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A Review of The Professor in the Cage by Jonathan Gottschall

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Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 7.39.21 PMCruising the sports section at Barnes & Noble, I was whacked over the knuckles and met by a book’s cover, an eerie, jaw-dropping image, but the title won me over; The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch (2015) by Jonathan Gottschall. I traveled the aisle to quench my thirst for knowledge in combat sports, specifically MMA, and it seemed Gottschall could provide an education I have yet to receive:

One big idea threads through all the chapters to come: While always anchored in MMA, The Professor in the Cage is about the duels of men, broadly defined. (p. 5-6)

This is a book about the “monkey dance,” a term I use to encompass all of the wild and frequently ridiculous varieties of ritualized conflict in human males. (p. 50)

Writing Style

Using research, historical contexts, and hands-on experience, Gottschall artistically scratches out a reasonable explanation for men’s infatuation with competition, the monkey dance.

Sport is another form of the monkey dance-a form of ritual combat that is equivalent to animal contests. (p. 139)

Pulling myself away from the screen in the midst of martial undertakings is more difficult than separating the sword from the stone. I’ve always felt preprogrammed to pull up a seat and cast my attention intently on the screen at the sound of each round’s bell, yet holding my fanfare on such a tall pedestal felt unusual. Gottschall proposed my therapy sessions have been unwarranted:

For example, the biologists Amotz and Avishag Zahavi note that male gazelles don’t try to sneak up and gore each other when they compete for does. Instead, they lock horns and have a contest of strength, balance, and stamina-pushing and pounding and wrestling from side to side. “It would be a mistake,” the Zahavis write, “to call such a struggle a fight. It is more like a competitive sport in which contestants try to show off their superiority while following fixed rules.” (p. 139)

As most engaged readers wonder, the information I gathered about the fibers making up a huge percentage of my being arched an eyebrow: If men can’t help but heave themselves in front of screens displaying opposition and pitting strengths and talents against one another, why does the premiere organization in an ultimate level of competition, the UFC, stand at such a distance from the mainstream? The author attempts to enlighten readers that being the last born may play less to do with it than you’d think:

…as Harold Schechter points out in Savage Pastimes, when it comes to the consumption of violent entertainment, what civilized us wasn’t moral epiphany, so much as simple technological advancement. Movies, special effects, and literature let us consume vast amounts of suffering without the goop or guilt of using real humans. (p. 194)

The craftsmanship of Gottschall’s prose sheds light on the polarity of perspective in relation to a sport like mixed martial arts. With such strong north and south ends of the spectrum, one would surmise a magnetic attraction would pull all sports fans toward the middle of a cage for some high-caliber entertainment:

A fight twists viewers hard in opposite directions. On the one hand, a fight seems like a Hobbesian metaphor for the human condition: nasty, brutish, and short. But on the other hand, a fight displays virtues that can reveal themselves only in dire struggle. (p. 226)

It’s In Our Blood

The Professor in the Cage secured my once wobbly defense when trying to explain my inability to blink or multi-task during an MMA match. For those who believe the violence in MMA exceeds a line drawn in the societal sand, Gottschall transports readers approximately four hundred years into Europe’s history for a jarring account of the horror and massacre dispatched by executioners; spectators would take in the event, and victims’ suffering, as a form of leisure,

…witnessing such spectacles was viewed as good wholesome fun. And since it was morally instructive fun, children were released from school to learn the wages of sin. Thousands of people would flock to London from the countryside to attend executions, buying expensive tickets for seats in hastily built bleachers, drinking beer, and gorging themselves on carnival foods. (p. 189-190)

A far stretch from the sport of MMA, though it’s possible a line of thinking equating the two populates someone’s thought bubble. Those who compete in MMA best reflect what historians would refer to as sham warfare:

Anthropologists estimate that roughly a third of the world’s tribal societies practiced “sham warfare,” which refers not merely to rough sports-or rough team sports-but to sports that were directly based on the typical activities of war. In sham warfare there was no score keeping. As in real war, the winners simply inflicted more damage than they absorbed. For example, in the Marquesas Islands men played a violent game of team dodgeball, hurling coconuts or stones, until one side or the other was so depleted that it had to give up. (p. 164-165)

Securing the finish, earning the win, and achieving dominant bragging rights; whether in a team or individualized sports, these are the moments that set everyone’s hair ablaze. The length at which athletes will stretch to reach their goals and fans’ efforts to support them is age-old:

