I can still remember the thrill, the pure excitement, that coursed through the mixed martial arts community when Clyde Gentry's No Holds Barred: Evolution was published by Archon Books in 2001. It was like we, as a sport and a people, had finally arrived. We mattered.
It didn't bother us that Gentry's book was only available online (later it found a new home and bookstore distribution). It didn't matter that the book was inexplicably priced at $29.95. We paid it and would have dropped another 10 dollars. Price points weren't the point. This was a matter of pride.
No Holds Barred was the first great MMA book. And then—well, then it was followed by a lot of fluff. Magazines popped up on the shelves, each worst than the last. Glossy biographies hit stores, none of them seeming like anything more than a simple cash grab.
My own book Total MMA received strong reviews, as did Sam Sheridan's Fighter's Heart, but for the most part the MMA literary scene was a wasteland, both in terms of art and commerce.
Until Forrest Griffin changed the game.
His book, Got Fight, was nothing short of a revelation. Forrest did more than run down his career; he entertained us, showing a wicked, filthy sense of humor and a willingness to poke fun at himself. It was the most humanizing, and the best, MMA autobiography to date.
You'll note the use of the word "was." That was calculated. Because I think Griffin has been usurped, yielding the MMA author crown to an unlikely new champion—former featherweight champion Urijah Faber.
I didn't have high hopes for Faber's new book The Laws of the Ring. Although I had interviewed the fighter briefly a couple of times, he didn't strike me as someone capable of teaching life lessons and providing me a plan to take my career to the next level. Maybe it was his "bro, the surf's up" looks that threw me off? A relentless positivity that some cynics might equate with naivety?
Whatever it was that led me to dismiss a Faber self-help guide sight unseen, shame on me. Because with The Laws of the Ring, he has delivered a book that is worth not just your time, but your consideration. It's an absolute tour de force. If you approach it with an open mind, it won't just change the way you think about Faber. It will change the way you think about how you're living your own life.
I hesitate to call this the best MMA book of all time—although that is true—only because I hardly categorize it as such. There are great MMA stories throughout, but it's more than a book about a sport. That seems limiting, because the book is so much more.
It has such a life affirming and positive message, filled with the kind of things that make your skin tingle. Find your passion. Pursue it. Surround yourself with positive people who can help you. It sounds simple. But if it is, why do so few of us do it?
Faber is so perceptive and thoughtful, it really reminds me of Bill Bradley's book about his NBA experience Life on the Run. The Sporting News called Bradley's book a "remarkable book written by a remarkable man." I felt the same way about Faber's book after sitting down with it for a week. Like Bradley, he's incredibly smart, not just about his sport, but in the way he navigates the world. You get the sense that, no matter what he was doing, Faber would be successful and happy. Two things that, he believes, are tied together, inextricably hand in hand.
The problem for Faber will be finding the right audience. Older sports writers would love it, if they could get past the fact that the author is an MMA fighter. It could be that his profession will dull his message, which is a real shame.
I admit, even as a member of the hardcore set, I was skeptical about what I could learn from a cage fighter. I suspect that skepticism will be widespread. Don't let it stop you from giving this book a look. I was raving about the book to my wife and my social circle, despite the funny looks I invariably received. I was taking life lessons from a man who looks like a male model and gets punched in the head for a living.
I was. I am. And honestly, I felt energized, like a changed person, after reading it. Watch out world. Here I come.