The levelling effect made the tournaments even more interesting. The big ones, like Pride (Japan), are the best TV you'll ever see. You get everything, from 10-second knockout high kicks to 15-minute gorefests won by headbutts, elbows and knees. All of us who were too shy to put our virgin bodies at real risk in bar fights will always you who are young enough for the classes where bar-worthy fighting skills are taught.
The best we can oldsters can do is troop along when one of the tournaments comes to town. Which is why I wheedled a press ticket to the World Championship of No-Rules Fighting last Saturday night. It was the first time I'd seen one of these things live, and I felt the slight blush you feel when going in to watch live porn. This was bloodporn, and the blush was my homage to that public blood.
Who goes to this kind of porn? It was a sparse crowd, not even close to the sellout the organizers had claimed. It was maybe two-thirds male, and not nearly as young as I'd expected. I'm not the only middleaged loser in Moscow dreaming of being young enough to snap wrists, it would seem. In fact, I was delighted to see Shandybin, the fat bald quasi-fascist Duma deputy we all saw in a fistfight with a much smaller liberal last month. He stank in that much-televised fight, getting kicked before swinging a pathetic stiff-armed roundhouse right that wasn't even close to landing. Yet he stomped into the arena proudly and took his place in the VIP seats as if he were Lennox Lewis .
His link to the event wasn't so much martial arts as cheese. He's a cheesy guy. And it was a pretty durn cheesy event, complete with dry ice drifting around the runway, gas flames and some rather serious firecrackers set off before each bout. I may like to dream about fights, but I'm not crazy about dying in a fire, and I kept thinking that cheap pyrotechnics like these were exactly what killed those hundred-odd heavy metal fans in Rhode Island.
The cheese extended to a blimp, about half life-size, which circled the arena aimlessly while we waited for the carnage to get under way. On one pass the blimp came within a meter to the gas flames erupting from the runway, adding the Hindenberg disaster to the Rhode Island hecatomb in the list of possible horrible-death scenarios.
The music added to the overall cheese content as best it could. You wouldn't think there'd be a techno dance version of that Pink Floyd song about the teacher, would you? Well, there is. It must've played 20 times in a row while the blimp buzzed, the flames whooshed, and the fireworks blasted. By the 20th repeat I decided I actually liked the techno version better. It didn't remind me of Neil from the Young Ones the way Pink Floyd songs usually do. Another hard-earned insight: the Beatles' line, "Love is all you need," is even more nauseating when sung by Madonna. Ten times in a row.
Despite these hard-won aesthetic epiphanies, I was more than ready for the fights to begin. They did--an hour late. But once the blood started spattering the ring, all was well. All was great, in fact. There were 11 fights, and every one was worth watching. I remember each distinctly, and wish I could corner you and describe them in merciless detail.
No-rules fighting is, for me, the only really pure sport. George Foreman once said that boxing is the sport to which all other sports aspire. He was mocked for that, but it was absolutely right. The point of all contests between male mammals is: who can stomp whom? Tennis is a nasty example of how far wrong a sport can go when it sublimates combat into a contest about lines and bouncing balls. What matters is whether Agassi could take Rafter. Who cares about the tennis part?
There's an old joke: "I went to the fights last night, but a hockey game broke out." The reason that's funny is that it inverts the true hierarchy of sports: a fight can break out during a hockey game, players getting back to basics, dropping all the nonsense about sticks and pucks; but a hockey game could never come from a boxing match.