In Roman times some men were so wild for chariot racing that they hung out at the stables fingering and sniffing the dung to make sure the horses were being fed properly. Chariot racing was a team sport in which drivers on one team would cooperate to defeat drivers on the others. The teams, or “factions,” were divided into reds, whites, greens, and blues, and the fans lived and died with them. Like modern football (soccer) hooligans, or ultras, supporters wore team colors and were segregated at different ends of the city streets, with men of one color running riot-smashing, burning, killing-in enemy neighborhoods. Taking this all in, one Roman wrote that chariot-racing fans appeared to be “under the influence of some maniacal drug.” (p. 161)

If Gottschall is correct about this ancient monkey dance with roots tracing into the animal kingdom, sports, as an organ, should only function in the skin pulled over the skeletal frame:

Ritual combat is extremely common across species, but it’s usually limited to individual contests. Animals rarely engage in team-based contests, as is so common in human. (p. 179)

Rating

Prior to entering study hall with The Professor in the Cage, I would unleash an assault of opinions as to why the fans of team sports should inch closer to the cage, a world where everything occurs, and stays, in bounds. Now, I possess a schema to factually guide more stares onto a brightly lit canvas. For arming me with a wealth of wisdom, I better see the humor in grounding one’s pride and identity on a geographical color wheel, which affords me no other choice than to award The Professor in the Cage five out five stars:

This reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld’s bit about the irrationality of sport fandom: “Loyalty to any one sports team is pretty hard to justify. Because the players are always changing, the team can move to another city. You’re actually rooting for the clothes when you get right down to it. You are standing and yelling and cheering for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city.” (p. 161)

Conclusion

Before crossing the threshold of the fencing to meet The Professor in the Cage in the center of the apron, I assumed that I’d venture along in another story of a guy, Gottschall, discovering a deeper passion for MMA, an already addictive sport. Surprisingly, I gained an acceptance of my own exaggerated fancy of mixed martial arts, and, even though I didn’t think it was possible, I noticed my adherence to the world’s most exciting sport, and its athletes, bonded more tightly than ever:

The relationship between fighter and fan is not one of exploitation. It is symbiotic, not parasitic. The fighter desperately wants to be a hero, and the fan desperately wants to worship heroism-and neither can get what he needs without the other. (p. 229)

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Events

*Live Updates* UFC Winnipeg Official Results

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The UFC returns to Canada for the final Fight Night card of 2017. In the cold of Winnipeg, Manitoba, the UFC will host eleven of the originally twelve scheduled fights. Unfortunately, Tim Elliot will not fight in the north country. His scheduled opponent, Pietro Menga, a newcomer to the promotions roster, failed to make weight after taking the bout with just over a weeks notice.

An exciting main card will be capped off with a potential contender eliminator bout featuring, Robbie Lawler and Rafael Dos Anjos. The former champions (Lawler at welterweight, Dos Anjos at lightweight) both put together impressive win streaks which dispatched top contenders in their respective divisions. Elsewhere on the main card, Santiago Ponzinibbio takes on the outspoken Mike Perry.

The card begins on UFC Fight Pass at 4:30/1:30 ETPT.

UFC Winnipeg Official Results:

MAIN CARD – FOX – 8PM/5PM ETPT

  • #2 Robbie Lawler (28-11) vs. #4 Rafael Dos Anjos (27-9) – Welterweight bout
    • Result: Rafael Dos Anjos def. Robbie Lawler via unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 50-45)
  • #3 Ricardo Lamas (18-5) vs. Josh Emmett (12-1) – Catchweight bout (148.5 lbs)
    • Result: Josh Emmett def. Ricardo Lamas via KO (punch) 4:33 round 1
  • #10 Santiago Ponzinibbio (25-3) vs. Mike Perry (11-1) – Welterweight bout
    • Result: Santiago Ponzinibbio def. Mike Perry via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
  • #3 Glover Teixeira (26-6) vs. #7 Misha Cirkunov (13-3) – Light Heavyweight bout
    • Result: Glover Teixeira def. Misha Cirkunov via TKO (punches) 2:45  round 1

