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The Twenty Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century – Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of the Twenty Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century. For an introduction and more information on the series please check out Part 1 of this series. So, to begin…

20. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)

buckminister-fuller-dome

Genius. Visionary. Autodidact. Nonconformist. This is one well-loved figure in American culture. He was also an architect, engineer, inventor, and author of over 30 books. He was an environmental activist well ahead of his time. He designed the geodesic dome, fuel efficient automobiles, prefab homes, as well as something called the Prefabricated Compact Bathroom Cell. He also figured out how make a 2-dimensional map which accurately represents all landmasses on Earth.

Welcome to Part 2 of the Twenty Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century. For an introduction and more information on the series please check out Part 1 of this series. So, discount to begin…

20. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)

buckminister-fuller-dome

Genius. Visionary. Autodidact. Nonconformist. This is one well-loved figure in American culture. He was also an architect, find engineer, sale inventor, and author of over 30 books. He was an environmental activist well ahead of his time. He designed the geodesic dome, fuel efficient automobiles, prefab homes, as well as something called the Prefabricated Compact Bathroom Cell. He also figured out how make a 2-dimensional map which accurately represents all landmasses on Earth.

dymaxion_map
Clearly longitude and latitude are for sissies.

Buckminster Fuller had more creativity than he knew what to do with. He was also a futurist and a great proponent of sustainable resources. His ideas were in high demand by the US armed forces during World War II. His case for greatness cannot be denied, and he did it all with no college degree, having twice been expelled from Harvard. They claimed he suffered from “lack of ambition.” This apparently was Ivy League geek-speak for “partying too much,” the real reason why Fuller got thrown to the curb.

So why is he on this list? Because he was so abnormally close to his ideas that he became his own Petri dish. While seriously contemplating suicide as a young man, he claimed to have an out-of-body experience in which a voice intoned: “You do not belong to you. You belong to the Universe.” After this, he decided to embark on a “50 year experiment” to uncover the operating principles of everything. He wanted to see what one man could do to benefit his “fellow passengers on spaceship Earth”. This was undoubtedly a noble calling, but it did lead to some weird behavior. The first thing he did after this epiphany was to live in near silence for two years. And this was while living in poverty with a wife and small child.

And it only got weirder once he started talking again. Since he was a frequent flier, Fuller liked to wear 3 watches so he could keep better tabs on time zones. He would also wear sheets of newspaper for heat insulation. In 1943, he revealed that he slept only two hours a day as part of his experimentation with polyphasic sleep. He also obsessed over documenting his life literally fifteen minutes at a time. No detail was too insignificant for posterity, it seemed. And he never stopped. From 1920 to 1983, he wrote down or collected almost 270 feet of life diary in a giant scrapbook he called the Dymaxion Chronofile.

Dymaxion Chronofile
Dymaxion Chronofile

It was as if the English language weren't good enough for Buckminster Fuller. He always had to come up with new words.

Yes, it is true that Buckminster Fuller was greater than he was weird. Hence his low placement on this list. However, look at some of the weirdness he inspired. Drop Cities were the first hippie communes in the 1960s where many artists and counter-culture types would convene for their “happenings”.

Drop City
Drop City

Places like these were inspired by the architectural ideas of Buckminster Fuller.

19. Florence Foster Jenkins (1868-1944)

FlorenceFosterJenkins2

We're all told as children to never let anyone or anything stand in the way of our dreams. Yeah, well, aspiring opera diva Florence Foster Jenkins apparently took this a little too much to heart. Jenkins, to put it bluntly, lacked any and all singing talent. Pitch, tone, rhythm, forget it. Her performances could only be heard to be believed. When hitting those excruciating high notes she sounded like a chicken being choked to death. Or perhaps “the mating and/or death squeals of alley cats.” No one outside of a shower stall had ever mangled Mozart, Bach, Brahms, Verdi, and other classical greats like this before. Technical limitations? What technical limitations? No keeping this bird in a cage. She refused to even let language barriers hold her back. Italian, German, Esperanto, didn't matter. She'd botch it all with the same oblivious vigor. And why not? When you're tone deaf, it all comes out like sweet, sweet music anyway.

But what made Jenkins so weird was that she really believed she was great. She put herself on par with the prominent sopranos of her day and carried herself like a real diva. Sure, she was aware of her army of critics. Audiences would laugh at her, often egged on by her accompanist Cosmé McMoon (yes, that was his name). But she didn't care. It was all professional jealousy, you see. One does not stoop to defend oneself against one's inferiors, now does one?

“You? Criticize MY wings?”

As befitting a personage as majestic as Florence Foster Jenkins, her concerts were of course grandiose spectacles. Her self-designed, nigh-Wagnerian costumes included angel wings, fans, tiaras, tinsel, scarves, you name it. One must look one's best for one's fans, don't you know. The woman actually lived the life of a successful operatic soprano and never once realized that she was quite emphatically not a successful operatic soprano.

Only she was. Jenkins' greatness was achieved through her unshakable self-confidence as well as her ability to sell tickets. She started singing when she was 44, and her career spanned 30 years. Sure, early on she financed her own performances (having inherited a fortune). She also took her share of baths at the box office. But after a while, audiences caught on and realized that her off-key shriekings and warblings were a thing to behold. Like rubberneckers at a train wreck, people lined up and forked over hard earned cash to have the once in a lifetime privilege of seeing and laughing at the worst operatic singer of all time. She was kitsch before kitsch was cool. Jenkins' popularity, such as it was, was so great that she even made a handful of 78-rpm records. In 2003 the classical label Naxos collected all her recordings on a CD fittingly entitled Murder on the High C's.

murderonthehighcs
Only $22.83 on Amazon

Jenkins' improbable run culminated in the place where many achieve greatness: Carnegie Hall. October 1944, one month before her death, she performed to a packed house. It is said they had to turn 2,000 people away at the door. She received thunderous applause and went home a success. Was she good? Was she not good? Does it really matter? In the end she achieved the same result as many great singers. So why shouldn't we consider Florence Foster Jenkins great too? What most accomplish with hard work and talent, she accomplished with sheer weirdness. That's something, isn't it?

18. Ruth Norman (1900-1993)

CIMG2766

Oh, what a strange bird she was. Otherwise known as Uriel, the Queen of the Archangels from the Fourth Dimension, Ruth Norman headed the millennial New Age organization known as Unarius. Norman founded Unarius in 1954 with her husband Ernest and then ran things alone after his death in 1971. Norman gained international fame for making outlandish predictions of flying saucer landings that would, of course, never come true. In the mid-1970s, she purchased 67 acres in California where she expected the flying saucers to land. She even predicted how they would land and made a very public $4,000 bet with a British gambling firm that this would happen. You see, these flying saucers represented an intergalactic confederation known as a the “Space Brothers” who intended to restore the lost wisdom of Atlantis to human beings and usher in an era of peace and enlightenment.

space-cad
Hey, Aliens! We're over here!

Did you know that Norman received mental transmissions from Plato, Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy, Louis Pasteur, and over hundred other great spirits of the past? Did you know she wrote the U.S. government offering to use her otherworldly connections to help them win the Cold War? Did you know she was the Egyptian goddess Isis in a past life? She preached past life therapy as a way for people spiritually evolve. She could heal her students in their dreams. She also claimed she was an ambassador for what's called the “Interplanetary Confederation”.

Norman certainly dressed the part, her elaborate outfits owing as much to Star Trek as to Elizabethan England. She was big on ostentatious wigs and sparkling tiaras. She liked to wield a scepter. At Unarius headquarters, she sat on a gold-colored throne covered in peacock feathers.

Uriel_in_white
Yes, she had a halo too.

Weirdest of all, she and her followers made full use of their own video studio for proselytizing purposes. These low-budget promotional videos and documentaries are jaw-droppingly awful. They present the Unarians in all their kitschy glory and made the rounds on public access cable everywhere. In one episode, we travel back in time to 160,000 B.C. to witness a true story. It was the seminal moment in the history of Man in which beatific aliens in poorly fitting bald wigs first abducted our knuckle dragging ancestors and sent them spiraling into the splendiferous heavens.

Beckoning from the stars
Beckoning from the stars

Ruth Norman was weird, no doubt. But was she great? Well, for one, she led the same organization for nearly 40 years and managed it well. She knew how to attract followers. She knew how to play to the media. She was also prolific, writing 80 books. She gained global fame and at one point achieved fringe celebrity status. In 1979, she claimed to have 100,000 followers. We know for sure she had 450 paying students by the late 1980s. Further, Unarius, for all its otherworldly kookiness, was a benign, positive organization under Norman's watch. There was nothing seedy about it like you might find in other New Age organizations.

ruth_and_ernest
Ruth Norman in a not-so-weird moment with her husband Ernest

People flocked to Ruth Norman and stayed with her despite her unbroken string of failed prophesies. That's what sheer charisma can do, and Ruth Norman knew how to use it as well as anyone. Remember, kooks are people too, and for nearly 40 years Ruth Norman gave them a home. And a pretty good one it was, considering that by the time of her death, Unarius was worth over a half million dollars. Not bad for a weirdo.

17. Jack Kavorkian (1928-2011)

kevorkian3

Good ol' Dr. Death. Jack the Dripper. One day in the late 1990s, Jack Kavorkian, the self-described “one man death counselor”, decided he wanted to go to prison. Kavorkian was already well known for promoting euthanasia rights, having euthanized close to 130 people over the course of a decade. But that wasn't good enough for Jack. He wanted to take the euthanasia issue all the way to the Supreme Court and figured that wearing an orange jumpsuit in a concrete cell would be the best way to do that. So he actually injected one of his patients with poison, had it broadcast on national television, and then waited for the prosecutors to call. At age 70 that bought him 8 years in the joint.

Which way to the SCOTUS?
Which way to the Supreme Court?

Make no mistake, Jack Kavorkian was a very smart and creative man. He was also fiercely independent—for better or for worse. He taught himself German and Japanese while still in high school. He invented round playing cards and bicycles that don't need chains and envelopes that don't need openers. He wrote 7 books, one on the topic of philosophy. In the late 1970's he quit a career in pathology and sunk his life savings into a feature-length movie based on Handel's Messiah. He produced and directed but didn't have a distributor. So unfortunately the movie flopped. While serving in the army as a medic, he taught himself how to read and play music. He mastered the jazz flute, believe it or not. His one record, called (ahem) A Very Still Life, was released in 1997.

His most important invention however is what made him famous, the so-called “suicide machine”.

The Suicide Machine
Behold! My 18 karat burgundy plaid sweater vest!

Kavorkian first gained national attention in the early 1990s by assisting the suffering or terminally ill to commit suicide (sometimes in the back of his Volkswagen van). But his weird obsession with death was nothing new. In the 1950s, he photographed patients' eyes in their final moments, determining that cornea blood vessels disappear at death. He also proposed organ harvesting and medical experimentation on consenting death row inmates. During the Vietnam War, he experimented with blood transfusions from recently deceased corpses to the living. In one such experiment, he used his assistant as a guinea pig and turned the poor man's eyeballs orange.

Did you know Jack Kavorkian was also an artist? Not surprisingly, he focused on death, sometimes painting with his own blood. Headless corpses, corpseless heads, flowers growing out of the eye sockets of skulls. One painting has a child eating the flesh of a corpse.

kavorkian_art
So what was it with this guy and death?

Jack Kavorkian is great because he was righteous, he had no fear, and he threw himself into his causes full-tilt. He did what he could to undress the taboo surrounding death and dying, and he tirelessly championed a patient's right to die. It was just his ghoulish fascination with it all that made him so weird. He is not higher on this list because he was a lucid and rational thinker who could back up what he did with reasoned arguments. He also turned down more patients than he assisted and made efforts at counseling each one. But whether he was showing up to court dressed as Thomas Jefferson, or running for Congress on kooky platforms (“We gotta destroy the Supreme Court”), or giving interviews while locked in the stocks, Jack Kavorkian was always his own man. And a very, very weird one he was.

Get me outta this thing!
Get me outta this thing!

Weirdos Part 3 coming soon…

The Twenty Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century – Part 1

In 2012, an online retailer called Woot had a great idea: They published a list of the 50 Greatest American Weirdos ten at a time. As soon as I found out about it, I was hooked. How could you not be? First, I just love lists. Really, Woot was serving up smoking hot slices of Americana Obscura in every installment. Some weirdos I knew. Most I didn’t or had forgotten since departing from the period of my life when I took notice of such things. It’s hard to describe why the strange habits of famous people captivate me. Perhaps it’s because I was always a little off-kilter myself when I was young. I probably had an undiagnosed case of ADHD and just had to live with it. I always knew there was something wrong with me but I never knew exactly what. Overcoming such things is slow and difficult and never fully accomplished. I’ve always admired people who were quite a bit different than everyone else (and not necessarily in a good way) but still went on to do great things.

Well, having seen Woot’s list I have decided to make my own. I offer 20 names, not 50. Given my time and resource limitations, I will limit my selections to weirdos active and in their prime during the 20th Century. They also must be born on American soil (so no Charles Bukowski, who was born in Germany). Of course, I often disagree with Woot. They seem more interested in chronicling the weirdest or quirkiest American weirdos, not necessarily the greatest ones. Of their 39 weirdos from the 20th Century, I include only 5.

So what should my criteria be?

In 2012, an online retailer called Woot had a great idea: They published a list of the 50 Greatest American Weirdos ten at a time. As soon as I found out about it, I was hooked. How could you not be? First, I just love lists. Really, Woot was serving up smoking hot slices of Americana Obscura in every installment. Some weirdos I knew. Most I didn’t or had forgotten since departing from the period of my life when I took notice of such things. It’s hard to describe why the strange habits of famous people captivate me. Perhaps it’s because I was always a little off-kilter myself when I was young. I probably had an undiagnosed case of ADHD and just had to live with it. I always knew there was something wrong with me but I never knew exactly what. Overcoming such things is slow and difficult and never fully accomplished. I’ve always admired people who were quite a bit different than everyone else (and not necessarily in a good way) but still went on to do great things.

Well, having seen Woot’s list I have decided to make my own. I offer 20 names, not 50. Given my time and resource limitations, I will limit my selections to weirdos active and in their prime during the 20th Century. They also must be born on American soil (so no Charles Bukowski, who was born in Germany). Of course, I often disagree with Woot. They seem more interested in chronicling the weirdest or quirkiest American weirdos, not necessarily the greatest ones. Of their 39 weirdos from the 20th Century, I include only 5.

So what should my criteria be?

Two good examples of top-twenty caliber non-Americans would be classical pianist Glenn Gould and mathematician and cryptographer Alan Turing. Both were brilliant and successful. Both made lasting contributions to their fields. Both were great men. Yet they were both very, very weird. Eccentric would be the nice way of putting it.

Glenn_Gould_sarabande_blog
Glenn Gould and his gloves
Gould with his obsessive self-medicating and the scarves and gloves he always wore even in summer and that horrid chair he insisted on carrying around with him.
AlanTuring
Alan Turing at Bletchley Park
And Turing, with that staccato “Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah” he’d start his sentences with, and the gas mask he’d wear on bicycle rides, and that tea mug he’d chain to a radiator to prevent it from being stolen. Yes, Glenn Gould and Alan Turing were a couple of weirdos. And I mean that with the deepest, most sincere respect. Gould’s 1981 recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations is on my desert island list, and Turing’s work as a cryptographer at Bletchley Park was instrumental in determining the outcome of World War II. I know what geniuses both men were. I also regret the early demise of both of them. So I posit that Gould and Turing set the gold standard for any list of great weirdos. The weirdos have to be great. And the great ones have to be weird.

Excluded from such lists, of course, would be those with high marks in one and not the other. I had a neighbor once who seemed to suffer from Asperger’s Syndrome or some sort of personality disorder. He never held a job and would scream into his walls at night. Once he told me that in order to prevent identity theft he’d first shred all his discarded bills and then burn them. No one ever stole this weirdo’s identity. No sir. But like most of us he wasn’t great. So no appearance on the list.

A weirdo must make a lasting impact in order to belong. Roky Erickson is a good example of a near-miss.

rokyerickson
Roky Erickson: “A near whaaa?”

Erickson is a well-known weirdo who, in my perfect world, would rank as number 43 or thereabouts on such a list (Woot, alas, neglected to include him). He was a member the 1960’s psychedelic rock group 13th Floor Elevators. He made strange music, was a vocal proponent of illegal drug use, and suffered from schizophrenia. That lead to some weirdness for sure, such as signing a legal affidavit claiming a Martian was living in his body. But despite being a cult hero in rock music for the past 30 years, he isn’t quite great enough, in my opinion, to crack the top twenty.

Also excluded are criminals, rapists, pedophiles, and murderers. I’m sure Jeffrey Dahmer engaged in some very strange behavior as well. But once you start killing people, or robbing banks, or blowing up buildings, you are not great. You are bad. You have a net negative impact on the world. Therefore, no appearance on the list. There will be no infamy here.

Further, you can’t just be merely odd or have a few strange habits. Comedian Jerry Lewis, according to IMDB, is known for never wearing the same pair of socks twice.

Jerry Lewis: "Hey, laa-dy! Take my socks, please."
Jerry Lewis: “Hey, laa-dy! Take my socks, please.”
Lewis, no doubt, is one of the funniest guys who ever lived and as the former chairman of the Muscular Dystrophy Association he is certainly a prominent humanitarian. He is great enough to make the list. But 14 socks per week does not a great weirdo make. Being a consummate showman of any stripe will not automatically land you on the list either. You can’t just affect weirdness, you have to be the weirdness. So no Liberace, no Madonna, no Alice Cooper, no Lady Ga Ga. Nor will being flamboyantly gay, sexually ambiguous, sexually deviant, incessantly annoying, or simply an asshole. So fortunately, people like Divine, Marilyn Manson, Pee Wee Herman, Richard Simmons, and Roseanne Barr will be ignored as well. Mental illness alone is also not enough. Ignatius J. Reilly might have made the list, had he, you know, been a real person.
Aww, come on!
Aww, come on!
But his creator John Kennedy Toole was just not weird enough. Sure, Toole fell into depression and eventually killed himself. It’s sad and tragic, but while he lived, Toole was a fairly normal guy. Or at least tried to be. This last point is important. If someone says “I’m weird, but I’m trying like heck to be normal,” then that pretty much disqualifies them off the bat. A weirdo must either be unwilling or unable to get over their weirdness. I’m sure with all her cow-hugging contraptions and bizarre dietary rules and cowboy uniforms, Temple Grandin comes across as plenty weird. But she has spent much of her adult life developing ways for autistic people like herself to function productively in the real world. That is not weird. That is awesome.
Temple Grandin: One of the Awesomest Americans of the 20th Century
Temple Grandin: Not weird
What about those who make weird art or hang out with weird people? Well, what about them? Frank Zappa sure made weird music. His work is basically a cosmic amalgam of rock, blues, doo-wop, modern classical, avant-garde jazz, satire, and God knows what else. He also had the baddest soul patch ever seen on a white man.
Frank Zappa and his soul patch
Frank Zappa and his soul patch
But from what I’ve read the man himself was fairly normal. Regardless of whether one enjoys his music or agrees with his politics, Frank Zappa’s decisions at least made sense and he acted more or less rationally for his own good and the good of others. A guy like that really isn’t weird at all.

