past and present, and how fighters found themselves vastly underpaid or not making the cash they thought they deserved because of questionable or bad business practices. It’s as honest of a look as you can get at what really goes on behind-the-scenes in a business where a climate of fear & secrecy dominates.

I think the book’s overall greatest strength is the ability to talk about MMA’s past history and frame it in the context of where that history has led to us today in terms of the matches that we see happening in the ring/cage and why certain fighters were able to make the kind of money they have while others suffered in the process. If you are a new MMA fan, a casual MMA, or a hardcore MMA fan that doesn’t hang out on MMA web sites or social media, the book will really open some eyes to the history of PRIDE and how PRIDE’s existence and eventual death forever changed the landscape of the business. The sections on Anderson Silva & Mauricio Shogun really hammer home just how wild & crazy the scene was when they started making names for themselves in the business.

The best section covering a fighter in the book is easily the last section, which is on Fedor. By far the best written English-language book in terms of covering Fedor’s background, his career in MMA, and all of the key players that went in-and-out of his professional & personal life. It’s outstanding reading and will keep you entertained the whole way through. The section especially shines in detailing just what went down in the New Year’s Eve 2003 wars between K-1, PRIDE, and Antonio Inoki. Our friend Dan Herbertson did an amazing job for Spike TV with his interview series featuring Miro Mijatovic, the man behind the boom periods in Japan for the careers of both Fedor & Mirko Cro Cop. However, Brian J. D’Souza ups the ante by giving never-before-accounted details on what happened the weeks before and weeks after the 2003 NYE wars that forever changed the landscape of Mixed Martial Arts. It’s the best summary that I’ve ever seen written on the topic. I could personally write a War & Peace length novel on NYE 2003 and Japanese MMA, but Brian manages to share stories about that time period that no one else has read before. These stories are laid out in an easy-to-understand format, which is outstanding work by the author because whenever I try to talk about Fedor’s career and the politics of it, it’s not an easy story to tell.

“I want to get Kawamata and cut his balls off!” screamed Sakakibara.

“They sent around a couple of guys to my house and scared my wife in the middle of the night,” said Mijatovic. “She called me and told me what had happened and I was furious.”

Many people are dismissive of mixed martial arts as a form of sport or entertainment; the violence appears gratuitous and sickening. But ask someone if they would maim or kill in defense of their family or other loved ones? There is no contest; the desire to protect those closest to us is a hardwired animal instinct.

“I stormed into a meeting room and told Ishizaka (PRIDE’s shadow owner) that if he ever sent somebody to my house again, then he could expect to find me standing in his bedroom early one morning when he woke up,” said Mijatovic.

If you’re a big-time Fedor fan, I would highly advise you to jump on the Brian J. D’Souza bandwagon and grab a copy of his new book. There are some unique stories about the training methods Fedor used to prepare for his biggest fights and how the training cage he used was… in a laughable state of disrepair. The training environment in Stary Oskol was not the training environment at a place like American Kickboxing Academy.

One aspect of the book that I can’t stress enough is that the book does not carry a cynical anti-fighter, anti-business tone. It just tells you what the business is really like, good and bad. The book’s conclusion tells the truth about today’s MMA environment:

“There are many unresolved issues within MMA that require immediate attention from parties with the power to force compliance from promotions. Anyone else who tries to speak up — fighters, the MMA media, sponsors and other stakeholders — can be silence with threats or coerced with rewards.

“As for the crooked promoters, the organized-crime groups, the dishonest managers and agents and all the other vermin that populate the industry, although they rarely realize it until it is too late, they have built castles of sand. Sooner or later, the tide will turn.

“Until the time when a semblance of fairness comes to MMA, the pound-for-pound fighters, along with all the other men and women reaching for that title, will be doing what they have always tried to do; push through the shadows and perform. Fighting not for financial rewards or popularity, but for the love of a cruel sport. A love that is rarely reciprocated.