PRELIMINARY CARD – FS1 – 5PM/2PM ETPT

  • #14 Jared Cannonier (10-2) vs #15 Jan Blachowicz (20-7) – Light Heavyweight bout
    • Result: Jan Blachowicz def. Jared Cannonier via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
  • Julian Marquez (6-1) vs. Darren Stewart (7-2) – Middleweight bout
    • Result: Julian Marquez def. Darren Stewart via submission (standing guillotine) 2:42 round 2
  • Chad Laprise (13-2) vs. Galore Bofando (5-2) – Welterweight bout
    • Result: Chad Laprise def. Galore Bofando via TKO (punches) 4:10 round 1
  • Nordine Taleb (13-4) vs Danny Roberts (14-2) – Welterweight bout
    • Result: Nordine Taleb def. Danny Roberts via KO (head kick and punch) :59 round 1
  • John Makdessi (14-6) vs Abel Trujillo (15-7) – Lightweight bout
    • Result: John Makdessi def. Abel Trujillo via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
  • Alessio Di Chirico (10-2) vs Oluwale Bamgbose (6-3) – Middleweight bout
    • Result: Alessio Di Chirico def. Oluwale Bamgbose via KO (knee) 2:14 round 2

EARLY PRELIMINARY CARD – UFC FIGHT PASS – 4:30PM/1:30PM ETPT

  • Jordan Mein (29-12) vs. Erick Silva (19-8) – Welterweight bout
    • Result: Jordan Mein def. Erick Silva via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-26)
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Fight Announcements

Gilbert Burns vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier Added to UFC Orlando

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The UFC has now added more bouts to the front end of their 2018 schedule. Gilbert Burns (13-2, 5-2 UFC) will face Olivier Aubin-Mercier (10-2, 6-2 UFC) in Orlando, Florida on February 24th, 2018.

Alongside a few other high-profile fight announcements, is the addition to the UFC Orlando, Florida card. The two lightweights will join Jake Collier and Marcin Prachnio, as the second fight set for the event.

It has been a while since the UFC hosted an event in the state of Florida. Last seen by the Floridians was UFC on Fox: Texeira vs. Evans, on April 16, 2016 in Tampa Bay. The card was a success, despite the cancellation of its planned main event between Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov. Drawing a gate of $1.05 million and 2.13 million viewers.

Gilbert Burns signed with the UFC after accumulating an undefeated record of 8-0. His first loss came in his home country of Brazil, as Rashid Magomedov defeated him via unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night: Belfort vs. Henderson 3, in November of 2015.

In his most recent bout, Burns defeated Jason Saggo by KO with five seconds remaining in the second round at UFC Fight Night: Rockhold vs. Branch.

Aubin-Mercier will come into the contest as a winner in his last three bouts. The Canadian fighter trains out of the Tristar gym, alongside legends such as Georges St. Pierre and head coach, Firas Zahabi.

In 2011, Aubin-Mercier was chosen to compete on The Ultimate Fighter: Nations. Competing in the welterweight bracket, he became a finalist by defeating both, Jake Mathews (unanimous decision) and Richard Walsh (rear naked choke). In the finale, Aubin-Mercier lost to Chad Laprise by split decision.

UFC Orlando will take place at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida on February 24th, 2018.

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Fight Announcements

Eryk Anders vs. Lyoto Machida Officially Headlines UFC Belem

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Eryk Anders vs. Lyoto Machida is officially booked to headline UFC Belem in Brazil.

Following his unanimous decision victory over Markus Perez on last weekends, UFC Fight Night: Ortega vs. Swanson, undefeated middleweight, Eryk Anders, called for the match-up with former UFC light heavyweight champion, Lyoto Machida. The UFC heard, and obliged.

First reported by The MMA Kings (@mma_kings.)

Anders holds a 2-0 undefeated record in the UFC. The Alabama native made his promotional debut against Rafael Nata in July of this year. A bout he took on short notice, replacing Alessio di Chirico whom withdrew from the fight due to a neck injury. Anders defeated Natal by knockout in the first round that night at UFC Long Island.

Prior to his indoctrination to MMA, the undefeated middleweight played for the University of Alabama football team, between 2006-2009.

Machida recently returned to the UFC roster after an 18-month suspension handed down by USADA, stemming from a failed out-of-competition test leading up to his April 2016 contest against Dan Henderson.

In his return to the octagon, Machida faced Derek Brunson in the main-event of the UFC Fight Night: Brunson vs. Machida, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “The Dragon” lost the bout via first round KO.

UFC Belem, Brazil is scheduled for February 3rd, 2018, at the Mangueirinho Arena. The card will also feature the flyweight debut for Valentina Shevchenko as she faces Priscila Cachoeira

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