My final caveat is to stay away from the living. Their stories aren’t over. 35 years ago, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys would have been a shoe-in for such a list. He exhibited all the strange behavior of a great weirdo. He was a paranoid, reclusive genius who often did unpredictable and bizarre things. So what happened? . Today he’s a man dealing with mental illness while still performing quality pop music. I wouldn’t dare call Brian Wilson a weirdo now.

Brian Wilson performing in 2012
Brian Wilson performing in 2012
Still, I want it to be an honor (to some extent) to make it onto this list. So before we move to my top twenty we will need to list Woot’s top 50 Weirdos. Please click over to Woot for some fascinating stuff.

50. Pete Parisi 49. John Humphrey Noyes 48. John “Frenchy” Fuqua 47. Aaron Burr 46. Doc Dart 45. Gene Ray 44. Carry A. Nation 43. Wild Man Fischer 42. Charles Ponzi 41. Maryjean Ballner 40. Crispin Glover 39. Rube Waddell 38. Marjoe Gortner 37. The Ultimate Warrior 36. Hasil Adkins 35. Francis E. Dec 34. Hedy Lamarr 33. Jim Henson 32. Ignatius Donnelly 31. Iceberg Slim 30. Steve Ditko 29. Petey Greene 28. Father Yod 27. Bobby Fischer 26. Marie Laveau 25. John R. Brinkley 24. H.R. 23. Charles Fort 22. Henry Yesler 21. Dock Ellis 20. Henry Darger 19. Howard Hughes 18. Sky Saxon 17. Edith Beale & Edith Beale 16. Wesley Willis 15. Emperor Norton 14. Jack & Rexella Van Impe 13. G.G. Allin 12. Emily Dickinson 11. Dennis Rodman 10. Jack T. Chick 9. Ed Wood 8. H.P. Lovecraft 7. Prince 6. William S. Burroughs 5. John Brown 4. Edgar Allen Poe 3. Andy Kaufman 2. Woody Guthrie 1. Benjamin Franklin

Not a perfect list. There are some omissions, and some folks in my opinion are either not weird or noteworthy enough to belong. Jim Henson? No way. I think G.G. Allin, revolting punk that he was, doesn’t deserve to be there. Emily Dickenson was a recluse, sure, but is that enough to put her at number 12? And Ben Franklin at number 1? Please. Just because he was sexually promiscuous and liked to try weird ideas on for size every once in a while does not make him worthy of topping such a list. Tune in later for Part 2 of my top twenty Greatest American Weirdos.

MMA vs Boxing Part 6

In my final post on MMA vs. Boxing, we wil explore two more reasons why MMA has a greater likelihood of excitement than boxing. Please Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 for more of this series.

Reason 3: Diversity

Well, sure. MMA is more multifaceted and has dozens of more ways to win and lose than boxing. You have kicks, knees, elbows, ground-and-pound, and precious few restrictions on how to apply these compared to what boxers are allowed to do. Of course, you also have the classic knockout.

But how many different kinds of chokes are there in MMA? Maybe a dozen or two or three depending on how broadly you want to classify them. Throw in a plethora of creative leg locks and arm bars and various miscellaneous submissions, and MMA fans have a lot more to be on the lookout for than do boxing fans, especially if at least one of the fighters is submission savvy. When one fighter slowly works an advantage into a winning choke or joint lock, it is like watching an anaconda slowly suffocating its struggling prey. It’s horrifying and fascinating at the same time. Check out Seth Dikun tapping out Rolando Perez in 2009. At the one-minute mark, Dikun executes a beautiful flying triangle choke by wrapping his legs around Perez’s neck and left arm. Perez hangs on for over a minute and a half before tapping.

dikun-perez

In my final post on MMA vs. Boxing, we wil explore two more reasons why MMA has a greater likelihood of excitement than boxing. Please Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 for more of this series.

Reason 3: Diversity

Well, sure. MMA is more multifaceted and has dozens of more ways to win and lose than boxing. You have kicks, knees, elbows, ground-and-pound, and precious few restrictions on how to apply these compared to what boxers are allowed to do. Of course, you also have the classic knockout.

But how many different kinds of chokes are there in MMA? Maybe a dozen or two or three depending on how broadly you want to classify them. Throw in a plethora of creative leg locks and arm bars and various miscellaneous submissions, and MMA fans have a lot more to be on the lookout for than do boxing fans, especially if at least one of the fighters is submission savvy. When one fighter slowly works an advantage into a winning choke or joint lock, it is like watching an anaconda slowly suffocating its struggling prey. It’s horrifying and fascinating at the same time. Check out Seth Dikun tapping out Rolando Perez in 2009. At the one-minute mark, Dikun executes a beautiful flying triangle choke by wrapping his legs around Perez’s neck and left arm. Perez hangs on for over a minute and a half before tapping.

dikun-perez

On the other hand, a slick submission, especially one that comes out of the blue and when a fighter is behind, is breathtaking to behold. The classic example here is Ryo Chonan against the great Anderson Silva from Pride Shockwave 2004. Silva had been beating Chonan from pillar to post until Chonan executed a flying leg scissors and transposed it into a heel hook. Silva tapped instantly. This move can only be seen to believed. Further, this submission becomes even more remarkable when you consider that Anderson Silva might very well be the greatest mixed martial artist of all time.

chonan-silva

Another aspect of diversity is that sometimes you have guys forced to fight in a discipline at which they are not expert. Since there are so many aspects to MMA, it’s likely most guys will be better at one thing than another. It’s also possible that two guys will cancel each other out in one skill set and instead choose to duel in another. Matt Hughes and Josh Koschek were both champion wrestlers, but their fight in 2011 might as well have been a boxing match. Same thing with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Kazushi Sakurba. Two submission specialists ended up slugging it out for significant periods of their fight in 2003. Was the ‘boxing’ in either case on a particularly high level? Not really. But it was thrilling because you knew both guys were a bit out of their element and fighting regardless. That can lead to some wild, unpredictable results.

Was Brock Lesnar’s arm triangle choke submission of Shane Carwin in 2010 particularly artful? Eh. How about Mirko Cro-Cop’s rear naked choke of Pat Barry from the same year? Not bad, I guess. These were finishing moves, to be sure, but fairly ordinary as far as submissions go. What made these submissions unforgettable however was that the guys executing them hardly ever submit anybody. Lesnar was a former NCAA wrestling champion and WWE star who’s entire MMA game consisted of pulverizing his opponents with ground and pound. Cro-Cop, on the other hand, was a world-famous striker known for his potent kicks. “Left leg, hospital; right leg, cemetery,” as he always said. The very idea of these guys wrapping their arms around an opponent’s neck and squeezing their way to a win would be absurd. Yet that is exactly what happened, and it was amazing to behold. Only in MMA, thanks to its diversity, can you witness something like that.

Reason 4: The Grotesque

Since at least the 18th century (in French and German as well as English) grotesque has come to be used as a general adjective for the strange, fantastic, ugly, incongruous, unpleasant, or disgusting. In boxing you get this mostly when one or both fighters suffer from cuts. Their eyes become bloated slits; their faces become crimson smears, and that’s the cue for the crowd to start to go bananas. The truth is that most people who watch fights really like this sort of thing. World Heavyweight challenger Henry Cooper once said that “the boxing public generally are a bloodthirsty lot. They like to see a good, hard fight, and if there’s plenty of gore and snot flying around, they love it.” Seeing blood, we realize that the boxing match we have paid to see has finally degenerated into a fight. We’re not thinking about jabs and faints and hooks and other finer points of the sweet science anymore. We’re thinking about how one guy is about to take the other guy’s head off with a punch. It’s the grotesque that takes us there.

bloody_boxers

But rarely does boxing get grotesque beyond the blood and the swelling. The one exception I can think of is the Evander Holyfield-Hasim Rahman fight from 2002. Whether it was a punch or a headbutt we may never know, but midway through round 8, Rahman emerged with a gruesome hematoma over his left eye. It jutted out over his face like Frankenstein’s eyebrow and stretched almost to his temple. “That is one of the most grotesque things I have ever seen on a prizefighter,” said HBO commentator Jim Lampley. The fight was correctly and mercifully stopped despite the fact that Rahman was keeping it close, lump on his head or no. No one contested the stoppage, but certainly everyone watching has vivid memories of how horrendously disfigured Rahman became that night.

rahman_hematoma

The difference, however, between the grotesque in boxing and in MMA is twofold. It is less rare in MMA and far more varied. Sure, you still have the vivid plasma splatter like in boxing. A recent example includes Cain Velasquez’s one-sided mauling of Antonio Bigfoot Silva in 2012. What an abattoir that was.

cain-bigfoot

More classic examples are B.J. Penn-Joe Stevenson (2008) and Kazushi Sakuraba-Ricardo Arona (2005).

stevenson_sakuraba

It does not get much bloodier than this. Because MMA bouts can just as easily go to the ground where seeing punches coming from far away is less critical, MMA referees are less likely to stop fights on cuts than in boxing.

But it does not end there. In MMA, there is always the promise of seeing bones snap or go out of joint or bodies being twisted in unnatural ways. Truly, such a horrific sight can cause what Joyce Carol Oates calls “animal panic” in spectators as much as any blood-gushing boxing match.

The images below have not been doctored in any way. Not for the squeamish, they are accurate reminders of just exactly how grotesque MMA can get.

Renzo Gracie vs Kazushi Sakurabu (2000). Sakuraba dislocated Gracie’s left elbow with a kimura. Gracie never tapped.

renzo-gracie-arm-breaker

Dan Miller-Dave Phillips (2007). MMA great Bas Rutten said this was the tightest standing guillotine choke he ever saw. It’s the closest thing to a decapitation I ever saw. It’s a miracle Phillips didn’t have his neck broken.

danmillerguillotine_display_image

Rosi Sexton-Windy Tomomi (2007). Sexton took the back of her standing opponent and tried to trip her to the canvas. Tomomi’s ankle buckled and twisted at an unnatural angle. She spent four months in the hospital as a result.

sexton_480_poster

Corey Hill-Dale Hartt (2008). When hill threw a leg kick, Hartt blocked it with his leg and snapped his man’s shin bone in half. He didn’t realize what he had done until after they stopped the fight.

coreyhill_legbreak

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria-Frank Mir (2011). Big Nog is such a tough guy that he didn’t tap until after Mir snapped his humerus in half.

BigNogArmBreak

Mark Hominick-Jose Aldo (2011). Just goes to show, these hematomas don’t just happen in boxing.

hominick_hematoma

Bryan Jones Jr.-Justin Lee Fowler (2012). Fowler picked up Jones for a slam and landed him awkwardly on his left leg, shattering his knee.

Jones-DislocatedKnee

No sport offers the grotesque in a greater and more bewildering array of forms than MMA.

Loving the grotesque is a guilty pleasure, I will admit. But I think it is also a natural one. Anyone stuck in traffic behind people rubbernecking an automobile accident can attest to this. I imagine that there are some people who are perfectly fine with the gruesome injuries one finds in boxing but balk at MMA for being too grotesque. But I cannot imagine that there are very many of these people. Once you establish that you enjoy watching one kind of regulated violence, it seems almost silly then to turn up your nose at another. I’ve gotten this impression from many boxing writers who find MMA barbaric yet wax poetic whenever two boxers spray each other’s hemoglobin all over the ring. I can’t help but think they have an axe to grind.

What I have tried to establish in this series is an objective look at both boxing and MMA. How are they similar? How are they different? How do mixed martial artists perform as boxers and vice versa? There are many reasons for the staying power of both sports, and there are many ways they can each improve. I have always maintained that both sports contain their share of beauty and are socially important given that they give a creative outlet for the violent urges of men (both as spectators as well as combatants). What I have tried to outline here however are reasons why boxers have an edge over mixed martial artists when crossing over into each other’s sports and why MMA has a edge over boxing in terms of excitement. I hope I have been persuasive.

My Response to the December 14, 2012 Shootings in Connecticut

In light of yesterday’s tragedy in Connecticut, I have decided to weigh in.

I see gun rights as the last-ditched defense against tyranny, first and foremost. The Battle of Athens in 1946 is a great example of how an armed populace can resist the overreaching arms of government, in this case a local government in the United States. Also, look at how easily the police in Vichy France rounded up 42,000 Jews during World War 2. Nearly all were murdered in the camps. Had these people been armed, the French authorities would have been deterred to some extent. Fewer people would have been rounded up, that much is certain. The greatest murderers in history have always been governments that wield totalitarian power. Maoist China, the Soviet Union, and Nazi Germany. An armed populace is one way to impede the evil wishes of such governments. And if you think that these examples are too long ago and too far away to be relevant, I disagree. Tyranny can happen anywhere if we let it. Germany represented the pinnacle of Western civilization for over three-quarters of a century. Many couldn’t believe that it could ever descend into tyranny. Yet it did. Swiftly.

In light of yesterday’s tragedy in Connecticut, I have decided to weigh in.

I see gun rights as the last-ditched defense against tyranny, first and foremost. The Battle of Athens in 1946 is a great example of how an armed populace can resist the overreaching arms of government, in this case a local government in the United States. Also, look at how easily the police in Vichy France rounded up 42,000 Jews during World War 2. Nearly all were murdered in the camps. Had these people been armed, the French authorities would have been deterred to some extent. Fewer people would have been rounded up, that much is certain. The greatest murderers in history have always been governments that wield totalitarian power. Maoist China, the Soviet Union, and Nazi Germany. An armed populace is one way to impede the evil wishes of such governments. And if you think that these examples are too long ago and too far away to be relevant, I disagree. Tyranny can happen anywhere if we let it. Germany represented the pinnacle of Western civilization for over three-quarters of a century. Many couldn’t believe that it could ever descend into tyranny. Yet it did. Swiftly.

Thomas Jefferson said it best: “The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in Government.”

This is more of an argument to protect the second amendment than anything else. While shooting for sport and hunting is fine, I also support gun rights for self-defense and home defense. It is under-reported in the mainstream media, but there are many, many instances of guns being instrumental in saving lives. A great example is the shooting rampage at Appalachian School of Law in 2002 that was nipped in the bud by students wielding personal firearms. A lunatic killed three people and would have killed more had he not been subdued by men with guns. Gun rights people often keep what they call “Dead Goblin Counts”, that is, news stories of would-be bad guys (murderers, rapists, psychopaths, whatever) being stopped cold by righteous fire. The counts have gotten very high. Google the term for some recent examples.

When people use guns to save lives, it barely gets a mention in the press. When people use guns to waste lives (in the absence of armed people to stop them, of course), it’s all you hear about in the press. And I understand this. A surgeon can save dozens of lives, but one stupid mistake could end his career. We need to keep this in mind before we mindlessly start blaming today’s tragedy on “wingnuts” or the NRA.

Let’s also consider the alternative: gun control. Gun control. Will. Not. Work. People hell bent on mayhem will always be able to acquire a gun. Perhaps gun control may make it more difficult for some of these people to acquire firearms. But you know what? It will make it more difficult for normal people to acquire firearms as well. In that instance, these “dead goblin counts” will never get so high. Armed lunatics and criminals will have an easier time with unarmed victims. Remember Sammy “the Bull” Gravano, the underboss of the Gambino crime family? He loved gun control. Here’s what he had to say about it.

“Gun control? It’s the best thing you can do for crooks and gangsters. I want you to have nothing. I’m a bad guy; I’m always gonna have a gun. Safety locks? You will pull the trigger with a lock on, and I’ll pull the trigger. We’ll see who wins.”

Please also look at the facts. Places with the most gun control also have the most gun violence. Los Angeles, Detroit, Washington DC, New York City, the list goes on. Try legally buying a gun in those places. It isn’t easy and it takes a long time. Yet criminals always seem to be armed. Innocents always seem to get shot. Now, I am not saying that strict gun control causes these murders. But it sure doesn’t seem to be helping.

In 2009, there was a similar shooting in Stuttgart, Germany. Teenaged shooter. 15 dead. And this came in the wake of much tighter gun control laws than in the US, which in turn were caused by an equally diabolical shooting in eastern Germany in 2002. So, those of us who believe in gun control, please provide evidence of it actually working. You will be surprised at how little evidence you will find.

As for today’s tragedy, it’s hard for many of us to think straight about it because most of the victims are children. But looking at the facts, we have a young man, the killer, who was most likely autistic, perhaps suffering from Asberger’s Syndrome. Such people are typically considered mentally handicapped, not mentally ill or psychotic (although overlap exists, I’m sure). According to people who knew Adam Lanza, he was odd, shy, asocial. One person said he was rambunctious but not violent. But was there any evidence that he was a time bomb? Were there any clues that could have been capable of such a horrific act? From what I’m reading, the answer is no. He had no criminal record. He certainly was strange and could be described as ‘troubled’, but is this enough for us to Monday morning quarterback one of the worst domestic murder sprees ever? The guns weren’t even his; they belonged to his mother. You can’t even blame the negligence of gun dealers for this one like many did for the Virginia Tech shootings a few years ago.

Basically, the trade off of having a second amendment is that there is no guarantee against these kinds of killings. As long as we have guns that can be purchased legally and relatively easily, then there is always a risk that some lunatic will make a ghastly, bloody name for himself in infamy.

And that scares the crap out of me.

But you know what scares me even more? Living in a world where the only nonmilitary people who have guns are cops and criminals. The police cannot be everywhere at once and are (rightfully) impeded by due process. This basically leaves the law-abiding populace defenseless. Criminals know this and will exploit this knowledge frightfully fast when given the chance. At least with guns we’d have a fighting chance against them.

Of course, gun rights should be reasonably regulated. Because of the danger involved with guns, not everyone should be allowed to purchase guns, not children, not criminals, and certainly not the mentally ill. There should also be background checks and other safeguards in place. The irony however is that even with perfect gun regulation, today’s shootings couldn’t have been stopped. This wasn’t a failure of any system, whether it be law enforcement, mental health, gun restriction, or whatnot. Adam Lanza did not slip through any cracks. He created his own with every life he ruined today. In a free society, there is no guarantee against such actions. Tragic as it is, however, this is no reason to make us any less free.