Pick up a copy of Brian’s book and give me your feedback on the book as soon as you read a copy. I easily think the book will hold up throughout 2013 as a contender for MMA book of the year.

Topics: MMA, Media, Zach Arnold | 13 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

13 Responses to “Review: Brian J. D’Souza’s “Pound for Pound” MMA book is top-class reading”

  1. retzev says:

    “I could personally write a War & Peace length novel on NYE 2003 and Japanese MMA…”

    You must!!!

    Ed. — That’s a “be careful what you wish for” situation. :)

  2. [...] (Read the review here) Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. Tags: FightOpinion, Japan MMA, PRIDE, Review, The Book, UFC Comments RSS feed [...]

  3. Jonathan says:

    Zach,

    What is biggest Fedor secret/story that is out there that no one is talking about or knows about that you can share with us? Personally, I’d lover to hear you compound on the JMMA boom period culminating in the NYE 2003 show and all the players involved. It’s ancient history at this point, but it is so much more interesting then what we are seeing nowadays.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      I think the most interesting dynamic is the relationship with his brother and the issues surrounding conscription. Brian touches upon it a little bit in the book — and it makes for some interesting reading.

      There’s more than meets the eye on the way Fedor’s career played out.

  4. White Ninja says:

    Ive read the book and it certainly brought back a lot of memories for me for what seemed to be the Golden Period of MMA; back in the days of PRIDE BIG 3 – Fedor, Mirko and Nog.

    And yes, Zach, there’s a lot of people waiting for your “War and Peace” about NYE 2003 – you know you gotta do it : )

  5. Chris says:

    Thanks for heads up Zach. I’m definitely going to pick up a copy.

  6. maer says:

    I started enjoying MMA a few years ago. I skipped “casual” status and passed directly to “hardcore” status by watching every UFC, PRIDE, DREAM, and Strikeforce sequentially–though I wish someone had told me to skip the first 10 PRIDEs. I became obsessed not just with the fights but the back story and history, which you couldn’t get from merely watching the fights.

    I’m 4/5 through this book, and really enjoy and appreciate a cohesive narrative that I’ve only ever been able to piece together from stories on this site, CagePotato, MiddleEasy, and BE over the last 3 years. The intertwined but discrete stories of GSP and Penn are handled really well. Each profiled fighter’s own unique intrinsic and extrinsic challenges are made clear and illuminated. The author clearly has a lot of time in the game close to fighters, writers, and other players. The charges against various promoter or manager elements don’t come off as wild-eyed or spittle-flinging as they tend do on MMA websites (save F.O., of course).

    The writing style plays a little fast and loose at times, and could have used some more editing — however, it’s a great read and I would love to see D’Souza take on more profiles or other back-story elements of the fight game.

  7. Fluyid says:

    I think I’ll get this for my Kindle (priced at $6.99). Thanks for the heads up.

  8. Mark says:

    As interesting as the book is in places (and it is interesting), some of the writing contains a ton of pop psychology, supposition and the twisting of quotes to fit the author’s deductions.

    The psychology aspects are pretty bad in truth and distract the reader from the content. Worth the few bucks on kindle but don’t expect top class reading.

    • Steve4192 says:

      Agreed

      The ‘armchair analysis’ of the fighters mental state and motivations was amateurish at best. I enjoyed the book in general, but it would have been better had the author not played Sigmund Freud so often.

  9. Arnie says:

    Every author has their opinion and interpretation. I read the book. This author obviously has some strong opinions on some content.

    I’d rather read his book, where the author was obviously deeply involved and passionate about his writing, than someone who was indifferent and superimposed no interpretation.

    I liked the book myself. Nice to see an author exposing some of the sensitive details of MMA that go unheard.

  10. [...] you’ve read Brian J. D’Souza’s book, then you know that his focus as an author is about the top fighters in Mixed Martial Arts and how they are doing outside the cage in terms of [...]

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