James “The Colossus” Thompson Takes on the Banks, the Bookies, and Alistair Overeem
When I look back at this story I’m about to tell I feel a mixture of emotions—mostly bad. But, like any good fable or story from old, there’s an underlying message to the story, a lesson learned so the pain of defeat doesn’t completely devour my soul.
So let me take you back to the wreckage of despair that was my life back then and see if a few life lessons can’t be salvaged. I was living in London and training at London Shoot fighters. Well, I say “training”; it was more like the idea of training that would quickly dissipate into nothingness at the sight of the bookies (gambling establishment) and that’s were you’d find me surrounded by other hopeless souls—human-ish males all queuing up to feed what little money they have into the never-ending abyss that separates you from much more than the money you feed in, in hope it spits more money (aka “hope”) back out at you. It wasn’t the best of times for me, to say the least, and the phone call I received next wouldn’t be improving said situation
AN AMERICAN IN THAILAND: MUAY THAI MOTIVATION, GONG-STYLE
I didn’t come to Thailand intending to be a fighter. I came to Thailand because I just wanted to train Muay Thai for a while after my most recent work contract ended. Sometime around month six, though, the head trainer at my gym approached me about actually fighting. After two weeks of thinking about it, I decided yes, I do in fact want to start fighting. I was not, however, prepared for the response I received from my main trainer, Gong, and I started to wonder: Where’s the line between being honest, being motivational, and just being mean? It started back in August …
Sex Sells (But Is That a Good Thing?)
It’s not news that some female fighters use their sex appeal to their advantage—getting more attention and more sponsorships and more non-fighting income and even more opportunities to fight than they otherwise might. There’s no question Ronda Rousey’s sex appeal was a factor in her being able to open up the UFC for female fighters, but if it took hotness to get women into the UFC, then fine—at least they’re there now.
Indian Wrestling and Small-Town Cops
He’s 5 feet, 7 inches, weighs 60 kg, and is a national level wrestling gold medalist. But Sagar Barde has a pallor that’s striking in this cage, which has been erected temporarily in a rundown film studio in South Mumbai. His boxers are hitched up halfway up his knobby spine, his grubby pink kneecaps are one size too large, and a black thread flops around his ankle.
His opponent, Nadeem Farooqi, a jiu-jitsu expert from the city with much more flesh on his stomach, has the crowd’s attention when he shakes out his muscles in a clumsy dance. A Caucasian woman in denim shorts tick-tocks across the ring holding a sign saying “Bout One” and Barde awkwardly steps aside to let her pass.
The Grandmaster: The Art of Kung Fu - Tutorial 1 of 3 (Wing Chun)
Inspired by Wong Kar Wai’s “The Grandmaster,” this animated series will take you through key martial art styles that defined China and the world of kung fu.
While explaining the rules of the tournament, “Sambo Steve” has to compete with the Beastie Boys, who are blaring from the CrossFit class on the other side of the gym.
The 2013 North American Freestyle Sambo Championships are taking place in mid-gentrification east Austin, Texas, among graffiti-tagged warehouses and hip vegan bistros, and two massive aluminum ceiling fans with 10-foot blades are struggling to keep the place tolerable. It’s mid-August. Sambo Steve, born Stephen Koepfer, the president of the American Sambo Association, explains why his organization is holding their tournament here in the unbearable Austin heat, rather than in New Jersey, where it used to be held:
“New Jersey was too expensive. We don’t have money.”
Despite being the largest Sambo organization in the U.S., the ASA is essentially broke. It’s also not recognized by FIAS, the sport’s international ruling body. Ask anyone in the organization and they’ll tell you the ASA has fallen victim to the ethnocentric streak that runs through the Sambo world—the belief that the sport should be run by Russians, even in America.
Chael Sonnen Wants to be a Referee Now
The second fight between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston has become one of the most iconic events in sports history. From the debatable legitimacy of Ali’s “phantom punch” to Neil Leifer’s legendary ringside photo of Ali taunting a prone Liston, the fight has become, in the way that moments will in the blurring fullness of time, something mythological, even mysterious, and significant: the fast-talking golden boy with the strange and scary religious affiliation whipping the terrifying bruiser with a single punch and ushering in a new brash era with him, a one-man Beatles closing the door on one age and ushering in the next.
A “Fightland” Writer in Panama
My trip to Panama for Fightland was mostly spent in a non-profit community center gym training jiu-jitsu and strolling through bad neighborhoods with local MMA fighters. But during the week, all the gringos I came across kept telling me that the city’s resort area, which features gambling and legal prostitution, is “a candy land for adults—Las Vegas meets Miami.”
I think we can all agree that Vegas is a horrendous travel destination but I enjoy Miami so I said yes when my fixer told me he was on his way, aiming to get me good and drunk with some transplants in the city that night.
Moscow’s Real-Life Fight Club
It will surprise approximately zero people that Russia took the film Fight Club really fucking seriously. It is a place that has depressing violence hardwired into its DNA, whether that manifests itself in outbreaks of homophobic abuse, army hazings that lead to young men being castrated, or its president attempting to win hearts by striding around topless in the countryside killing things with a rifle.
In 2008, two former members of an underground bare-knuckle club in Moscow came up with the idea of starting their own IRL fight club. They called it the Ronin Family, and for just $900 any high-powered businessmen can enjoy a week of getting beaten up and humilitated in front of total strangers. According to its founders, the Ronin Family’s goal is to turn educated urbanites into real men by physically and psychologically torturing them.