The Captive Outfielder

One of the things that kills me in literature is the joining of two antithetical ideals, usually embodied in characters sharing a strong bond such as friends, siblings or lovers. Think of the ending of the Grand Inquisitor chapter of Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. After the intellectual Ivan’s apocalyptic and tragic story of the second coming of Christ, the spiritual Alyosha kisses him, just as Jesus had done to the Grand Inquisitor who intended to execute him. Two things that shouldn’t be close, but have to be.

Okay, so this pertains, not coincidentally, to one of my favorite short stories, a story that happens to involve classical music. The Captive Outfielder, written by Leonard Wibberly, was first published by the Saturday Evening Post on March 25th, 1961. You can read it here. One of Wibberly’s biggest claims to fame was his 1959 satirical Cold War novel, The Mouse That Roared, which was later made into a film comedy starring Peter Sellers, Peter Sellers, and Peter Sellers.

So, in The Captive Outfielder, a boy is taking violin lessons when he’d rather be playing baseball–or, really, he’d rather be failing at baseball than at the violin, since he’s getting nowhere with either but is at least less awful at baseball. And his teacher being old and from Eastern Europe isn’t making things any easier. You see, the old man understands nothing about American culture, and therefore knows nothing about the boy.

One of the things that kills me in literature is the joining of two antithetical ideals, usually embodied in characters sharing a strong bond such as friends, siblings or lovers. Think of the ending of the Grand Inquisitor chapter of Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. After the intellectual Ivan’s apocalyptic and tragic story of the second coming of Christ, the spiritual Alyosha kisses him, just as Jesus had done to the Grand Inquisitor who intended to execute him. Two things that shouldn’t be close, but have to be.

Okay, so this pertains, not coincidentally, to one of my favorite short stories, a story that happens to involve classical music. The Captive Outfielder, written by Leonard Wibberly, was first published by the Saturday Evening Post on March 25th, 1961. You can read it here. One of Wibberly’s biggest claims to fame was his 1959 satirical Cold War novel, The Mouse That Roared, which was later made into a film comedy starring Peter Sellers, Peter Sellers, and Peter Sellers.

So, in The Captive Outfielder, a boy is taking violin lessons when he’d rather be playing baseball–or, really, he’d rather be failing at baseball than at the violin, since he’s getting nowhere with either but is at least less awful at baseball. And his teacher being old and from Eastern Europe isn’t making things any easier. You see, the old man understands nothing about American culture, and therefore knows nothing about the boy.

All this teacher has are these portraits of dead composers like Johann Sebastian Bach glowering at the boy like they’ll flog him if he keeps making mistakes. And the old man keeps talking about time. Time! What’s so important about the stupid time anyway? It’s not like time is going to help him hit the baseball in the big game this weekend. Let’s try this a different way. A violin teacher who witnessed countless tragedies as he escaped from Russia after the Revolution, an old man who’s impoverished family gave everything they had for him to study music as boy, a teacher who knows the meaning and beauty of music in the face of horrible privations is now stuck trying to figure out why this vapid American youth can’t tell the difference between a quarter note and five-sixteenths. He even transposed the boy’s homework from A major to C major to make it easier for him. He loves the boy.

The boy is a good boy with a good ear. The teacher is left asking dear Johann Sebastian hanging on the wall how he, an grizzled old foreigner, can get this fresh-faced American kid to experience the wonder of music. Two people who don’t belong together, yet have to. From this central conflict, the story produces one of the most wonderful resolutions I have ever read. Truly, it is magical. Just a few pages, and you experience the intersection of old and new, youth and adulthood, and music and (believe it or not) baseball. Through baseball, the boy finds his moment of clarity, the very moment after which his appreciation of music will never be the same. My appreciation of short fiction was never the same after reading this wonderful story.

Against Kubrick 8

This is part 8 of my polemic against the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. My premise basically is that his great films had negative effects on the world and that Kubrick was anything but a humanist. I will go after his great films one at a time, continuing with Barry Lyndon

I was initially reluctant to include 1975’s Barry Lyndon in my series of Anti-Kubrick diatribes. I had heard that it was long and dull and not particular rich in the misanthropic themes and mathematical acumen that characterizes Kubrick’s best and most infamous works. I was also aware that the film never held a special place in popular culture the way his other masterpieces have. Barry Lyndon was known for some admirable cinematographic innovations, an excellent classical music soundtrack, and an authentic look and feel for a period piece. But that’s about it.

Thus, it would be like fruit that hangs too low: easy to criticize and instructive only for those who wish to make good movies. Such a review would not fit in with this series in which we discuss how Kubrick’s undisputed genius coupled with his unwarranted hostility towards Mankind has been having a real negative impact on people for the last 45 years. A film has to be great first before it can have such an impact and therefore warrant such a discussion.

And from all accounts I had heard Barry Lyndon was not great.

Well, I have finally seen it, and it seems I had it mostly right all along. Yet I will include it in this series since despite its limitations Kubrick still couldn’t help himself. He is still quite the anti-humanist in Barry Lyndon.

This is part 8 of my polemic against the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. My premise basically is that his great films had negative effects on the world and that Kubrick was anything but a humanist. I will go after his great films one at a time, continuing with Barry Lyndon

I was initially reluctant to include 1975’s Barry Lyndon in my series of Anti-Kubrick diatribes. I had heard that it was long and dull and not particular rich in the misanthropic themes and mathematical acumen that characterizes Kubrick’s best and most infamous works. I was also aware that the film never held a special place in popular culture the way his other masterpieces have. Barry Lyndon is known for some admirable cinematographic innovations, an excellent classical music soundtrack, and an authentic look and feel for a period piece. But that’s about it.

Thus, it would be like fruit that hangs too low: easy to criticize and instructive only for those who wish to make good movies. Such a review would not fit in with this series in which we discuss how Kubrick’s undisputed genius coupled with his unwarranted hostility towards Mankind has been having a real negative impact on people for the last 45 years. A film has to be great first before it can have such an impact and therefore warrant such a discussion.

And from all accounts I had heard Barry Lyndon was not great.

Well, I have finally seen it, and it seems I had it mostly right all along. Yet I will include it in this series since despite its limitations Kubrick still couldn’t help himself. He is still quite the anti-humanist in Barry Lyndon.

Barry Lyndon suffers too much from Stanley Kubrick’s misjudgments as a director to be considered a complete work. Ironically, these misjudgments are part laziness and part technical perfectionism.

Lazy? Stanley Kubrick? Why, yes, believe it or not.

In Barry Lyndon, Kubrick very often plagiarizes his own directorial style from A Clockwork Orange, which was shot only a few years prior, but with less reason and diminished effect. Take his penchant for starting in close up and then pulling out to reveal an entire scene, with characters staying stock still as if posing for a painting. The very first shot of A Clockwork Orange is like this and is brilliant. Alex and his droogs are sitting in the Korova Milk Bar, drinking their pharmacologically tainted beverages, and trying to make up their rassadocks about what brand of ultraviolence they should perform that evening, and so on.

The shot lasts for 1 minute and 34 seconds. You could not ask for a more ominous introduction to such a diabolical film. Read more about it here.

In Barry Lyndon, however, Kubrick seems to have run out of directorial ideas and resorts to what has now become just another trick in his cinematic bag. He does the same thing when introducing the scene in which the main character Redmond Barry and his cousin Nora Brady play cards. He does it when Barry and Lady Lyndon are with their infant child. He does as Barry engages in an orgy. He does it when Lady Lyndon is taking a bath, and in a few other places as well. Most obviously, he does it when Lady Lyndon and her adolescent son are just sitting there, perhaps contemplating what a useless rake Barry Lyndon is turning out to be. The shot goes from here:

…to here:

In each case, there is little subtext. The danger and conflict are all pretty much superficial. And that is fine when you’re pointing and shooting just to get from one scene to another. But it is not when you’re being reflexive about it…when you’re Kubrick trying to be Kubrick. In those instances, audiences perk up and notice the hand of the director when it should be invisible.

Other examples of Kubrick phoning it in during Barry Lyndon would be the wooden acting he seemed to require of his leads. While the supporting cast was excellent (especially Patrick Magee as Chevalier de Balibari and Hardy Kruger as Captain Potzdorf), Ryan O’Neal and Marisa Berenson were little more than zombies staring out into space half the time as Lord and Lady Lyndon.

I personally could have done as good a job as either of them since Kubrick basically told them to turn their faces into empty masks for the entire movie, and, essentially, not act. The only time O’Neal expresses emotion prior to his downfall is when he betrays Captain Potzdorf. He cries, but covers his face. And then Kubrick cuts away, as if he didn’t have faith that his actor could affect a good cry.

But what Kubrick doesn’t cover however is his delight at punching home the film’s main theme throughout its long, meandering plot: that it is wise to be dishonest, and foolish to be otherwise. To say Barry Lyndon is a cynical film would be a risible understatement. Instead, it would be more accurate to say that Kubrick almost finds it funny that a complete rogue like Redmond Barry can bluff and cheat his to the pinnacle of a corrupt and effete society that is Europe.

The film opens like so: a beautiful view and a duel, shot from afar so the humans seem little more than insects.

Then one man shoots and kills the other while the unperturbed narrator informs us that the whole affair was all over “the purchase of some horses.” I will argue that this sets the tone for almost the entire film: that human beings are such small, petty things amid the grandeur of the world around them. Their concerns should not be your concerns unless you wish to take advantage of them. Or laugh at them. This was more or less Redmond Barry’s cross-fingered credo throughout the first two hours and forty-eight minutes of a three hour and four minute film. Yes, he and the film changes after that. But by then it’s too little, too late.

Barry starts out earnest enough. As a young Irish farm boy, he initiates a duel with an English officer over his sweetheart’s hand. Later, when on the run, he is held up at gun point by a Captain Feeney and his son.

This is a most revealing scene given the cool, ruthless, rationalism expressed by the captain. Thief and vagabond that he is, he actually comes off as likeable. First, he is extremely polite and businesslike (“How do you do, Mr. Barry! And I am afraid we must get on to the more regrettable stage of our brief acquaintance.”). Second, he is clear thinking, well spoken, and intelligent. When Barry begs him to let him keep his horse, Feeney replies, quite correctly, “I should like to oblige you, but what with people like us, we must be able to travel faster than our clients. Good day, young sir.” Finally, he’s not without mercy. He let Barry keep his boots. Note that this is the last time Redmond Barry introduces himself by his real name until much later in the film, a mistake he does not repeat unless he absolutely has to.

Here is a list of artful swindles committed by Barry Lyndon as the film progresses:

1. He joins the British army under an assumed name.
2. He bails on his comrades during a battle.
3. He assumes the identity of an officer and escapes the army.
4. He tries to hoodwink Prussian Captain Potzdorf with this same false identity. Potzdorf doesn’t buy it and recruits Redmond into the Prussian army instead of returning him to the British.
5. Later, he is retained by Potzdorf to spy on the Chevalier de Balibari a professional gambler whom the Prussians believe is an Irish spy.
6. Upon learning this, Barry turns double agent, joins with de Balibari, and facilitates his new friend’s escape.
7. He does this by impersonating de Balibari himself.
8. The two then make a decent living across Europe cheating at cards.

This is where we are when Redmond and has an affair his wife to be, the Lady Lyndon, who currently is married to old and crippled Charles Lyndon. Redmond then lies to Charles’ face about his intentions and induces the man to have a ghastly heart attack on the spot. The man drops dead soon after.

Once married to Lady Lyndon, Redmond has reached the pinnacle of society and becomes Barry Lyndon. But he alters his modus operandi not one bit. From here, he cheats regularly on his wife, physically abuses his wife’s son, accrues great debt, and, in general, lives recklessly and stupidly.

Now, what has this character done, in the two hours we have been with him since he left Ireland, that is honorable or attractive in any way? He distinguished himself in a battle as part of the Prussian army. That’s about it. That scene doesn’t even last 3 minutes. So going on this, we have a hero? Not likely. How about an anti-hero? Less likely, I would say, given that anti-heroes must be quick-witted and interesting in some way (like Alex from A Clockwork Orange), and I think even Kubrick would have admitted that Redmond Barry is not that.

I think the best way to describe the Redmond Barry character is that he is the story’s “protagino” (if I may coin a term). That is, he is a protagonist in name only. He is there simply because stories, out of habit it seems, need a warm body to fill that role. And there he is. For the vast majority of the film, we never see events through his eyes, we never feel for him or want for him. Rather, we watch on in a detached sort of way as he bamboozles his way through life. Kubrick does nothing to arouse our sympathies with his victims, or, if anything, he tries to trivialize or find humor in their sufferings.

The officer Redmond impersonates in order to escape from the British army deserved to lose his papers and his horse since he was gay and stupid enough to speak about his plans to his lover while bathing in a lake.

redmondspying

The young man of wealth whom de Balibari unfairly beats at cards had it coming since he was so pompous and pampered and not terribly good with a sword.

gamblingfencing

Charles Lyndon’s fatal heart attack is nearly comic in its timing as it comes the moment Redmond leaves the room. The poor man thrashes about, looking ridiculous in full make up, and shakes so madly he cannot even put pills in his mouth. Indeed, this is a sickening scene, largely because I suspect Kubrick played it for laughs. Judge for yourself here.

So, funny as a heart attack? Perhaps for Kubrick. In real life, watching a person in his death spasms could scar almost anyone.

Kubrick the misanthrope is in full form here in Barry Lyndon. He doesn’t want you to feel for his hero or for their victims. They’re human, you see. They are no more important to him than the dark little figures ruining the splendid scenery in the first shot of his painstakingly produced film.

Yes, Barry Lyndon has something of a heart in the end. Redmond redeems himself somewhat through his love for his son. He also deliberately misfires on his stepson in a duel. By the film’s end he has become honorable, and, ironically, this is what causes his downfall. Thus, the film achieves its tragic ending.

So this should negate Kubrick’s misanthropy in Barry Lyndon, right? This should prove that Kubrick indeed has a heart and is a humanist once and for all, yes?

No, it doesn’t. Not after nearly three hours of Barry Lyndon. When this change comes, it is too little, too late.

We had to wait two full hours for Redmond’s entirely mundane love his for son to blossom and then another hour for him to make that one great heroic sacrifice: the sparing of his stepson’s life at the expense of his own. After that, there is no turning back. Redmond Barry made a decision, an honorable one, and sadly was made to suffer for it. This is the great dramatic moment of Barry Lyndon, the very heart and essence of the film, but it should have come at the 80th minute, not the 180th. Clearly Kubrick didn’t think much about great dramatic moments while he was counting F-stops on his fancy NASA-supplied cameras in order to make Redmond Barry’s tedious adventures of fraud and debauchery look like they really occurred in the 18th century. An 18th century, by the way, that happens to contain cameras…and Stanley Kubrick.

One century with Kubrick was certainly enough.

Next up: Full Metal Jacket.

Screenwriting Awards

Did you know I also write screenplays?

My friend and colleague Daniel Maidman and I have been collaborating on screenplays since 2007. I am proud to say that both of the screenplays we’ve written have garnered awards at screenwriting festivals across the country.

Our first project was The Feeding Cycle. It is an existential zombie movie which recently won first place in the Horror/Thriller category at the 2012 United Film Festival in LA. This was a tremendous honor for both of us. Here is the shiny trophy from that festival.

TFC was also a finalist in the Terror Film Festival in Philadelphia in 2009.

Our second project was a Christmas comedy screenplay called Confessions of a Naughty Kid. This one has won 12 honors in screenplay competitions including:

Cinequest Film Festival 22 2012 – Top 10 Finalist
2011 Smashcut Screenplay Contest – First place, Family category
2011 Hollywood Screenplay Contest – Silver Award Winner, Family category
2012 Buffalo Niagara Film Festival – Finalist
2011 American Screenwriting Competition – Semifinalist
2011 StoryPros International Screenplay Contest – Semifinalist
2012 Scriptapalooza – Quarterfinalist
2011 Fresh Voices Screenwriting Competition – Quarterfinalist
2011 Script Showcase Screenwriting Competition – Quarterfinalist
2011 Ticket to Hollywood Screenplay Competition – Best Family Christmas script
Happy Writers 2011 Screenplay Contest – Honorable Mention
Emerging Screenwriters 2011 Screenplay Competition – Top 100

Daniel is an artist living in Brooklyn, NY. Check out his work here. He’s also an art and culture blogger for the Huffington Post.

Soon we will get around to writing a third screenplay. The hard part is narrowing down all the ideas we have. That, and finding time to write it. I’ll keep everyone posted once we do.

Did you know I also write screenplays?

My friend and colleague Daniel Maidman and I have been collaborating on screenplays since 2007. I am proud to say that both of the screenplays we’ve written have garnered awards at screenwriting festivals across the country.

Our first project was The Feeding Cycle. It is an existential zombie movie which recently won first place in the Horror/Thriller category at the 2012 United Film Festival in LA. This was a tremendous honor for both of us. Here is the shiny trophy from that festival.

TFC was also a finalist in the Terror Film Festival in Philadelphia in 2009.

Our second project was a Christmas comedy screenplay called Confessions of a Naughty Kid. This one has won 12 honors in screenplay competitions including:

Cinequest Film Festival 22 2012 – Top 10 Finalist
2011 Smashcut Screenplay Contest – First place, Family category
2011 Hollywood Screenplay Contest – Silver Award Winner, Family category
2012 Buffalo Niagara Film Festival – Finalist
– Semifinalist
2011 StoryPros International Screenplay Contest – Semifinalist
2012 Scriptapalooza – Quarterfinalist
– Quarterfinalist
– Quarterfinalist
2011 Ticket to Hollywood Screenplay Competition – Best Family Christmas script
– Honorable Mention
– Top 100

Daniel is an artist living in Brooklyn, NY. Check out his work here. He’s also an art and culture blogger for the Huffington Post.

Soon we will get around to writing a third screenplay. The hard part is narrowing down all the ideas we have. That, and finding time to write it. I’ll keep everyone posted once we do.

Stocks and Bonds

Being a parent of young children, I am always on the lookout for games that instill mental discipline as well as a better understanding of the real world. Set is a great game, but it is much better for the former than for the latter. The point of Set is to recognize shape and color patterns faster than your opponent. It can be thrilling, but it is about as far removed from life as you can get. Other games, such as Monopoly, are good at imparting an understanding the real world (basic economics, in this case), but are too simplistic to be very challenging. Following the dictum of ‘always buy, never sell,’ has never steered me wrong in Monopoly.

