There's a lot I could say about the sport of mixed martial arts. To me, the UFC is athletic competition at its purest. Two men (or thanks to the great Ronda Rousey, two women) step into the Octagon and the world melts away.
Your cornermen and coaches can't help you. The crowd, despite screaming its collective head off, can do nothing to intervene. You have teammates, but in name only. They are your team before the fight, preparing you for the challenge.
In the cage, however, every man stands alone.
Alone with all of his nagging doubts and nagging injuries. Stripped to the waist and to the core, naked before the world physically and emotionally.
Inside the cage you cannot hide. There are no uniforms, no helmets, no one else on the field of battle on whom you can defer blame. You are responsible for your own destiny.
Every flaw will be exposed. Your moments of sorrow, joy, success and even cowardice written on your face and highlighted by your actions. The person you want to be and the person you dread to be. Both are lurking inside. Both will come out, like it or not, when you face another man across the cage and come to blows.
I could go on and on. Many have crafted fine works of literature trying to define the passion that propels and explains the fighter's psyche. But there's nothing I could write, nothing my crude skills are capable of evoking, that can equal seeing it for yourself.
Watch Joe Lauzon and Jim Miller bare their souls for the audience and each other at UFC 155.
View the infamous Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar fight from the first Ultimate Fighter finale.
Make it a point to check out Ken Shamrock and Don Frye shorten each other's life span for 20 brutal minutes fighting for money, sure, but mostly for pride.
MMA's purity shouldn't, however, be mistaken for simplicity. Many of the sport's early critics made that mistake, comparing what happened in the cage to a bar fight. Nothing could be further from the truth.
While boxing is rightfully called the "sweet science," it is, even at its best, one dimensional.
In the cage, a fighter is attacking and defending constantly, not just punches in bunches, but the very best martial arts techniques from around the world. Japanese judo, Thai kickboxing, western boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and catch-as-catch-can wrestling—you need an atlas just to keep up with the stylings inside the Octagon.
Of course, all this purity mumbo jumbo, this discussion of technique and skill, is a smokescreen of sorts. Yes, these debates are great. They are the things we grab a hold of, the way we keep a tentative grasp on morality and social respectability.
We tell our families, our friends, even ourselves, that we watch MMA for this display of skill and heart. Sometimes it's even true. But deep down? We are in it for the "V."
You know the "V." You see it in film, read about it, celebrate it in music and poetry. The violence. Bloodlust.
We keep it hidden from the world, but it's also what drives us to watch these human car crashes. How hard can a man be hit and keep coming? How far will an arm twist? What happens if you cut the blood flow to a person's brain?
These questions and more just like them will be answered, and definitively, if you watch MMA long enough. It's during these moments, when a fighter is convulsing on the mat as medical personnel surround him of her and the camera kindly cuts away, that you have to bury the decent part of your soul deep within in order to keep watching.
You decide early as a sports fan how far you are willing to go to watch pure competition. The killing fields of auto racing? The brain-smashing world of boxing? The horror show that happens every Saturday and Sunday (and even more frighteningly, on Friday nights) during football season?
I've made my peace with being an MMA fan. The fighters have willingly chosen this life. I've willingly chosen to watch. They offer themselves up and I open up my wallet. It's an equation I can embrace.
It's a sport I can love, in its glory and its darkest moments. It's the human experience, the essence of man 15 minutes at a time.
It's mixed martial arts. And I love it.