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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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Interviews

Exclusive: Derek Brunson: “Anderson was definitely a little lubed up”

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Derek Brunson fought Anderson Silva back in February of this year, at UFC 208. Brunson would go on to lose the fight by controversial unanimous decision. However, the controversies didn’t stop at the questionable decision, Brunson also claims Silva was greasing during the fight. The Wilmington, North Carolina native, posted about it on Twitter a few days ago:

Speaking with MMA Latest, Brunson explained why he believes Silva was greasing during the fight. “Anderson was definitely a little lubed up. Every time I grabbed him he was just slipping out of everything, and his takedown defense was really good that night. I was definitely curious to know why he was very slippery, which I definitely think he had some kind of substance on his body. He knows I’m a wrestler obviously, he’s an old, savvy veteran, so he was definitely trying to play all the rules and be very strategic, and make it harder for a wrestler to grab him.”

Brunson is set to face Lyoto Machida come October 28, when asked about whether he was worried about Machida greasing, considering Gegard Mousasi accused him of doing so in their fight, Brunson admitted he wasn’t too worried.

Well I’m not too worried, but like I said, I put it out there because I know they’re friends and I know, obviously, that’s kind of what the guys do when they know they’re fighting a wrestler. They want to lube their body up really good to make it hard to grab hold, Anderson did a great job defending my takedowns. It’s because he was all greased up so he was able to stop a lot of them. When I grab guys in the clinch, it’s very tough for them to get away and I’m pretty good with my Greco takedown. He was pretty much pulling through my clinch when I had a tight grip on him and if you have some kind of substance on your body it’s easy to pull them.”

Neither Silva nor his management have commented on the greasing allegations. Anderson Silva makes his return against Kelvin Gastelum later this year, in China. While Brunson makes his return to the Octagon on October 28th, in Brazil, where he looks to add Lyoto Machida’s name to his impressive list of victories.

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Announcement

Ovince Saint Preux Steps in to Face Corey Anderson at UFC 217

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UFC 217 just got even more interesting. Earlier this week, Patrick Cummins pulled out of his light heavyweight matchup with Corey Anderson due to a Staph infection. Corey “Overtime” Anderson was not happy with his opponents decision, even calling out his opponent on Instagram asking how Cummins could, “call it quits so far from fight night”.

The UFC left Anderson on the card, and he found an opponent through the magic of Twitter. Ovince Saint Preux tweeted out directly to Anderson stating:

It didn’t take long for Anderson to respond agreeing to the fight, tagging Mick Maynard and Dana White in his response.

Only a few short hours later, the fight announcement came from the official UFC twitter account.

 

This top 10 Light Heavyweight matchup should add to an already amazing card coming in November at Madison Square Garden. Saint Preux is coming off of back to back wins both due to the very rare von flue choke, he finds himself ranked #7th in the latest edition of the 205-pound rankings. Corey “Overtime” Anderson is 4-2 in his last 6 fights, but is coming off a brutal first round knockout loss to Jimi Manuwa in March.

With such a exciting fight added to this card, what do you see happening November 4th?  Will Corey Anderson bounce back and look to jump into the top 5 of the rankings, or will Ovince Saint Preux go for a third straight von flue choke? Let us know.

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*Watch* Bellator 185 Weigh in: Live Stream, Results

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Watch the live weigh-ins for Bellator 185 here.

Gegard Mousasi takes on Alexander Slemenko live this Friday night October 20th at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville CT. This is the first appearance for Mousasi in the Bellator cage as he looks to secure a title shot with a win over the very tough former Bellator champion Slemenko. Joining these men of the main card will be a pair of welterweights as Neiman Gracie from the famous Gracie BJJ family takes on Zak Bucia in the co-main event.

Full Weigh-in Results: (Updated in real time)

Main Card:

Gegard Mousasi (185) vs. Alexander Shlemenko (186)
Neiman Gracie (170.5) vs. Zak Bucia (170)
Heather Hardy (126) vs. Kristina Williams (126)
Ryan Quinn (155.5) vs. Marcus Surin (155)
Ana Julaton (125.5) vs. Lisa Blaine (122)

Preliminary Card:

Jordan Young (200) vs. Alec Hooben (194)
Costello van Steenis (185) vs. Steve Skrzat (186)
Vinicius de Jesus (170) vs. Joaquin Buckley (171)
John Beneduce (154.5) vs. Dean Hancock (155)
Timothy Wheeler (144) vs. Pete Rogers (144)
Don Shainis (150) vs. Matthew Denning (149)
Frank Sforza (149) vs. Vovka Clay (150)
Kevin Carrier (156) vs. Jose Antonio Perez (153)
John Lopez (126) vs. Billy Giovanella (125)

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