The game of Stocks and Bonds however has the unique distinction of doing both. It requires rapid mathematical thinking while providing a solid understanding of a crucial part of the modern world: the financial services industry. It also allows players to choose between low and high stakes risks, just like in real life.

Stocks and Bonds is the great lost game of my childhood. Developed in 1964 by a company called 3M, my dad had the game lying around in a closet when I stumbled across it one day. The dated journalistic artwork on the cover, the elegant bookshelf packaging, and the game’s overall sophistication was instantly intriguing. I must have been ten or eleven. I was bored, so without knowing the first thing about stocks and bonds, I decided to figure the game out. It wasn’t easy. The rules are complex, and it took a while for me to wrap my mind around them as well as the concepts they involve.

But once I learned it, I loved it.

Being a parent of young children, I am always on the lookout for games that instill mental discipline as well as a better understanding of the real world. Set is a great game, but it is much better for the former than for the latter. The point of Set is to recognize shape and color patterns faster than your opponent. It can be thrilling, but it is about as far removed from life as you can get. Other games, such as Monopoly, are good at imparting an understanding the real world (basic economics, in this case), but are too simplistic to be very challenging. Following the dictum of ‘always buy, never sell,’ has never steered me wrong in Monopoly. The game of Stocks and Bonds however has the unique distinction of doing both. It requires rapid mathematical thinking while providing a solid understanding of a crucial part of the modern world: the financial services industry. It also allows players to choose between low and high stakes risks, just like in real life. Stocks and Bonds is the great lost game of my childhood. Developed in 1964 by a company called 3M, my dad had the game lying around in a closet when I stumbled across it one day. The dated journalistic artwork on the cover, the elegant bookshelf packaging, and the game’s overall sophistication was instantly intriguing. I must have been ten or eleven. I was bored, so without knowing the first thing about stocks and bonds, I decided to figure the game out. It wasn’t easy. The rules are complex, and it took a while for me to wrap my mind around them as well as the concepts they involve. But once I learned it, I loved it. What is a stock? What is a bond? How about margins and dividends? How do you calculate interest? What is the difference between bull and bear markets? How is a mutual fund different than other investment schemes? Getting a ten year-old fluent with these and similar ideas would represent a great step forward in his understanding of a crucial part of the adult world. But doing so would be a challenge to the say the least. The material is so dry, so far removed from the life of an average kid that the old-fashioned didactic approach would probably fail. Stocks and Bonds however imparts this theoretical understanding through ingeniously designed practice. Basically, you set up your own private Wall Street in your home, invest according to the provided securities review sheet as well as your gut, and then stand or fall against the winds of change. Plus, you never once touch cash. It’s fun and it moves at a pretty rapid clip—once you learn the fundamental concepts and become accustomed to crunching numbers in the hundreds and thousands, that is. And the investor with the highest net worth over a set number of years is the winner. Let me count the ways that this is a good thing for young minds. First, there is the math. This is not math for math’s sake. This is math in order to beat the other guy, so players are pushed to be able to rapidly add, subtract, multiply, and divide.

So you have $1050 at the beginning of year 4, with dividends of $50 plus 6% of $1,260 and 4% of $960 coming in. Can you afford to purchase 20 shares of the recently split and highly reliable Metro Properties, Inc. at $73 per share? If not, how many shares of Valley Power and Light (dirt cheap at $31 per share) should you sell in order to do this? If you end up buying the stock on margin what will the 5% margin charges amount to? I love how the game simply assumes that all players have a certain math literacy. “To figure Margin Charges,” reads the game’s instructions, “simply drop the last digit and divide by two.” If you wish to stamp out a kid’s fear or math, Stocks and Bonds may be a good place to start. Second, the game forces players to keep meticulous records. And meticulous records are always the sign of an orderly mind. In the game’s Record of Transactions sheet, which every player must maintain, players enter the name of the security, the number of shares purchased or sold, the price per share, the sum paid or received, the margin charges, their cash balance, and the margin total. It’s like a very complicated check book. Here is an example. If kids can maintain these kinds of records for fun, then managing real investments as an adult, let alone a basic checking account, should be a breeze. Players must also keep track of annual stock prices on the Stock Board for all to see. Finally, the game gives young minds practice in weighing risk and reward. Similar to poker, players assess what they can and cannot afford and act accordingly. Also like poker, players must face the consequences, good or bad, of their decisions. But Stocks and Bonds introduces a new dimension: Time, or the fluctuating market. Two players may own the same number of shares of Tri-City Transport, currently at $114 per share. But one got in when each share cost $98 and the other when each share was $132. So who is doing better? It’s not just what you invest in and how much, but when you invest that matters in this game. Timing is more than just the soul of wit, it seems. A kid who can weigh all these variables in his mind while making a decision is not being childlike at all. A kid who can do it well, thanks to the practice he gets playing Stocks and Bonds, can turn out to be one heck of an adult. The only drawback to the game that I can see is the price calculator. Really low tech, even for 1964, it is simply a card the player slides through a cardboard sleeve to ‘calculate’ stock price fluctuations according to whether the market is bulling up or bearing down. The game designers could have done better. One glance at the card out of the sleeve can give a particularly shrewd player a real good idea of which stocks are a good bet and which ones aren’t. This is nothing that additional rules and a few multi-sided dice couldn’t cure (alas, Stocks and Bonds predates Dungeons and Dragons by 10 years). These days a clever computer program would do the trick too. Fortunately, the basic concepts behind stocks and bonds have not changed that much since 1964. Stocks and Bonds the game is not only a wonderful introduction to the world of finance, but it is great way to elevate a youngster’s thinking to that of an adult. Like anything, that requires practice. And what better way to acquire practice than through a fun and absorbing game?

Boxing vs MMA Part 5

In my last post on MMA vs. Boxing, we explored how having more excuses for the referee to insert himself into a fight is one reason why boxing has a disadvantage compared to MMA when it comes to overall excitement.

In this post, we explore Reason 2: The gloves.

Professional boxers use 8 to 10 oz gloves and professional mixed martial artists use 4 ounce gloves. This difference is a major reason why any single punch in MMA is more likely to produce a knockout or a knock down than in boxing.

For my explanation, I shall resort to Newtonian physics and Euclidian geometry to illustrate the basic difference between the concepts of force and pressure. Newton’s second law of motion states that the force of an object equals its mass times its acceleration. F=ma is how the law typically appears, and the unit for force is called the Newton (N). Greater mass or acceleration produces greater force. Pressure, on the other hand, is an object’s force divided by the area upon which it acts. Greater area makes for reduced pressure. Pressure is typically shown as P=F/A, and its unit is called the Pascal (Pa).

To visualize the difference (and if you will pardon the simplistic graphics), imagine a two identical knives falling the same distance onto identical pieces of paper.

As you can see, the second knife had a much more dramatic impact on the paper than the first. Why is this when, according to Newton, the knives struck the paper with equal force? The answer is that by striking a smaller area on the paper (by virtue of its sharp point), the second knife applied the greater pressure. 20 square centimeters of paper can withstand the force of a falling knife. 0.2 square centimeters cannot. F/0.2 is greater than F/20 by two orders of magnitude, which is why the paper punctures for the second knife and not for the first.

So, what does this have to do with boxing? Didn’t they ban sharp objects in boxing gloves back in the 50s?

Why, yes they did. But the gloves were known as caestÅ«s back then, and Rome hadn’t even become an empire yet.

In my last post on MMA vs. Boxing, we explored how having more excuses for the referee to insert himself into a fight is one reason why boxing has a disadvantage compared to MMA when it comes to overall excitement.

In this post, we explore Reason 2: The gloves.

Professional boxers use 8 to 10 oz gloves and professional mixed martial artists use 4 ounce gloves. This difference is a major reason why any single punch in MMA is more likely to produce a knockout or a knock down than in boxing.

For my explanation, I shall resort to Newtonian physics and Euclidian geometry to illustrate the basic difference between the concepts of force and pressure. Newton’s second law of motion states that the force of an object equals its mass times its acceleration. F=ma is how the law typically appears, and the unit for force is called the Newton (N). Greater mass or acceleration produces greater force. Pressure, on the other hand, is an object’s force divided by the area upon which it acts. Greater area makes for reduced pressure. Pressure is typically shown as P=F/A, and its unit is called the Pascal (Pa).

To visualize the difference (and if you will pardon the simplistic graphics), imagine a two identical knives falling the same distance onto identical pieces of paper.

As you can see, the second knife had a much more dramatic impact on the paper than the first. Why is this when, according to Newton, the knives struck the paper with equal force? The answer is that by striking a smaller area on the paper (by virtue of its sharp point), the second knife applied the greater pressure. 20 square centimeters of paper can withstand the force of a falling knife. 0.2 square centimeters cannot. F/0.2 is greater than F/20 by two orders of magnitude, which is why the paper punctures for the second knife and not for the first.

So, what does this have to do with boxing? Didn’t they ban sharp objects in boxing gloves back in the 50s?

Why, yes they did. But the gloves were known as caestÅ«s back then, and Rome hadn’t even become an empire yet.

More to the point, by being more massive than the MMA glove, by containing more padding, and by covering the entire hand, the boxing glove must therefore be larger. A quasi-scientific home experiment shown below shows how much larger in terms of surface area at point of contact.

Step 1: Gather materials: 10 oz boxing glove, 4 oz MMA glove, chess board, pencils, paper, 3 Bendaroos (waxy, shape-forming toy sticks, 15cm long), tape measure, ketchup (Not pictured: dinner plate and one extra Bendaroo).

Step 2: Smother the business end of the boxing glove with ketchup.

Step 3: Apply downward pressure on the paper on the flat chessboard.

Step 4: Repeat Steps 2 and 3 with the MMA glove.

Step 5: Use Bendaroos and tape measure to compare circumferences of surface areas based on stains left by the ketchup. Note that I only measured where the mark was white since this was truly the point of contact, not the ketchup stain’s perimeter.

Note also the following:

The circumference of the stain left by the boxing glove is the length of two Bendaroos minus 1 cm (29 cm). And the circumference of the stain left by the MMA glove is the length of two Bendaroos minus 9 cm (21 cm).

So, according to the data above, a solid punch from a typical 10 oz boxing glove will connect with a circumference of approximately 29 centimeters. Since circumference equals twice its radius times pi, we can derive radius from circumference by dividing the circumference by two times pi. From this we get a radius of 4.62 cm (29/2Ï€). And since area equals pi times the radius squared, we can see that the glove connects on an area of around 67.06 cm**2 (Ï€4.62**2). The same shot from a typical MMA glove will cover a 21 cm circumference. That is a radius of 3.34 cm and an contact area of 35.05 cm**2.

From this, it’s easy to conclude that a punch from an MMA glove will apply greater pressure than the same punch from a boxing glove. This may be true, but we still have to figure in the difference in mass of the glove. Boxing gloves are more massive, and while greater area reduces pressure, greater mass increases it.

Let’s say a disembodied fist (0.72 kg) in a 10 oz (0.28 kg) boxing glove accelerates at 50 m/s**2. According to the second law of motion, it generates a force of 50 N (0.72 + 0.28 Ñ… 50). Since pressure is force divided by area, it exerts 0.75 Pa of pressure per strike (50/67.06).

The same 0.72 kg fist in a 4 oz (0.11 kg) MMA glove accelerating at the same rate generates a force of 41.5 N (0.72 + 0.11 Ñ… 50). This divided by an area of 35.05 cm**2 produces 1.18 Pa of pressure, an increase of over 60% from the pressure produced by a boxing glove.

My point is that even with its smaller mass, MMA gloves allow fighters to apply more pressure than boxing gloves. Of course, for simplicity’s sake, we disregarded things like air resistance, the motion of the fighter getting hit, the softness and hardness of the gloves, how the different masses of the gloves affect their acceleration, and many other factors, I’m sure. I am aware that the stains left by the gloves in my little experiment were not perfect circles. I also had no way of making sure that the pressure I applied onto the paper was the same for both gloves. (So if anyone has the resources and wherewithal to take this experiment to the next level, have at it).

But given my limitations, my conclusion here is that all things being equal, the boxing glove has the edge in force, but the MMA glove has the greater edge in pressure.

So how does greater pressure increase the chances for knockouts and knockdowns?

I’m sure there are several reasons, but the one I believe is most important is that a blow to the jaw or chin in MMA has a greater likelihood of violently moving or snapping the skull in a certain direction. A knockout is basically a concussion caused when your brain collides with the inside of your skull when it is jerked violently in one direction.

Blogger Gajotap describes it like so:

Back to the brain… This floating organ in our head is like a rodeo cowboy and goes with flow whichever direction our head goes. A sudden powerful hit will jerk your head so violently that the floating brain will bounce around in the skull hitting the bony walls. This is what you call trauma and it will make the nerves all over your body go in an electrical haywire. In effect, your body will go limp or may sometimes do uncontrollable jerky movements and in many cases, you will be out only to wake up with a mammoth headache.

Mike Chiapetta in his essay Anatomy Of A Knockout, also describes what a blow to the chin can do to you.

Two of the most common acceleration blows are strikes to the chin or the side of the head. The former disrupts the circulation in the back of the brain and also disrupts the mechanism in the back of the brain that controls alertness. As a result, the brain temporarily switches off.

Dr. Margaret Goodman, former ringside physician in professional boxing, has her say as well:

Some fighters have a “glass jaw” and others don’t. This also relates to one’s anatomy and refers to when the boxer is hit square on the jaw. The force of the blow is transmitted to the Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) where the power temporarily disrupts cerebral circulation.

Goodman goes on to advise boxers to keep their chins down and to strengthen neck muscles to prevent this from happening:

You don’t have to have a neck like a linebacker, but alternatively develop selective muscles alongside the neck will prevent your head from moving after getting hit. Bottom line, if you head doesn’t move with a punch, you can’t get KO’d.

It stands to reason then that MMA gloves, with its smaller target area and greater pressure, will have more impact on the most movable parts of a fighter’s head, namely his chin and jaw. In comparison, a similar punch in boxing will either move the jaw less or be absorbed by a greater target area forcing a fighter’s entire head in one direction rather than jerking his jaw one way and the rest of his head the other.

Based on the information above, I would argue that a fighter runs a greater chance of a knockout or knock down in the latter circumstance than in the former. My point isn’t necessarily that there are more knockouts in MMA than in boxing. My point is that a fighter has a greater chance of being knocked down or out by a single power shot in MMA than in boxing. And that leads to greater, edge of your seat excitement in MMA.

This is why Mike Tyson was so exciting and why Manny Pacquaio still is today. You never know when a single blow from either of them will annihilate an opponent, so you cannot take your eyes off of them. But where fighters like Tyson and Pacquaio remain somewhat rare in boxing, they are somewhat less rare in MMA. Paul Daley, Josh Koscheck, Jake Ellenberger, and Jonny Hendricks, just to name a few in one weight division, are such devastating punchers that their bouts can end at any moment.

Even mid-level MMA guys have been known to bring it with one punch. The best recent example I can think of is Chan Sung “the Korean Zombie” Jung’s 7-second destruction of former featherweight world title challenger Mark-Hominick in 2011. Jung is no power puncher with only 3 of his 13 wins coming by way of knockout. Yet he rung Hominick’s bell with one punch, and the fight duly concluded.

It’s a foolish thing to blink during a top-level MMA bout. And one major reason, I believe, is the greater pressure brought to bear by the smaller size of MMA gloves.

To further support this conclusion, click here and start at the 45 second mark to watch two-time heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman describe his historic 1994 knockout of then heavyweight champion Michael Moorer. It happened in the 10th round. Foreman was trailing badly on all the judges’ cards. Then a one-two from Foreman ended the night.

The first punch I hit him with was the straight right,” Foreman said. “It was just a little too high. He didn’t move out of the way because he was kinda stunned. I expected him to fall, but he didn’t. And I said right then that I was gonna lower it just a little bit.

Foreman needed to lower his punch so that it would strike Moorer on the point of the jaw, which it did. And Moorer couldn’t recover.

Reasons 3 and 4 as well as my conclusion will appear in my next post on MMA vs. Boxing.

Boxing Vs MMA Part 4

In my last post on MMA vs. Boxing, we compared the two sports in terms of overall excitement and concluded that boxing, even when devoid of that various forms of corruption that have hounded it since its inception, has a greater potential to fail than MMA. Conversely, MMA has a greater likelihood for thrilling, competitive fights than does boxing.

In this post on MMA vs. Boxing, I explore reasons why this seems to be the case.

Reason 1: The Referee.

MMA gives referees fewer excuses to insert himself into a fight. And that, generally, is a good thing.

With boxing, the rules are far more restrictive. No hitting below the belt, no rabbit or kidney punches, no elbows, no back fists, no holding and hitting, no stomping feet, no this, no that. So with more rules, it falls upon the referee to enforce them all. Then there is the no clinching rule, which in some fights keeps the referee almost as busy as the fighters. When you have guys winging punches at each other in close quarters, it’s very natural for them to get tied up in a clinch. It’s referee’s responsibility to break them apart before continuing hostilities. Further, when adding the referee’s absolute prerogative to stop fights, penalize fouls, award knockdowns, and deliver 10-counts, you realize that a boxing referee is generally a pretty busy guy.

In my last post on MMA vs. Boxing, we compared the two sports in terms of overall excitement and concluded that boxing, even when devoid of that various forms of corruption that have hounded it homework research since its inception, has a greater potential to fail than MMA. Conversely, MMA has a greater likelihood for thrilling, competitive fights than does boxing.

In this post on MMA vs. Boxing, I explore reasons why this seems to be the case.

Reason 1: The Referee.

MMA gives referees fewer excuses to insert himself into a fight. And that, generally, is a good thing.

With boxing, the rules are far more restrictive. No hitting below the belt, no rabbit or kidney punches, no elbows, no back fists, no holding and hitting, no stomping feet, no this, no that. So with more rules, it falls upon the referee to enforce them all. Then there is the no clinching rule, which in some fights keeps the referee almost as busy as the fighters. When you have guys winging punches at each other in close quarters, it’s very natural for them to get tied up in a clinch. It’s referee’s responsibility to break them apart before continuing hostilities. Further, when adding the referee’s absolute prerogative to stop fights, penalize fouls, award knockdowns, and deliver 10-counts, you realize that a boxing referee is generally a pretty busy guy.

This produces, in my opinion, three negative results which often frustrate boxing fans.

1) Referees are often forced to make on-the-spot irreversible judgment calls of great consequence. Since referees are human and must process lightning fast action, many of these judgment calls end up being questionable to say the least.

