There's something primal about sports. At the professional level, it's a calling like no other.
Everything you hold dear—your pride, your passion, your self worth, your soul, is laid bare in front of an audience of thousands, even millions. Every success, and every failure, is a public spectacle. You win and lose before your fellow man. There is no hiding in sports.
It breeds a viciousness, a desperate need to win at all costs. As George Orwell famously said, "it's war minus the shooting." And that was about soccer. Imagine if he had seen cage fighting.
No other athletes compete on such a primordial scale. Stripped to the waist, feet bare, it's one man against another. The ultimate challenge.
Being a cage fighter is a different proposition than being an athlete in any other sport. While you might contend that every sport is a stand-in for war, in other competitions the battle is waged on a more metaphorical level.
Yes, LeBron and Durant battled for the title, waging war over whose team would be crowned champion. But what they really did was altogether different. They tried to put a round leather ball in a hoop. Nothing more, nothing less.
A fighter's purpose is very clear: to turn off his foe's brain by punch, kick, or choke. Or, barring that, twist his opponent's limbs until he decides he can't fight anymore. There is no purpose to it other than pain—punishment is a fighter's life.
There is a violence inherent in mixed martial arts—I realize that seems obvious, but bear with me here. It's this incredible level of physical violence that has created the culture that surrounds MMA.
To cloud the true nature of what they do, fighter's glaze every moment of the pre-fight preparations in a haze of respect and courtesy. They say the "right" things about their opponent. They stress the sporting nature of the contest. And they dance far, far away from the most basic tenant of their sport—the fact that they have been training for eight weeks to put a serious hurting on their opponent.
They plan on beating the other guy up. Not beating him at a game. Punching him in the face. Ripping his arm to shreds. Choking him until he passes out. Simulating combat. Simulating death.
That's what winning is in mixed martial arts. But typically, no one wants to say it. That's what made the angry tirade of middleweight champion Anderson Silva during this week's media conference call for UFC 148 so remarkable.
"I'm going to break every bone in his face and all of the teeth in his mouth," the champion proclaimed. "...I'm going to break his arms, his legs and every one of his teeth."
Opponent Chael Sonnen was not amused.
“Well, it was nice to see the real Anderson come through," he told UFC Tonight. "The guy is a dirt bag, like I’ve told you for years. He made a lot of statements about breaking my teeth and bones, but it’s not like I’ve never been to the orthodontists before or had my jaw stapled.
"What he didn’t say was that he was going to break my spirit, or my will, and beat me for the belt. I don’t care if he breaks my jaw, or I need staples, I kind of expect it. I think he was one off from saying he would give me a knuckle-sandwich, I’m just glad the real Anderson came out.”
Silva's sentiments were ugly. It was a truth normally left unspoken. And it certainly got people talking. Because fans and the press, deep inside, understand what the fight game is really about. We just can't admit it, even to ourselves, because of what it might say about us as people, about us as a culture.
What we are going to see on July 7th isn't just an athletic contest. It's a fist-fight between two of the most capable men in the world. This isn't a battle over a championship belt. It's a fight for pride, respect and supremacy.
These two men are going to be locked in a steel cage. They will try their best to hurt each other. Not just to win, but to hurt each other physically.
Personally, I can't wait to see it. And I don't care what that says about me.