Slice’s one recorded loss was against Boston cop Sean Gannon (don’t mess with the BPD!) in 2004 — a ghastly attritional affair, 10 minutes long, filmed in some unnamed dojo. Huge bouncer-types bristle and roar in the background as the two fighters cling to each other like drowning men. Elegance and science are long dead: Gannon’s swelling face begins to look like two faces inexpertly grafted together. A large person with dreadlocks and a little coned party hat on top of his head interposes himself now and again between the camera and the action. When Slice at last goes down, he is a dynamited building, blown out from the foundations and subsiding into the horizontal. Like children, the crowd chant “One! Two! Three!” — all the way to 30. Apparently that’s how you end an unlicensed fight, by counting to 30. And 30 seconds, as every UFC fan knows, is an age, an era, an epoch. These dudes have Wolverine-style powers of recovery: the man who moments ago was a folded carcass pops up clear-eyed and defiant and scowling in disgust as the judges’ decision goes against him. If you’re out after 30, in other words, you’re really out.
At the higher level, of course, inside the UFC Octagon, we get to see great feats of athleticism. And it is a higher level: after his punch-up with Slice, Gannon was invited onto a UFC fight card and found himself horribly outmatched. Ultimate Fighter 7, which concluded this past Saturday on Spike, ended in an extraordinary display of skill as Amir Sadollah, hanging upside-down from his opponent, submitted CB Dolloway with a perfect “arm bar.” Grappling, slithering, strategizing, reversing the contest with a single blow or a sudden oily swivel, the Ultimate Fighter inhabits his moment with a unique mixture of instinct and cerebration. Like Keith Moon thrashing and splashing his way through Live at Leeds, he is almost grotesquely present. Until he gets a spinning backfist to the head, at which point he is no longer present, but gathered into an invisible realm of pillowy half-thoughts and distant, tinnital bird song.
Headbutts are illegal, as are assaults upon the groin. Were it given to me to trademark a UFC move, I’d probably develop some variation on the war-frenzy of the Irish folk-hero Cuchulainn:
Then the madness of battle came upon him. You would have thought that every hair was being driven into his head, that every hair was tipped with a spark of fire. He closed one eye until it was no wider than the tip of a needle; he opened the other until it was as big as a wooden bowl. He bared his teeth from jaw to ear and opened his mouth until the gullet could be seen.
(From The Tain, translated by Thomas Kinsella.) At the very least, I think it would play well to a cable audience.
There is something essential, even educational, about all of this — the UFC, the YouTube oeuvre of Kimbo Slice. In a culture where so much is sentimental, titillatory, and self-gratifying, the sight of two men wading through pain toward a clumsy but undeniable reckoning acquires a strange nobility. Give me Afro Puff with his hands in his pockets over an entire season of CSI: Miami or Dirty Sexy Money. Give me Big Mac brought low, kissing the tarmac like a tragic John Paul II. When they dose you with America, find yourself a fight to watch. It may not be pretty, but the best man always wins.