2) Referees are given wiggle room in which to act on their prejudices against or in favor of a particular fighter. It gets worse when it’s someone else prejudices. True, one does not see much direct referee complicity these days (such as in the 1963 George Chuvalo-Mike DeJohn fight in which the referee actually helped DeJohn up from a knock down in round 6), but it can be more subtle than that.

For example, if the favored guy likes to fight on the outside, the referee will break up the fight the moment there is a clinch. Conversely, if the favored guy likes to fight on the inside, the referee will sit back and let the fighters punch their way out of a clinch. I cannot prove this, but I believe that this was a crucial factor when Ricky Hatton wrested the WBC light welterweight title in 11 rounds from Kostya Tszyu in 2005. Look at the video and see for yourself if the ref was a little slow at times to break up clnches.

3) Referees face the temptation of making the fight about them rather than the fighters. If you want your name splashed on the headlines and always popping up on the internet and immortalized in the annals of boxing, then make an outlandish call at a crucial moment in a high profile title fight. Human beings being corruptible entities, I cannot imagine referees not being at least tempted by such visions of glory (or notoriety).

Two classic examples of what I call ‘referee fail’ in boxing still leave a bitter taste in my mouth.

Richard Steele stopping the 1990 Julio Cesar Chavez-Meldrick Taylor light-welterweight title fight with 2 seconds remaining in the last round.

This had been a highly anticipated bout. Chavez was a Mexican icon at 68-0 moving up from lightweight. Taylor was the champion, also undefeated, and a 1984 Olympic gold medalist. It had been a great fight, with Taylor clearly winning the first 9 rounds or so. Chavez, who was tough as nails, started to dominate late, and arguably won the 10th and 11th rounds. With around 15 seconds left in the 12th and final round, he knocked Taylor down. Taylor beat the count at 6. But when he did not instantly respond when Steele asked him if he’s okay, Steele stopped the fight. There were 2 seconds remaining.

Chavez barely had enough time to cross the ring in 2 seconds let alone throw another punch. Many feel that Taylor deserved the victory, and Richard Steele, either for humanitarian reasons or because he wanted to be immortalized by some dramatic call, kept it from him.

Check here for more about the controversy engendered by Richard Steele.

Tony Weeks calling time twice in 10th round of the 2005 Jose Luis Castillo-Diego Corrales lightweight title fight.

It had been one of the best fights of the decade. With nonstop action, neither guy was clearly in the lead going into the 10th. Early in the round, a Castillo left hook dropped Corrales and knocked out his mouthpiece. After Corrales beat the count, Referee Tony Weeks called time to get Corrales a new mouthpiece from his corner. This gave Corrales more than the standard 10 seconds to recover. When the fight resumed, Castillo knocked Corrales down again. This time Corrales seemed to deliberately spit out his mouthpiece. After Corrales beat the count, Weeks called time again to first deduct a point from Corrales and then replace his mouthpiece again. Corrales was given an additional 17 seconds to recover, and when he did, he knocked out Castillo in perhaps the most dramatic come-from-behind KO in the last 30 years. Ironically, Weeks’ stoppage of the fight (shown above) was impeccable.

Although Weeks was not technically violating the rules, his decision to deduct the point immediately after the second knockdown directly affected the outcome of the fight. Had he not done this or had he planned on doing it between the rounds, Castillo would likely have been the victor.

Here are a few other recent examples:

In round 2 of their 2003 super-middleweight bout, Joe Calzaghe swarmed over Byron Mitchell and had him clearly hurt. But Mitchell had been trying to defend himself and was still throwing punches. Mitchell then stumbled backwards into the ropes without Calzaghe landing a punch. After barely looking at Mitchell, the referee called the fight.

In round 12 of their 2008 super-middleweight bout, Librado Andrade battered a near-helpless Lucien Bute around the ring. Meanwhile, the referee found any excuse he could to insert himself between them. When Andrade finally knocked Bute down with less than 5 seconds to go, the referee inexplicably did not start counting right away. Had the referee done his job correctly, Andrade might have won by last second KO.

In round 10 of their 2010 bout, super-middleweight Arthur Abraham knocked down Andre Dirrell, and the referee inexplicably ruled it a slip.

Bantamweight Abner Mares must have landed around 20 low blows to Joseph Agbeko in their 2011 title match. The referee either ignored them or warned Agbeko for pulling Mares’ head down (which he did not often do). In the 11th round, Mares flagrantly struck Agbeko in the cup. It fact, it was so flagrant it has to be seen to be believed.

When Agbeko fell, the referee ruled it a knockdown. Mares won a majority decision, so it is likely that this knockdown gave him the edge in the end. An utter disgrace.

In round 5 of their 2012 bout, super-middleweight Carl Froch knocked Lucien Bute into the ropes. The referee correctly ruled it a knockdown, but because he separated the fighters with his hands held high, Froch’s people assumed the fight had been stopped. They stormed into the ring to celebrate while the referee was still administering a standing 8 count.

In many ways, the MMA referee have similar functions to the boxing referee. But how are they different? Well, put simply the MMA has a whole lot less to do.

First and foremost, the MMA referee must prevent a fighter from getting killed or having a limb broken. He has little excuse to insert himself between the combatants otherwise. As such, it’s usually pretty darn clear when he should act.

His other duties include keeping fighters from gripping the fence, calling time for low blows or eye pokes, calling the doctor to look at bad cuts, and to break up stalemate positions.

Yes, sometimes it’s necessary to disqualify a fighter for breaking rules. In many cases, however, this happens after a fight has been stopped. The most high-profile examples would be Anderson Silva-Yushin Okami from 2008, Jon Jones-Matt Hamill from 2009, and Erick Silva-Carlo Prater from 2012. In each, one fighter rendered the other fighter unable to continue through illegal means and was disqualified after the fact. So in these cases, unlike the referee fails listed above, the referee had no impact on the action during the fight, only the decision after it. If you are going to have a referee determine the outcome of a fight, this is probably the way to do it.

There have been referee fails in MMA as well, but it stands to reason that with fewer reasons to get between the fighters, there are fewer fails in MMA. One major example includes the Bobby Lashley-Chad Griggs heavyweight fight from 2010. An exhausted Lashley had the mount over Griggs (an extremely advantageous position) and was staying reasonably busy. For some reason, referee Jon Schorle felt he wasn’t busy enough and called for a standup, completely erasing the work Lashley had done getting his advantage over Griggs in the first place. After the doctor checked Lashley’s eye, Griggs proceeded to beat Lashley until Lashley could not continue. And Schorle determined this a few seconds after the round had ended.

The only other major referee fail I can think of in MMA occurred with the same referee. In 2006, welterweight Rob McCollough landed a straight right to the jaw of Olaf Alonso, knocking him out and sending his mouthpiece hurtling across the cage. Referee Schorle decided that retrieving the mouthpiece was more important than protecting the helpless Alonso who was now lying prone on the canvas. The unconscious Alonso received 3 horrific shots to the head before Schorle could run across the cage and rescue him.

In general however MMA referees tend not to make their presence known until it’s absolutely critical that they act. More often than not, the outcomes of fights are determined by the fighters, not the referee, which sadly does not happen as often as it should in boxing. This is why we have fewer controversial stoppages in MMA than in boxing. Don’t believe me? Do a Google search and see for yourself. Or better yet, let me do it for you:

6.81 million versus 217,000. That about says it all, doesn’t it?

Next up: Reason 2. The Gloves.

An Equal Music

One of the most fascinating novels about classical music I have ever read is Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music, published in 1999. It’s a love story featuring classical musicians (of course). It’s a case of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl and prefers to raise his love to the point of cruelty rather than lose her again despite the fact that she’s married and has a young son. Amid the story, there’s a lot of passion, a lot of sex, a lot of picturesque European scenery, lots of deep, dark secrets, and of course, lots and lots of music.

Could you imagine a love story between classical musicians being any other way?

One of the most fascinating novels about classical music I have ever read is Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music, published in 1999. It’s a love story featuring classical musicians (of course). It’s a case of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl and prefers to raise his love to the point of cruelty rather than lose her again despite the fact that she’s married and has a young son. Amid the story, there’s a lot of passion, a lot of sex, a lot of picturesque European scenery, lots of deep, dark

secrets, and of course, lots and lots of music. Could you imagine a love story between classical musicians being any other way? And before you condemn the novel for a plot which seems rather generic, try boiling Shakespearean plays down to brass tacks and see how interesting they become. One truth is that other authors had attempted to dramatize The Merchant of Venice since the basic story had been floating around Europe for years before Shakespeare came around. The bigger truth is that no one did the story better than Shakespeare. There are two things that raise An Equal Music above similar novels. One can only be described as class. Whole courses can be dedicated to this idea and pretty much get nowhere. What is class? My opinion: two or more characters who: are believable because they are like us, are surprising because they are truly individuals and therefore NOT like us, undergo meaningful change, and live in the same world we live in. Note that these characters don’t always have to be likable. For example, who actually likes Humbert Humbert? Heck, Gollum was my favorite character in the Lord of the Rings, and I found him loathsome. Anyway, Seth finds his class when he puts his characters nicely in our comfort zone and then slowly breaks them out of it when we slowly realize what they are capable of. Passion, you see, can take us places we don’t always want to go. The second thing that makes An Equal Music such a prodigious novel is the music. Of course, getting it third hand from me wouldn’t be very useful. If writing about music is considered futile by many, then what about writing about writing about music? At some point, it gets a little, erm, self-referential, if you know what I mean. Suffice to say Seth’s descriptions of the music and the people playing it reach moments of breathtaking clarity. Indeed, I have not read anything approaching them. It is enough to make one fall in love with the music again. This alone is almost enough for me to forgive Seth for his total cop out of an ending. The story basically stops rather than concludes. It seems that the art of plotting was lost on Seth. Either that or his editor insisted he keep his tome within a certain word count and something had to go. Still. An Equal Music. Wow. And it’s even accompanied by a double CD of classical music from the story. Now there’s a marketing idea. The author selected the pieces himself, several of which were specially recorded for the occasion of this CD. One piece, Beethoven’s String Quartet in C minor opus 104, had never been recorded before. It has since been recorded a half dozen times. And like the novel, the music of An Equal Music is gorgeous.

My Time With Chess

I have always supported the idea of making chess part of school curricula everywhere. Although I don’t play anymore and was never all that great at the game to begin with, it’s not hard for me to imagine all the good that can come out of it. Go to any chess website promoting this idea and you’ll get all the arguments you’ll ever need. Chess is a great way to develop a mind. It’s not the only way, but, according to retired chess champion Garry Kasparov, it’s hard to beat.

Here is Kasparov (a hero of mine for almost two decades) on a Brazilian talk show talking about a whole host of chess-related topics. He gets to the chess-as-education issue at around the 9 minute mark and begins extolling the benefits of chess at 9:54.

Among his list of chess benefits is that the game promotes discipline, self-esteem, confidence. It also increases one’s ability to deal with problems and succeed, and not just on the chess board. Kasparov ties chess into computer education as well. He is most convincing, however, when he cites a study in which two similar math classes were given additional lessons, one in chess, the other in mathematics. At the end of the year the chess class outperformed the math class in mathematics.

I believe the study to which Kasparov refers is this one from 2008 by Markus Scholz and others. Read here and here for more information on scientific studies that demonstrate the benefits of chess in education.

While I agree with Kasparov and would never dare contradict him on chess matters, I do believe he omitted one very important benefit of playing chess. And since I have never seen it mentioned anywhere else, I will mention it here.

I have always supported the idea of making chess part of school curricula everywhere. Although I don’t play anymore and was never all that great at the game to begin with, it’s not hard for me to imagine all the good that can come out of it. Go to any chess website promoting this idea and you’ll get all the arguments you’ll ever need. Chess is a great way to develop a mind. It’s not the only way, but, according to retired chess champion Garry Kasparov, it’s hard to beat.

Kasparov arguing for chess in schools
Here is Kasparov (a hero of mine for almost two decades) on a Brazilian talk show talking about a whole host of chess-related topics. He gets to the chess-as-education issue at around the 9 minute mark and begins extolling the benefits of chess at 9:54. Among his list of chess benefits is that the game promotes discipline, self-esteem, confidence. It also increases one’s ability to deal with problems and succeed, and not just on the chess board. Kasparov ties chess into computer education as well. He is most convincing, however, when he cites a study in which two similar math classes were given additional lessons, one in chess, the other in mathematics. At the end of the year the chess class outperformed the math class in mathematics. I believe the study to which Kasparov refers is this one from 2008 by Markus Scholz and others. Read here and here for more information on scientific studies that demonstrate the benefits of chess in education. While I agree with Kasparov and would never dare contradict him on chess matters, I do believe he omitted one very important benefit of playing chess. And since I have never seen it mentioned anywhere else, I will mention it here. Humility. The most important thing chess has given me is humility. When I tell people that I used to play chess, they

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often ask, “How good were you?” My answer is always, “Good enough to know how bad I really am.” Since I have not played a tournament game since 1985 when I was in eighth grade, I really have no exact record of my skill level. I can estimate however, given my rate of success in the late 1990s against tournament players in casual games, that my highest skill level was between a 1600 and 1650 in United States Chess Federation rating points. So 15 years ago, when I would study chess for at least an hour every night, I was little more than what the USCF called a Class B player. To put things in perspective, you’d need a rating of 2000 to be an expert, 2200 to be a national master, and 2400 to be a senior or international master. So I was, in chess parlance, a fish, a wood-pusher, alas, a patzer. In some weird way it was something to be proud of. Another story goes thusly: A friend and I were having at it over the board one evening, hurling our armies at each other amid a riot of kibbitzing, as usual. We were in the Skylight Exchange, our favorite chess hangout in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I don’t remember the games, except that they were always sloppy, fast and thrilling. Out of the blue, this college kid came in and challenged me. I duly accepted and after a few moves, it was evident the kid really didn’t understand the basic tenets of the game. I crushed him easily. Two times. I could have played five opponents of his caliber at once with the black pieces and still had my way. Anyway, the kid could barely contain his frustration and said he wanted to analyze the games to figure out where he went wrong. When we were done, he got up and declared through clenched teeth that, “Every time I lose, I get better!” He even included a dramatic pause in the middle. “Every time I lose…(beat)…(beat)…I get better!” His intensity was so precious, I had to choke back a laugh not to be rude. But I couldn’t resist leaning over and asking my friend if he gets better every time he loses. My friend smiled, shook his head, and said, “Nope. If did I’d be a grandmaster by now!” By then I had about lost it, laughing at this poor kid’s expense. He didn’t stick around, and I never saw him again. I really hope the little thrashing I gave him made him realize how rare it is to have real talent at chess, and how wrong it is for one to presume they have such talent when they really don’t. When I was 25, I started playing chess again after a 12-year layoff. I had heard about the chess club at the Skylight Exchange. I thought I could do well against the players there. I didn’t. I thought I was something special, someone who could re-learn the game and start winning. I wasn’t. It doesn’t mean I didn’t try like hell. Back then I didn’t have a career, didn’t have a girlfriend, didn’t have much of a life. All I had was my “poetry to protect me”, to quote Paul Simon. That, and piles of student debt, which, I am pretty sure, Paul Simon didn’t sing about.

Paul Simon probably not Rhymin' about Fannie Mae
So with little to lose, I bought every chess book I could find and studied. Sure enough, I got better. It was a long, painful process, but I managed increase my standing among the players there. Among the lower half, I started to go about 50-50, maybe even a little better than that. Among the stronger players I graduated from being busted within the first 7 moves to being able to achieve perfectly playable middle games before eventually blundering and going down in yet another ignominious ball of fire. And it hurt. It hurt. See this picture? This is of me as a division I college wrestler getting my ass kicked by Michael Stokes of NC State in 1989. I’m the guy on the bottom. I remember that match very well. Stokes pretty much threw me around like a rag doll. Did whatever the hell he wanted. It was all I could do to keep him off of me. He tech-falled me in the second period, meaning he obtained a 15 point advantage, after which the match was stopped. State was awarded 6 points in the dual meet, and my team got nothing. It was as if he had just pinned me. And who is Michael Stokes? He was the 126 lb. runner-up in the NCAA wrestling tournament that year. He succumbed 5-2 to a wrestler named Kendall Cross from Oklahoma State in the finals. And who is Kendall Cross? Gold medal winner in the 57 kg weight class at the summer Olympic games in Atlanta, Georgia, 1996. Watch the match here. That is the gulf between me and greatness. I never had any pretentions of being a tough guy, because I knew what tough was. That doesn’t mean I was a wimp, of course. I had the ligaments torn in my left knee during one match (which I won). Re-sprained my right ankle in another (which I also won). I had been slammed so hard against the mat that I saw stars and didn’t know where I was for a few moments (That one I didn’t win). I had completed matches so exhausted that all I could do was fall on my back and writhe. Wrestling is a hard sport. If you don’t give it your soul it will abuse you. And it hurts. It hurts. But I assure you, it never hurt more than when I lost a game of chess I should have won. I don’t know why, but physical beatings were nothing compared to the stabbing pangs of hate that would riot in my mind for days whenever I had to concede a wholly unnecessary defeat to someone who didn’t deserve to win. The contempt. The disgust. The regret. The bile. The effort to keep all these volatile emotions bottled up was almost more than I could handle sometimes. I realized that from a broken heart there is nowhere to hide. I’m reminded of how General Winfield Scott in 1846 played two casual games against 9-year old child prodigy and future unofficial world champion Paul Morphy. The general fancied himself a formidable player, you see. When he was in Morphy’s hometown of New Orleans, he demanded he face strong local talent. He was shocked when this came in the form an unassuming little boy and was even more shocked when this unassuming little boy crushed him like a bug, twice.
General Winfield Scott: Ooooh, Ah hate losin'.
With his enormous ego capsizing like the Titanic, Scott sent the boy home and refused to play him again.
Paul Morphy: So, who was this person I just beat again?
I didn’t want to be like Winfield Scott. We were both sore losers, yes. But I wanted to get my ass kicked honest, like a man. And it hurt. It hurt. But I kept coming back for more. I wanted to get better, and one only gets better by playing his betters. Especially in chess where you can objectively measure a player’s worth. There is little room for subjectivity or opinion or luck in chess. Either you win, lose, or draw. Anyway, the Chapel Hill players gradually accepted me, and with a group of friends to hang out with a couple times a week my life got a little more interesting. But I always knew that there were at least a couple guys in the group I could never beat on a regular basis. They were just better than I was, and there was nothing I could do about it. Sure, I could work hard and gain experience. But I felt I could study three hours a day for months on end while they could sit around and do nothing and they still would have beaten me. Or, given my disastrous tendency to blunder in endgames, they’d have a hell of a chance. How could I be so certain? Because what they could do without effort required much effort from me. For example, there were a couple guys who could watch a game being played and then afterwards effortlessly reconstruct a position on the board from almost any point in the game. I couldn’t dream of doing such a thing without tremendous sweat and effort, and still I would probably get something wrong. There are no books that teach you how to do this. This is not something you learn how to do. This is something you know how to do. Either your brain has the machinery to do this, or it doesn’t. Mine doesn’t. This I just got used to. Over time, as I became a better player, I also became a better loser. I began to forget the losses and cherish my victories. I learned how to enjoy the spirit and elegance of the game. I learned how not to take myself so seriously. I also learned to take pride in whatever improvement I could muster. This is the humility I was discussing earlier. Note the lack of arrogance. Note the more balanced and reasonable perspective on things. Note the accurate assessment of oneself, that one quality lacking in our hapless college kid as well as in the great Winfield Scott and many others, I would imagine. As Kasparov points out, the benefits you get from chess translate well to life too. I became a more humble person because of chess, not just a more humble player. And if the testimony of my Chapel Hill friends is worth anything, I became more likeable as well. But don’t get me wrong, if you take chess seriously (like I did) but lack real talent (also like I did), chess will break your heart. And it hurts. It hurts. But everything I did, I would do again without question, without hesitation. Because what I got out of chess in the end was totally worth it. As a postscript, I’d like to share one of the sweetest moments I’ve had as a class B chess player. In our little coterie of guys, the alpha male was without question an international master from Germany. I believe his international rating at the time was something like 2250, which was astronomically high compared to mine. Anyway, he was a genuinely nice guy who never minded wasting his time with us patzers. The way he would so effortlessly crush us all was breathtaking to behold. He also never took it hard on the rare occasions in which we managed to beat him. I must have played him 80 to 100 times over the course of 3 years in the late 1990s. In all those games, I believe I earned maybe 3 draws and only 2 wins. The rest were just dreadful beatings. Of the wins, the first really shouldn’t count because he and I were playing at a restaurant while he had his arm around his girlfriend. He was consuming his second beer of the evening and ordering dinner when the game started. He simply misjudged an opening sequence, and I won a piece for nothing. He could have played on (and probably would have won), but, like a gentleman, he resigned. The other time was a legitimate win for me. I forced him to capitulate in the endgame. Later analysis proved that he had played very badly, missing a few key positional moves, while I was in unusually sharp form. Regardless, he never let me come close to a win against him after that. But this isn’t the sweet part. The sweet part occurred when we taught him how to play bughouse. And what is bughouse? Only the funnest, most awesomest, most bodacious chess variant known to Man.
Bughouse!
It’s basically team chess. Two on two. Two boards. Two clocks. One team member is white, the other is black. If a player captures a piece, he can hand it to his teammate who can then place it on his board pretty much wherever he wants. Time limits are always low, like 5 minutes or less. And kibbitzing is not only allowed, but encouraged. The louder the better. Click here to see what a bughouse game looks and sounds like. Bughouse also has its own set of strategies and tactics separate from chess. There are certain things in chess, like fianchettoing a bishop, which one would never do in bughouse, for it would be plain suicide. This was something I neglected to inform our IM from Germany when I sat him down and taught him the game. You see, I had revenge in mind. Sweet, sweet revenge. And, boy, did I get it. For about 4 or 5 games, I beat the stuffing out of an international chess master over a chessboard. It was a slaughter, a beat down, a blitzkrieg. And I loved every single moment of it. My esteemed opponent was just too classy and could not adapt quickly enough to the cruder barroom tactics of bughouse. Still, he had fun. And he never once grudged me my time in the sun. So, that’s another thing that Kasparov can add to his list of chess benefits. Great memories.

Boxing Vs MMA Part 3

In my last post on MMA vs Boxing, we statistically analyzed the transfer of boxers into MMA and vice versa. I believe the evidence supports the hypothesis that boxers transition into high levels of MMA better than the other way around. There seems to be many reasons for this, not least of which is that a boxer can transfer close to 100% of his skill set into an MMA cage, but a mixed martial artist can only transfer something like 10%-15% of his skill set into boxing.

This post will compare the two sports in terms of overall excitement.

I will start with two premises. One, that a great boxing match is potentially every bit as exciting as a great MMA bout, although not always in the same way. In the ideal world, one sport is as good as the other. From this, I posit that in the real world, MMA has a greater likelihood for excitement for reasons that are both essential and incidental to both sports. Further, I believe that much of the disadvantages boxing has vis-à-vis MMA can be rectified.

First, a little autobiographical note. I started as a big boxing fan growing up because my dad was also a big fight fan. My earliest memory of boxing was in 1974 watching Muhammad Ali using the rope-a-dope tactic to knock out George Foreman. I was five. I also remember Ali getting knocked down by Chuck Wepner (the man who inspired all those Rocky movies), although my dad swears Wepner simply stepped on Ali’s foot and pushed him. Look at the photo and judge for yourself.

In my last post on MMA vs Boxing, we statistically analyzed the transfer of boxers into MMA and vice versa. I believe the evidence supports the hypothesis that boxers transition into high levels of MMA better than the other way around. There seems to be many reasons for this, not least of which is that a boxer can transfer close to 100% of his skill set into an MMA cage, but a mixed martial artist can only transfer something like 10%-15% of his skill set into boxing.

This post will compare the two sports in terms of overall excitement.

I will start with two premises. One, that a great boxing match is potentially every bit as exciting as a great MMA bout, although not always in the same way. In the ideal world, one sport is as good as the other. From this, I posit that in the real world, MMA has a greater likelihood for excitement for reasons that are both essential and incidental to both sports. Further, I believe that much of the disadvantages boxing has vis-à-vis MMA can be rectified.

First, a little autobiographical note. I started as a big boxing fan growing up because my dad was also a big fight fan. My earliest memory of boxing was in 1974 watching Muhammad Ali using the rope-a-dope tactic to knock out George Foreman. I was five. I also remember Ali getting knocked down by Chuck Wepner (the man who inspired all those Rocky movies), although my dad swears Wepner simply stepped on Ali’s foot and pushed him. Look at the photo and judge for yourself.

That's Chuck on the right in case you were wondering.

I remember Ali’s antics with Howard Cosell, his showing up to one interview wielding a hammer, his brawling in the studio with Joe Frazier, both Spinks fights. I also remember Mike Weaver’s incredible come-from-behind knockout of Big John Tate, Roberto Duran’s ‘no mas’ episode with Sugar Ray Leonard, Larry Holmes stopping Renaldo Snipes and Gerry Cooney, and other fights from the seventies and early eighties as well.

By the time I graduated college in 1990 I had seen hundreds of fights and remembered just about all of them. I read The Ring and other boxing magazines religiously. I made a student film about boxing. I studied any boxing history book I could find. At one point I could honestly and with some pride call myself an amateur boxing historian.

But I had always known that there was always something about boxing – or several somethings, really – that prevented it from being all that it could be. Of course, we could always point to the rampant corruption in the sport, its ties to organized crime and long history of fixed fights. This is well-documented. There’s also the horrific judging, the shameful mismatches, the dreadful officiating, the post-fight tantrums, and the , not to mention all the rioting and ear-biting that has taken place in the ring. And in case you may think that such transgressions are an artifact of a bygone age, these last seven examples all occurred since the mid-1990s. And there is many more to choose from.

But even when all is on the up-and-up with good judging, officiating, matchmaking, and talented, motivated combatants, boxing always has a real potential to fail. That is, to invite tedium or to not end conclusively, to not bring us to the state of breathtaking awareness we enter when we see a great fight or a great knockout. Mike Weaver brought us there, so did Hagler-Hearns, Pryor-Arguello I, and a young Mike Tyson against any number of opponents.

Lesser known examples from that era might also include Evander Holyfield against Michael Dokes, Michael Moorer against Bert Cooper, James Toney against Michael Nunn, Julio Cesar Chavez against Edwin Rosario, and many others. These fights were either blistering donnybrooks or stunning displays of violence and power, or both. They all contained drama, a very high-level of skill, and a brutally conclusive ending. It’s fights like these that leave one breathless and craving replays.

Only a fight fan can understand the terrible yet addictive exhilaration that comes with witnessing one man brutalize another man to a state of near-death under fair rules. Perhaps it’s the atavistic violence, the physical domination of one man over another that reminds us of our own carnal, mortal existence. Who knows? Many writers have pondered these ideas. My point however is that this is more like the holy grail of boxing rather than a common occurrence. Most top-level boxing matches don’t reach such heights and never even threaten to.

Good examples of boxing failure from the last 25 years include be Lennox Lewis against David Tua (2000), Oscar De La Hoya against Felix Sturm (2004), Floyd Mayweather against Carlos Baldomir (2006), and Pernell Whitaker against any number of guys: Greg Haugen (1989), Jose Luis Ramirez II (1989), Azumah Nelson (1990), Rafael Pineda (1992). I recognize Whitaker’s brilliance as a boxer, but to me he always seemed more of a performer than a fighter. In his matches, I always waited for a fight to break out, and instead I’d get something more like a dance, with Whitaker almost always one step ahead of his opponents.

Sweet Pea gets no love from RC.

In the cases mentioned above you have a consummately skilled fighter against a tough but less skilled opponent. The results were pure tedium since the fighter with the greater skill, despite his best efforts, could not hurt his man, and in turn was too good to get hurt by him. By the second round the outcome was a foregone conclusion: unanimous decision. Fight fans call this “pitching a shutout.” Some praise these kinds of bouts, pointing to the brilliance and artistry of the superior fighter. I point to the lack of competition and drama and feel like I’ve been ripped off.

This is why I refused to watch Andre Ward fight Carl Froch in the final round of Super-6 tournament in 2011. The fight fit this mold perfectly and as such had turkey written all over it. And I was right. Ward easily outpointed Froch and was never really in danger. Why go see a fight when you know in advance who is going to win?

Yeah, I saw that one coming.

Another example would be the fighters who fight not to lose rather than to win. Two classic examples would be Sugar Ray Leonard’s controversial points win over Marvin Hagler (1987), and Oscar De La Hoya’s controversial points loss to Felix Trinidad (1999). In both cases you had guys moving a lot (often backwards) and throwing a volume of flashy punches aimed more to impress judges rather than hurt their opponents. 25 years later, the Hagler-Leonard fight still generates controversy.

The great Roy Jones, Jr. also emulated this style against Mike McCallum in 1996. Virgil Hill, Corey Spinks, Chop-Chop Corely, Nikolai Valuev, and Chris Byrd, all world champions, have been accused of this behavior as well. They rarely go for the knockout or engage in the intense exchanges fans crave. Instead they were content to walk away with their ‘W’s at the fans’ expense.

A subset of this would be those talented fighters who do try to hurt their man, but lack real power. Winky Wright, Clarence “Bones” Adams, Paulie Malignaggi, and Yuri Foreman fit into this category quite nicely, and thus rarely are in good fights unless on they’re on the losing end.

Another subset of this group would be boxers who, knowing they are overmatched, fight simply not to get knocked out. Or, really, not fight at all. James “Bonecrusher” Smith and Jesse Ferguson famously turned in such a performance against a young Mike Tyson in the mid-1980s. Audley Harrison did the same against David Haye in 2010. Shane Mosely’s tepid effort against Manny Pacquaio in 2011 is perhaps the most high profile of the recent examples.

Another way in which boxers can stink up joints would be to emulate the “jab and grab” or “mug and maul” style of John Ruiz who left a turbid trail of flatulence through the heavyweight ranks in the late 1990s and early 2000s. His main strategy often seemed to wrangle his man onto the ropes and wing punches in the clinch. And he was good at it, which made his fights extremely hard to watch and harder to score.

Yeah, these fights were as ugly as they seem.

Naseem Hamed, an otherwise exciting fighter, laid a similar egg in 1999 during his wrestling match against Cesar Soto. He threw his man to the canvas numerous times and won a sloppy, ugly unanimous decision. You can read about his dreadful performance here.

On the other hand, sometimes two tough, talented, and motivated boxers cannot turn in an exciting scrap no matter how many kitchen sinks they throw at each other. It must be something about the styles of some boxers that sucks the air out of their matches like a bad soufflé. The first fight that comes to mind is Evander Holyfield-Lennox Lewis I from 1999, a lackluster affair best described as a waltz on four left feet. These are two hall of fame heavyweights, so it’s not so much a knock on them. But according to Wikipedia, the pair landed 478 punches over 12 less-than-scintillating rounds (130 for Holyfield, 348 for Lewis). This averages out to a dismal 40 punches landed per round for both of them, only around 10 of which coming from Holyfield. It was a forgettable night, made sadly unforgettable by the scandalous draw that was awarded afterwards. And this was no fluke since the rematch later that year wasn’t exactly a barnstormer either.

Boxing fights call such fights “snoozers”. De La Hoya-Whitaker from 1997 qualifies. Recent examples include Fres Oquendo against Elieser Castillo from 2007 and Nonito Donaire against Omar Narvaez from 2011.

Often such awkward results occur when a lefty faces a righty, and it’s hard for either fighter to establish a rhythm. The first Kostya Tszyu-Sharmba Mitchell fight from 2001 comes to mind here. How about when one fighter is dead set on fouling, such as Agapito Sanchez was in his 2001 technical draw against Manny Pacquaio? What an ugly fight that was. Then there’s the constant risk of fighters accidentally clashing heads and getting their faces cut open. Does anyone remember Vernon Forrest’s first fight against Raul Frank in 2000? Micky Ward against Jesse James Lejia in 2002? Both fights were stopped early, and fans went home disappointed. But probably not as disappointed as fans were in 2010 when they watched Kermit Cintron trip and fall out of the ring in the 4th round while wrangling with his opponent Paul Williams. It had been a pretty slow fight to begin with, and when Cintron was injured by his fall and couldn’t continue, he was inexplicably declared the loser.

Keep in mind that every fight I’ve mentioned was a high profile bout that featured at least one past or current world champion or contender still in his prime facing a legitimate world-ranked opponent. Paying customers should be treated with high theater as much as possible when seeing bouts like this. Obviously, the various forms of corruption threaten to ruin boxing for everyone. But when things fizzle even when no one is to blame, then perhaps something should be done about the sport itself.

And here is where is where we should look to MMA.

After watching MMA seriously for 8 years now, I can honestly say that that breathless elation, that intense, addictive buzz one feels after one of those great yet all-too-rare rare boxing matches happens all the time in MMA. If the list of great boxing matches I mentioned before seemed long, here is a list of truly great, truly mesmerizing MMA bouts only from the past three years. Every single one of these brings all the drama and thrill and action of the very best boxing matches (and I provide video links where I can).

Anthony Pettis-Ben Henderson, 2010 – A classic topped off by a super-human kick.

 

Melvin Manhoef-Robbie Lawlor, 2010 – A brutal, one-punch, come-from-behind KO.

 

Anderson Silva-Chael Sonnen, 2010 – Joe Louis-Billy Conn I all over again – but with twice the trash talk.

 

Brock Lesnar-Shane Carwin, 2010 – Truly from the brink of defeat.

 

Jorge Santiago-Kazuo Misaki II, 2010 – Gut-wrenching fight, exhausting, relentless.

 

Frankie Edgar-Gray Maynard II, 2011 – Sickening 1st round and an edge-of-your-seat comeback.

 

Frankie Edgar-Grey Maynard III, 2011 – Deja vu, but with a better ending.

 

Nick Diaz-Paul Daley, 2011 – Two bad dudes. You knew this wouldn’t last long.

 

Cheick Congo-Pat Barry, 2011 – Foremna-Lyle, distilled into two and a half beautiful minutes.

 

Dan Henderson-Shogun Rua, 2011 – MMA’s Thrilla in Manila.

 

Frank Mir-Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera 2, 2011 – Oh, snap!

 

Some MMA fans may quibble about fights left off this list (there are quite a few I still have not seen), but very few will deny that the fights on this list are classics. And do you clamor for jaw-dropping exhibitions of skill and brutality? The sickening submission, the highlight reel knockout? Again, from the past three years alone we have:

Paulo Thiago-Mike Swick, 2010 – There’s nothing like watching a man go to sleep.

Chris Lytle-Matt Brown, 2010 – The most artful submission I have ever seen.

(Unfortunately, I cannot find video or good photos of these matches.)

Jon Jones-Lyoto Machida, 2011 – Wicked. The fans had to tell Big John McCarthy that Machida was out.

 

Anderson Silva-Vitor Belfort, 2011 – Remember, this was Vitor Belfort this happened to.

 

Marius Zaromskis-Bruno Carvalho, 2011 – Somersalt heel kick straight from a Jackie Chan movie.

 

Cairo Rocha vs. Francisco Neves, 2011 – Where do these guys come up with these kicks?

 

Nick Diaz-Evangelista Santos, 2011 – I never considered how an armbar could be beautiful until I saw it executed here.

 

Edson Barbosa-Terry Etim, 2012 – Perfect spinning wheel kick.

 

Jose Aldo-Chad Mendes, 2012 – If a cobra had knees, he’d be Jose Aldo.

 

And there’s more. With MMA, there’s always more. Keep in mind that this is only since 2010, a small subset of the fights I could have selected. It bears repeating that these fights are every bit as good as the best boxing matches. You would just have to watch top level boxing for 5-6 years to compile an equally long list.

The best analogy I can think of is the old video game Galaga. Remember how you could get your space ship captured in a tractor beam? And if you shoot just right, you could get that ship back? Then you could fire two shots at a time and really take it to the aliens. Boxing is like that single shooter. You’re deadly, to be sure, but your kill rate is only half as good as the double shooter. MMA is like that double shooter. You get about twice as much bang from the same amount of buck.

Ever hang around old-time fight fans? You know, the guys of Bert Sugar’s generation, born before or during the Depression, who didn’t give Cassius Clay a chance against Sonny Liston and who still look to Floyd Patterson as the kind of champion to which all boxers should aspire. Don’t they get a little tiresome when they praise old fighters at expense of current ones? Ever get sick of hearing about how Sugar Ray Robinson would have knocked out Roy Jones, about how Henry Armstrong would have crushed Pernell Whitaker, and about how Joe Louis would have stopped Muhammad Ali? Don’t they realize how much they sound like stuck up blowhards when they praise to no end the Herculean toughness of Jake La Motta, the iron will of Tony Zale, the slickness of Kid Gavilan, the brilliance of Ezzard Charles, the ferocity of Jack Dempsey, the guile of Wilie Pep, the courage of Jimmy Braddock, the power of Sandy Saddler and then sneer in undisguised disdain at the modern stars? Arturo Gatti-Mickey Ward I? Feh. That’s not a fight. Carmen Basilio-Tony DeMarco II at the Boston Garden. 1955. Now there was a fight.

Bert Sugar: Sure, Primo Carnera would have licked Vladimir Klitschko! What of it?

Well, kids, listen up. You see Bert Sugar’s ugly mug up there? Don’t laugh, because that’s going to be us in forty years. You heard it here first. Today’s MMA fans are going to become the most obnoxious, insufferable, overbearing gasbags when it comes to the MMA of the future, and our grandkids are going to hate us for it. I assure you, we will not shut up for one second about what Chuck Liddell or Jon Jones would have done to some punk champion in 2052 who calls himself a mixed martial artist. Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, Jose Aldo, our opinions of these and probably a dozen other fighters will swell over time until these men become ensconced in some heroic pantheon that you really have to be part of our generation to understand and appreciate.

And why? Because, like Bert Sugar and other old-time fight fans, we are extremely fortunate to live during a combat sport’s golden age. It may not seem so obvious now, but what the UFC, Strikeforce, PRIDE, and other organizations have been serving up on a regular basis for the past decade is a rare and wondrous thing. When it goes away (and one day, sadly, it will) we are going to realize that the first two or three decades of the 21st century produced some of the greatest fights and some of the greatest fighters the world has ever seen.

Bert Sugar describes today’s boxing as an “echo of years gone by.” In a sense, he’s right. Boxing 60-70 years ago did reach heights it will probably never reach again. And in some ways I wouldn’t want it to. I wouldn’t want to invite the kind of harrowing conditions that gave rise to boxing’s greatest era 60-70 years ago: grinding poverty, the Great Depression, World War II, bigotry and racism, institutionalized oppression, and other things, I’m sure. Who would want to go through all that again? But for some reason, today is different. We can achieve great MMA without paying such a price. Today’s MMA is still on the upward climb towards the same heights boxing inhabited long ago. I know this sport, and I know its value. With MMA we are living in an age from which echoes are made.

We will delve into why in my next post.

Boxing Vs. MMA Part 2

My previous post, Boxing vs. MMA, set the stage for a showdown between the two popular combat sports.

On August 28th, 2010, boxing hall of famer James “Lights Out” Toney stepped into the UFC’s Octagon to take on MMA’s aging hero Randy Couture. The two athletes could not be more dissimilar. Toney, a phenomenally talented tough guy from Grand Rapids, Michigan, won the IBF middleweight title in 1991 and, when active, dominated the light heavyweight and cruiserweight divisions for over a decade. By 2003 he was competing successfully at heavyweight. He’s a bad dude with old-school skills and uncanny power. Outside the ring however, there’s little sophistication to him other than a thuggish, warlord’s charisma that commands respect and perhaps not a small amount of fear. That’s how it seems to me in his interviews at least.

On the other hand, Couture was a college wrestling standout, army veteran, and an Olympic alternate in Greco-Roman wrestling. Nicknamed Captain America, he’s articulate, outgoing, charming and loved the world over for helping to cement wrestling as one of the cornerstones of MMA. Plus, he never grows old. By the time of the Toney fight, he was 47. Toney was no spring chicken either at 42.

Here is YouTube video of the prefight hype to give you a taste of what this altercation was all about.

So pride was on the line. And bragging rights. Boxers and boxing writers have long held MMA with disdain, claiming that a good mixed martial artist will be no match for a good boxer in any arena.

So how did the hall of fame boxer do? The fight ended in the first round when Couture took Toney down with a low single leg, mounted him, and submitted him with a textbook arm triangle choke.

So that settles the debate. In the Octagon at least, mixed martial artists are superior to boxers, right?

Well, not really. Watch this.

My previous post, Boxing vs. MMA, set the stage for a showdown between the two popular combat sports.

On August 28th, 2010, boxing hall of famer James “Lights Out” Toney stepped into the UFC’s Octagon to take on MMA’s aging hero Randy Couture. The two athletes could not be more dissimilar. Toney, a phenomenally talented tough guy from Grand Rapids, Michigan, won the IBF middleweight title in 1991 and, when active, dominated the light heavyweight and cruiserweight divisions for over a decade. By 2003 he was competing successfully at heavyweight. He’s a bad dude with old-school skills and uncanny power. Outside the ring however, there’s little sophistication to him other than a thuggish, warlord’s charisma that commands respect and perhaps not a small amount of fear. That’s how it seems to me in his interviews at least.

On the other hand, Couture was a college wrestling standout, army veteran, and an Olympic alternate in Greco-Roman wrestling. Nicknamed Captain America, he’s articulate, outgoing, charming and loved the world over for helping to cement wrestling as one of the cornerstones of MMA. Plus, he never grows old. By the time of the Toney fight, he was 47. Toney was no spring chicken either at 42.

James Toney Vs. Randy Couture

Here is YouTube video of the prefight hype to give you a taste of what this altercation was all about.

So pride was on the line. And bragging rights. Boxers and boxing writers have long held MMA with disdain, claiming that a good mixed martial artist will be no match for a good boxer in any arena.

So how did the hall of fame boxer do? The fight ended in the first round when Couture took Toney down with a low single leg, mounted him, and submitted him with a textbook arm triangle choke.

Couture Submitting Toney

So that settles the debate. In the Octagon at least, mixed martial artists are superior to boxers, right?

Well, not really. Watch this.

This is a 48-year old “Merciless” Ray Mercer, retired former WBO heavyweight boxing champion stretching 33 year-old Tim Sylvia, former UFC heavyweight champion in 9 seconds. Sylvia was a mere 6 years removed from his UFC title holding days whereas Mercer was a good 18-20 years past his prime. Recently, the writers at Sherdog.com posted Sylvia as the number 7 all-time MMA heavyweight.

So if mixed martial artists reign supreme in the cage, what is Tim Sylvia doing getting knocked cold by a retired boxer?

The answer is that a boxer can transfer 100% of his skill set into the cage whereas a mixed martial artist can only transfer 10%-15% of his skill set into a boxing ring. I like to think of MMA fighters as Swiss army knives: multifaceted, but perhaps not the very best in any one single facet (with the possible exception of Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, which is very closely tied to MMA). Boxers are more like bowie knives, long and deadly, but comparatively one dimensional. And since MMA fights start on the feet just like in boxing, this one dimension could very well be all you need. As they say, power is the great equalizer, and anyone with a good punch has a puncher’s chance, even in the cage.

A statistical analysis will show that boxers actually transition better into mixed-martial arts than the other way around. Presented here are a list of notable mixed-martial artists and professional boxers who made the switch. These athletes must either be champions, contenders, or notable in some way in either boxing or MMA, or they must compete seriously in both sports simultaneously.

Notable Boxers Who Have Fought in MMA (Click to enlarge):

Notable Mixed Martial Artists Fought as Professional Boxers (Click to enlarge):

Before we begin to analyze this data, we need to discuss briefly some important names left off these lists and why. There’s always going to be some subjectivity and exclusivity in studies like these, but I hope you find my reasons for limiting it to these 22 fighters reasonable, if not compelling.

Don Frye: Frye began his MMA career in 1996 and went on to become a two-time UFC tournament champion. His lone boxing match in 1989 cannot be considered a switch to the sweet science since he hadn’t begun his MMA career yet. And the 7-year gap prevents it from being considered a switch in the other direction.

Jerome Le Banner: Le Banner began his boxing career in 1998 and went undefeated against nondescript opposition. He began his MMA career in 2002 and went 5-2 decent opposition. However, Le Banner is first and foremost a world champion kick boxer, compiling a record of 58-20-1 since 1992. He’s excluded here because he is at heart neither a boxer nor a mixed martial artist as the term is currently defined.

Carter Williams: Another champion kick boxer who began in the 1990s, Williams had a very brief boxing career in 2002 and tallied a 4-4 record in MMA since then. He’s excluded here for the same reason Le Banner is.

Matt Skelton: Skelton was also a champion kick boxer in the 1990s and transitioned into a highly successful boxing career in 2002. He challenged for the WBA Heavyweight title in 2008. He had one MMA bout in 2001, a loss. Technically, this was a switch from kick boxing to MMA. Since he hadn’t started boxing yet the dynamics are different enough to exclude him here.

Alexander Ustinov: Like Le Banner, Williams, and Skelton, Ustinov started as a kick boxer. He fought 64 times from 2002 to 2007. He started boxing in 2006 and is currently ranked in the top 10 by the WBA, the WBO, and the IBF as a heavyweight. During his time as a kick boxer, he competed in events that may or may not be considered MMA bouts since they didn’t adhere entirely to the UFC/Pride model of fighting. For example, fighters wore boxing gloves and didn’t grapple. Thus, Ustinov is mostly a kick boxer turned boxer with dubious experience in MMA.

Art Jimmerson: Jimmerson was an accomplished boxer by the time he famously competed in the very first UFC competition in 1993. He had contended for the NABF Light-Heavyweight title in 1990 and won the IBC Americas light heavyweight title in 1991. His boxing record stood at 29-5 on the day he entered the Octagon against Royce Gracie, perhaps the greatest mixed martial artist of the day (although few outside his home country of Brazil knew it back then). Gracie mounted Jimmerson and submitted him in little over two minutes. Jimmerson is excluded here because although he was fighting in MMA, I’ll argue that he really didn’t know what he was getting into. He showed up wearing one boxing glove, an unheard of practice which put him at an absurd disadvantage, and he tapped out despite not being struck with a significant blow.

My hunch is that Jimmerson didn’t want to get injured and jeopardize his upcoming bout with WBA Cruiserweight champion Orlin Norris (which took place two months later) and decided too late that his little foray into MMA was perhaps ill-advised. Had he trained in MMA for several months and demonstrated some familiarity with it against Gracie he would be included here. But because he hadn’t, it’s hard to take his stab at MMA seriously.

Watch the video here and judge for yourself.

Perhaps we should first compare the combined records of both groups. That would be: 47-35-1 for the boxers (a winning percentage of 56.6%) and 42-5-4 for the mixed martial artists (a winning percentage of 82.4%). So this seems the support the argument that mixed martial artists have the edge over boxers. Indeed, when athletes cross over there is a statistically better chance the a mixed martial artist will be successful than a boxer.

But let’s consider two other things: 1) The age at the time of switching from one combat sport to another, and 2) the quality of opposition each group faced in their second sport.

For the first, boxers tend to transition later than mixed martial artists. On average, they make the switch at 35.0 years of age, whereas the average age for mixed martial artists is 27.6. Considering that a man is in his physical prime during his twenties and early thirties, this is a meaningful statistic. It seems that boxers tend to wait until their career is over or on the downside before trying MMA. This is certainly the case with Botha, Butterbean, Davis, Mercer, Nishijima, Nortje, Toney, Warring, and Jeremy Williams. Only Rubin Williams fought as a mixed martial artist while still in the midst of his boxing career. With the MMA group, on the other hand, you get a lot of guys who will compete in both sports simultaneously or who will dabble for a fight or two in boxing, perhaps as a way to keep their striking sharp between MMA fights. This usually happens in their twenties. Only Kimbo Slice bucks this trend, turning his back on a respectable MMA career in his late thirties to give boxing a try.

For the second, it’s nearly impossible to obtain an objective measure of the quality of opposition a fighter has faced in his second sport. The best we can do is compare the winning and losing percentages of the opposition and then look at their accomplishments. The combined record of opposition faced by boxers in MMA is 932-690-36. This is a winning percentage of 56.2% and a losing percentage of 41.6%. On the other hand, the combined record of opposition faced by mixed martial artists in the boxing ring is 417-944-51. This is a winning percentage of 29.5% and a losing percentage of 66.8%. Clearly, boxers faced the stiffer competition in their second sport, which would explain why their win-loss percentages are not as stellar as those coming from MMA.

One will quickly notice that of the 1412 bouts taken from the records of the opposition facing mixed martial artists in boxing, 1048 came from Chris Lytle, who seems to be a bit of an outlier. As a boxer, Lytle took on a bunch of guys with big losing records including Reggie Strickland, who famously lost 256 boxing matches from 1987 to 2005 while winning only 66. Another Lytle opponent tallied a dismal 13-166-6 record. So removing Lytle from the mix brings us to 151-200-13. This is still only a winning percentage of 41.4% and a losing percentage of 54.9%. Not as impressive as the competition faced by boxers in MMA.

Another way to judge quality of opposition is to determine what champions, former champions, or title challengers the fighters faced in their second sport. As of December 2011, boxers have faced 11 (or 12 since Jan Nortje faced UFC 8 Heavyweight finalist Gary Goodridge twice) whereas mixed martial artists have only faced 7:

MMA world champions or challengers faced by boxers in MMA:

Boxing world champions or challengers faced by mixed martial artists in boxing:

So, again, Chris Lytle is the outlier having faced 6 of the 7 boxing champions and challengers listed above.

Also, keep in mind that none of the boxing titles mentioned here are recognized by the Boxing Hall of Fame, and only one (the WBO title) is a true world championship belt, albeit a minor one at that. The other titles are considered minor or regional. To be fair, the titles achieved or contended for by the 11 MMA fighters listed in the previous table may claim to be a world championship, but some really aren’t. In some cases these represent tournament victories or minor belts. The Pride and UFC titles at different points in the 1990s and 2000s (and perhaps the WEC and Strikeforce titles in the last 5 or so years) are probably the most prestigious of the bunch and lay the best claim to the term “world champion”.

We should also consider that there are more boxers in the world than mixed martial artists, so the ascent to the championship level is likely to be longer in boxing.

Still, the MMA champions and challengers faced by boxers in the cage are far more elite than the boxing champions and challengers faced by mixed martial artists in the ring. Couture and Sakuraba are legendary fighters and have easy claims to greatness in MMA. Gracie is a Brazilian Ju-Jitsu black belt, who, in the 1990s, defeated two UFC champions. Nate Diaz is a highly rated and respected fighter currently competing as a lightweight in the UFC. Tim Sylvia is a former UFC champion with 2 title defenses. And both Manhoef and Akiyama hold a KO victories over Sakuraba (although Akiyama’s was changed later to a no contest). Any casual MMA fan will have heard of most of these guys.

In comparison, the boxing champions and contenders faced by Lytle and Noons wouldn’t be household names even in their own households, to borrow a quip from boxing writer Bert Sugar. In fact, of the 7 mentioned above, only 2 actually won a title. And one of these is Reggie Strickland. Yes, the same guy who went 66-256-14 in his boxing career.

This all supports the claim that boxers compete better in MMA than the other way around. Despite that MMA fighters have the better win-loss record in their second sport, boxers as a whole still have a win percentage well over 50%, are taken more seriously, and compete on a higher level in MMA despite their much more advanced age. The fact that one boxer actually holds a KO victory over a former undisputed MMA world champion seals the deal in my opinion.

But if there is still some doubt, consider this. Anderson Silva has been considered the pound for pound best MMA fighter in the world for the last 6 years at least. Here is a quote from Wikipedia attesting to his greatness.

With 14 consecutive wins and 9 title defenses, Silva holds the longest winning streak and title defense streak in UFC history. UFC president Dana White has proclaimed Silva as “the greatest mixed martial artist ever.”

Silva is ranked as the number one Middleweight in the world by multiple publications, and is the consensus #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world according to ESPN, Sherdog, Yahoo! Sports, MMAFighting.com and other publications. Silva is also the last Cage Rage Middleweight Champion and a former Shooto Middleweight Champion.

Anderson Silva is a beautiful fighter who, now in his late thirties, is still ruling the MMA roost at 185 pounds. Here is a good YouTube collection of Anderson Silva’s greatest moments (if you don’t mind excessive profanity in the soundtrack). Really, he is breathtaking to watch.

This is the same person who in 1998 was knocked out in the second round by someone named Osmar Luiz Teixeira, an 11-2 fighter from Brazil. Silva was 23 at the time, not old, but certainly not young by boxing standards. So the Sugar Ray Robinson of MMA gets stopped in two by a boxer who as of December 2011 has compiled a record of 32-22 and never even contended for a belt, minor or otherwise. This certainly does throw a wet blanket on any argument regarding the superiority of MMA fighters over boxers.

To be fair, there is some controversy as to whether this bout even took place and whether it really was Anderson Silva who got knocked out. You can read about it here. But Silva’s demographic information on boxrec.com (a boxing reference site which lists the Teixeira fight) matches that on sherdog.com (a MMA reference site). Same nickname (“The Spider”), same birth date, same city of residence. The only difference is that Boxrec lists Silva as “Da Silva” and has him at 6′ 2.5″ whereas Sherdog drops the “Da” and has him at 6′ 2″ even. In my opinion, it’s the same guy.

Another example would be Jens Pulver. Pulver may not be considered a great MMA fighter, but he was a legitimate UFC lightweight champion in the early 2000s. In 2002 at UFC 35 he defeated the amazing BJ Penn, who is considered one of the greatest MMA fighters ever.

In 2004 at the age of 29 he embarked on a boxing career, winning 4 straight. In his second fight, he got in a kick-down drag-out war with a 3-0 fighter named Steve Vincent and won a close 4-round split decision. Vincent knocked Pulver down, got knocked down twice, and lost by a single point on two of three judges cards. Vincent ended his boxing career 2 years later with a 10-5 record. His biggest fight ended in a 5th round TKO loss to Gilbert Venegas. And who is Venegas? A 10-7 fighter who drew for the WBC Continental Americas welterweight title in 2007 and was shut out in a unanimous decision by a rising Mike Jones a year later. And who is Mike Jones? A currently undefeated welterweight contender ranked in the top 3 in the world by the WBA, the IBF, and the WBO.

This should illustrate the chasm between the level at which MMA fighters compete in boxing and the true championship level. Based on the evidence, it would be unthinkable for a top notch MMA fighter to walk in the ring and take out a champion boxer. If it is thinkable, it would have happened already. Pulver would be losing close fights against people like Mike Jones, not winning close ones against the Steve Vincents of the world. MMA fighters would be facing stiffer boxing competition in general. But they are not, probably because they, as a group, cannot. But in MMA, boxers can, and so they do. And in at least one instance, came out on top.

After his bout with James Toney, Randy Couture faced a challenge from Toney’s boxing promoter to fight Toney in the boxing ring. Couture was frank in his reply. “I would respectfully decline such an offer,” he said. Later he added, “James would probably knock me out in the first round.”

That just about settles it, doesn’t it?

See the entire clip here.

Sources for this article include Sherdog.com, boxrec.com, fightnews.com, and Wikipedia.

In part 3 of this series, I will move from comparing the fighters to comparing the sports of boxing and MMA themselves.

Felix Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn transcends music in a way no other composer does. In addition to being firmly ensconced in the canon of great composers, Mendelssohn must also be regarded as an important figure in political history and in the history of ideas.

Felix was a Jew. His grandfather, Moses Mendelssohn, who was a noted philosopher and disciple of Leibniz, promoted the humanistic idea that Jews can assimilate into Western culture and still maintain their identities. Ideas such as this led to the great Jewish Emancipation of Europe and helped establish 19th century Germany as the world leader in the arts and sciences.

By converting to Christianity and spending much of his career championing Christian music, Felix Mendelssohn embodied his grandfather’s ideas of assimilation and emancipation. This led the famous German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine to quip, “the most Jewish thing Felix Mendelssohn ever did was to become a Christian.”

Felix Mendelssohn transcends music in a way no other composer does. In addition to being firmly ensconced in the canon of great composers, nurse Mendelssohn must also be regarded as an important figure in political history and in the history of ideas.

Felix was a Jew. His grandfather, Moses Mendelssohn, who was a noted philosopher and disciple of Leibniz, promoted the humanistic idea that Jews can assimilate into Western culture and still maintain their identities. Ideas such as this led to the great Jewish Emancipation of Europe and helped establish 19th century Germany as the world leader in the arts and sciences.

By converting to Christianity and spending much of his career championing Christian music, Felix Mendelssohn embodied his grandfather’s ideas of assimilation and emancipation. This led the famous German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine to quip, “the most Jewish thing Felix Mendelssohn ever did was to become a Christian.”

Born in 1809 to a family that was as prosperous as it was cultured and respected, young Felix displayed astoundingly prodigious musical talent. He gave his first piano concert when he was nine. At twelve he dazzled the poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who compared him favorably to a young Mozart in terms of his ability to sight-read and improvise on the piano. Goethe was speaking from experience. Old as he was in 1821, he had witnessed young Mozart play in 1763!

Mendelssohn had always admired the choral music and texts of Johann Sebastian Bach. Such music was hardly fashionable in the early years of the Romantic era, when enlightened Germans looked down upon such unabashed religiosity, and when leading composers such as Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, and Wagner were focusing on rebelling against classical traditions. Nonetheless, in 1829, when he was a mere twenty years old, Mendelssohn arranged and conducted Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion. It was a tremendous success, and the young composer was credited for almost single-handedly reviving Bach’s music in Germany. Significantly, 1829 marked not only the 100th anniversary of St. Matthew’s Passion but also the 100th anniversary of the birth of Moses Mendelssohn.

Mendelssohn took new inspiration from traditional forms of music. He wrote many works for the church, such as his Elijah Oratorio, which were instantly popular and grew to be cherished in Germany and beyond. His Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture recalled the majestic sweep of Beethoven’s Leonoren Overtures. And the choral Lobgesang, his second symphony, took up where Beethoven’s Ninth left off in merging the classic symphony with the spiritual cantata.

With the symphonic poem, however, Mendelssohn was at his most Romantic and in many cases a step ahead of his contemporaries. The famous conductor Hans von Bulow once stated that Mendelssohn’s symphonic poem Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage “would live when other symphonic poems had ceased to be played.” And this came from the son in-law of Franz Liszt who coined the term “symphonic poem” and did the most to popularize the form. Around the time of his primeval and terrifying Walpurgis Night cantata in the early 1830s, he began calling himself “Richard Wagner’s elder brother.” Indeed, his elemental Hebrides Overture, a work that captures the raw violence and beauty of the sea, is considered a Wagernian work before Wagner!

What can never be forgotten about Felix Mendelssohn was how he was almost deliberately forgotten nearly a century after his death. The Nazis struggled to efface this towering and much beloved figure from the very core of the German psyche. They could not prevent Germans from singing the songs they loved, but they could suppress the name of the Jew who wrote them. They could not pull him off the small stage where he shared a place with the other great German composers of the past, but they could pull down the statue of Mendelssohn that stood in Leipzig. That these cruel and clumsy efforts came frighteningly close to success can drag one either into the depths of cynicism regarding man’s inherent selfishness and ingratitude or into euphoric heights regarding the victory of Truth over oppression.

As the saying goes, all roads lead to Rome. But in the case of the rather stormy and contentious Romantic period of classical music, all roads seemed to stem from Felix Mendelssohn. Chopin may have disregarded Schumann. Schumann may have railed against Wagner. Wagner may have stood apart from Brahms. Brahms may have condemned Liszt. But to a man, they all revered and took inspiration from Felix Mendelssohn. His dear friend Robert Schumann was said to have begun dying the day Mendelssohn passed away tragically in 1847 at the age of thirty-eight. Upon hearing Mendelssohn himself play his gorgeous Songs Without Words, with its adroit and mesmerizing variations simple themes, Robert’s wife Clara Schumann called him “the dearest pianist of all.” And why? Throughout his charmed but short life, he was brilliant, kind, generous, honest, erudite. But most of all, he wrote beautiful music.

Boxing vs. MMA

The sudden advent of mixed martial arts as a legitimate professional sport is one of the most remarkable apsects about American cultural life in the early 21st century.

Like boxing a century and a half before it, MMA was born into obscurity and possessed with such atavistic violence and brutality that many couldn’t believe that such a thing could exist in the modern age. In fact, shortly after the Ultimate Fighting Championship debuted in the early 1990s, there were calls across the country to ban it. The UFC began as an experiment of sorts to discover which martial art was the most effective. As such, you had wrestlers, Ju-Jitsu and Muay Thai practitioners, karate black belts, boxers, kick boxers, and men from other martial disciplines all competing in a cage called the Octagon. The fighters at first were a hodgepodge, arriving in differing kinds of attire, from Speedos to full gis. Further, the rules of the sport were lax enough to allow tactics that (for people accustomed to boxing at least) seemed truly barbaric. It was perfectly legal to not just to hit a man when he was down, but also to deliver kicks to the head and groin to keep him there. Add to that witches brew elbows, knees, kidney punches, hair pulling, foot stomping, arm locks, leg locks, creative choke holds, and, in one instance at least, strangling an opponent with his T-shirt, and you had something that even the most hardened American sports fans found difficult to swallow.

The sudden advent of mixed martial arts as a legitimate professional sport is one of the most remarkable apsects about American cultural life in the early 21st century. Like boxing a century and a half before it, MMA was born into obscurity and possessed with such atavistic violence and brutality that many couldn’t believe that such a thing could exist in the modern age. In fact, shortly after the Ultimate Fighting Championship debuted in the early 1990s, there were calls across the country to ban it. The UFC began as an experiment of sorts to discover which martial art was the most effective. As such, you had wrestlers, Ju-Jitsu and Muay Thai practitioners, karate black belts, boxers, kick boxers, and men from other martial disciplines all competing in a cage called the Octagon. The fighters at first were a hodgepodge, arriving in differing kinds of attire, from Speedos to full gis. Further, the rules of the sport were lax enough to allow tactics that (for people accustomed to boxing at least) seemed truly barbaric. It was perfectly legal to not just to hit a man when he was down, but also to deliver kicks to the head and groin to keep him there. Add to that witches brew elbows, knees, kidney punches, hair pulling, foot stomping, arm locks, leg locks, creative choke holds, and, in one instance at least, strangling an opponent with his T-shirt, and you had something that even the most hardened American sports fans found difficult to swallow. Of course, amid the 400-pound freak shows, beer-gutted street brawlers, pretentious martial arts dilettantes, wannabe pro-wrestlers, and out-of-work tough guys who appeared in the early UFC tournaments, you had serious athletes dedicated to making MMA a legitimate form of competition. Royce Gracie, the Shamrock brothers, Marco Ruas, Guy Metzger, Vitor Belfort, Randy Couture were leading examples. As time went on in the 1990s, this pretty much became the norm in the UFC as it slowly shed its “bloodsport” in search of mainstream recognition. Regardless, boxing remained the premier combat sport in America, and not just because MMA took about a decade to find its legs. The 1990s and early 2000s were a golden age for boxing. Superstars such as Mike Tyson, Roy Jones, Julio Cesar Chavez, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, Marco Antonio Barerra, Felix Trinidad, Ricardo Lopez, and Oscar De La Hoya revitalized interest in the sport. Later stars like the Klitschko brothers, Ricky Hatton, Arturo Gatti, Kostya Tszu, Floyd Mayweather, and Manny Pacquaio got their start in the 1990s as well. Further, competing cable networks such as HBO, Showtime, and ESPN limited some of the corruption in boxing by pressuring promoters to put on competitive fights, not just ones that were most expedient to their profit margins. The talent level was also very, very high, and many weight divisions were loaded with great matchups just waiting to happen, especially heavyweight. As opposed to MMA, boxing around the turn of the century was considered by most Americans to be a legitimate sport. It could boast of time-honored rules, loads of tradition, Olympic pedigrees, phenomenal athletes, and bigger-than-life personalities while the UFC was still trying to convince state athletic commissions to keep MMA legal. In 2001, the very idea that MMA would eclipse boxing as America’s top combat sport was fairly ridiculous. Now, ten years later, not so much. In fact, it has pretty much already happened. The UFC changed owners and management in 2001, and as a result better regulated the rules, banned some of the more brutal fighting tactics, introduced more weight classes, earned approval from sanctioning bodies, greatly improved advertizing, made forays into reality television, and spread their appeal across the world. MMA has also developed a distinct personality with its own share of characters, heels, heroes, and rivalries that will soon be part of legend. Bottom line however is that, in the UFC at least, the matchmaking has been excellent, the fighters compete at a very high level, and the fights more often than not are exciting. By 2005, the UFC had turned a corner and has grown in popularity and stature ever since. Boxing, on the other hand, while still going strong, hasn’t exactly matched the dizzying heights it had reached 10-20 years ago when super-fights were being staged nearly every month. Many of the fighters mentioned above have retired, should retire, or will in the next year or two. And they have not exactly been replaced by athletes of equal magnitude or charisma. The Klitschkos continue to dominate a lackluster heavyweight division. Sergio Martinez, Chad Dawson and Andre Ward are excellent fighters, but Roy Jones, James Toney, and Bernard Hopkins they ain’t. There are a lot of talented guys in the lighter weights, such as Saul Alvarez, Nonito Donaire, Amir Kahn, Marcos Maidana, and Andre Berto. But none as of yet has the box office cache or charisma of a prime Julio Cesar Chavez or Oscar de la Hoya. And has anyone created a rivalry that can match Barerra-Morales, Ward-Gatti, or Corrales-Castillo? Further, the two most recognizable men in the sport, Manny Pacquaio and Floyd Mayweather, share not only the same weight division but also the number 1 and 2 spots on all pound-for-pound lists. Yet they refuse to fight each other. Of course, boxing isn’t doing badly in 2011. It’s just that compared to how things were 10-20 years ago, it’s in a bit of a slump. Also, it appears to Americans a little worse than it really is since much of boxing’s appeal has shifted overseas with its stars. If you look at the Ring or Fightnews.com rankings per weight class you will only find a smattering of American fighters in the top ten in each division above welterweight. This

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reminds me of how things were in 1975 when the only American world champion was Muhammad Ali. The talented Olympic classes of 1976 and 1984 changed all that. I have no doubt that things will improve for boxing, partly because MMA has emerged as a competitor and real threat to its business. So now that the two sports compete head-to-head we can ask the following questions: which one is better? Which is more thrilling? Who is the more dangerous combat athlete? What can one learn from the other? These questions I will tackle in an upcoming post.

Against Kubrick 7

This is part 7 of my polemic against the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. My premise basically is that his great films had negative effects on the world and that Kubrick was anything but a humanist. I will go after his great films one at a time, continuing with part 3 of my discussion on…

A Clockwork Orange

In Part 1 I argued that A Clockwork Orange is a cruel, nasty film in which Stanley Kubrick uses “satire” and other intellectual ruses as an excuse for his near-pornographic interest in violence. I added up the minutes spent on violence and sex versus satire and found more than twice as many minutes dedicated to the former than to the latter. I also organized the film in chapters like so:

1) Ultra-violence (43.5 minutes)
2) Prison (24 minutes)
3) Ludovico Technique (where the satirical elements are introduced) (20 minutes)
4) Freedom and Fall (more ultra-violence) (33.5 minutes)
5) Hospital and Rebirth (more satire) (13 minutes)

In Part 2, I explored the quality of the filmmaking and assessed that Kubrick was most inspired when filming acts of cruelty and frankly uninspired when filming much of the satirical chapters. In this third and final installment, I will discuss the flawed nature of the satire itself, underscoring the premise that A Clockwork Orange is anti-humanist in its contempt for people and frankly dishonest for its intellectual pretensions.

At its very center, the film’s satire shows how in the face of endless corruption and weakness, pure evil becomes attractive, if not preferable to good. Purity becomes a virtue because it is a quality no one else in the film besides Alex shares. And the ending turns this already perverted notion on its head when even pure evil becomes corrupted.

Remember Alex mugging triumphantly for the photographers in his hospital bed? After a moment, he looks up, suddenly struck by an idea. He realizes that he doesn’t have to resort to ultra-violence anymore to harm or take advantage of others. He can use the corrupt system that the government has invited him into to do that for him. After all, he is getting away with murder, right? If he plays his cards right, with the powerful friends he now has, he can do it again.

And that last line: “I was cured, all right.” Basically, Alex was cured of his cure, as illustrated here.

This is part 7 of my polemic against the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. My premise basically is that his great films had negative effects on the world and that Kubrick was anything but a humanist. I will go after his great films one at a time, continuing with part 3 of my discussion on… A Clockwork Orange In Part 1 I argued that A Clockwork Orange is a cruel, nasty film in which Stanley Kubrick uses “satire” and other intellectual ruses as an excuse for his near-pornographic interest in violence. I added up the minutes spent on violence and sex versus satire and found more than twice as many minutes dedicated to the former than to the latter. I also organized the film in chapters like so:

1) Ultra-violence (43.5 minutes) 2) Prison (24 minutes) 3) Ludovico Technique (where the satirical elements are introduced) (20 minutes) 4) Freedom and Fall (more ultra-violence) (33.5 minutes) 5) Hospital and Rebirth (more satire) (13 minutes)

In Part 2, I explored the quality of the filmmaking and assessed that Kubrick was most inspired when filming acts of cruelty and frankly uninspired when filming much of the satirical chapters. In this third and final installment, I will discuss the flawed nature of the satire itself, underscoring the premise that A Clockwork Orange is anti-humanist in its contempt for people and frankly dishonest for its intellectual pretensions. At its very center, the film’s satire shows how in the face of endless corruption and weakness, pure evil becomes attractive, if not preferable to good. Purity becomes a virtue because it is a quality no one else in the film besides Alex shares. And the ending turns this already perverted notion on its head when even pure evil becomes corrupted. Remember Alex mugging triumphantly for the photographers in his hospital bed? After a moment, he looks up, suddenly struck by an idea. He realizes that he doesn’t have to resort to ultra-violence anymore to harm or take advantage of others. He can use the corrupt system that the government has invited him into to do that for him. After all, he is getting away with murder, right? If he plays his cards right, with the powerful friends he now has, he can do it again. And that last line: “I was cured, all right.” Basically, Alex was cured of his cure, as illustrated here. I draw a dotted line here because it doesn’t have to be Alex committing the ultra-violence himself as long as he has the government covering for him. Hence, he is no longer as “pure” as he was in chapter 1. (Although exactly how Alex could suddenly stand listening to Beethoven again in the film’s last scene despite the Ludovico Technique was never made clear.) Regardless, Kubrick has to do two things to set up such a clever and ironic finale. First, he has to establish Alex as pure evil, which he clearly does. In fact, he may do it better than anyone in cinema, which is no mean accomplishment. More on that later. He also has to portray his victims and others around him in a negative light so we never gain sympathy for them and lose focus on the beautiful white-hot burning flame that is Alex. As soon as that happens, Alex’s fall and satirical rebirth become meaningless. So how does Kubrick do this? By portraying the dystopian world Alex lives in as being: A) hopelessly corrupt B) maddeningly banal C) awash in atrociously bad taste. In such a world, how could we not become spellbound by Alex’s harmonic malice? Unfortunately for Kubrick however, being corrupt, banal, and/or having bad taste are not heinous enough sins even when compounded to be punishable by rape and murder. First, there is the rampant corruption. The Deltoid character epitomizes this. He is presumably some kind of youth counselor, yet he grabs Alex by the crotch while lecturing him on how he should live his life. He also laughs maniacally when informing Alex that he is a murderer. The man is clearly a psychopath, yet he fits in just fine in Kubrick’s world. deltoid1deltoid2 Of course, the prison chaplain’s creepy hand-on-the-shoulder affection for Alex, Mr. Alexander’s vicious politicizing of the Ludovico Technique, and the government cover-up in the end add to this. Really, who in this film is not tainted by corruption? Maybe the chief guard of the prison, but he seems to be there more for cheap laughs than anything else. The signs of corruption everywhere are in images too (e.g., the phallic graffiti, the atrocious art). It seems that Kubrick really wants to portray humanity as some Gordian knot of corruption so that when Alex slashes it to pieces, we cheer. graffiti Second, there is the banality of Alex’s parents. These are two entirely sheep-like human beings. It’s as if they are so heavily medicated they can barely lift a finger. And they are stupid too. Anyone would go mad if forced to live with people like this. At least, that’s what Kubrick wants us to feel. Giving Alex any positive role models would only make Alex look bad in comparison. Finally, there is the atrocious style on display everywhere in the film, from hairstyles, to clothing, to artwork, to interior decoration. It’s all not just bad, but garishly so. Does anyone in Kubrick’s universe besides Alex have a sense of taste? See if you don’t disagree. Notice also how Kubrick deliberately films Alex’s main victims in an unattractive light. I mean, really. Is this necessary? The first screenshot is of the innocent middle-aged woman whom Alex senselessly murders. Do we have to see her in such an unflattering pose? The second screenshot is of Mr. Alexander when he realizes that his guest (Alex) was the one who had raped and murdered his wife and left him in a wheelchair. A little over-the-top don’t you think? So this is how Kubrick sets up his satire, by making humanity entirely repulsive. Hardly the work of a humanist. Also, I’d like to point out an additional tidbit of Kubrick-cruelty. Remember when Alex and his droogs steal a car and go joyriding? Playing “Hogs of the road”, as Alex put it. They run 3 vehicles off the road. So what happened to the people in those vehicles? Were they injured or killed? I wouldn’t be surprised if the guy in the motorcycle had at least broken a leg. But we don’t know because Kubrick doesn’t care to tell us. Those people weren’t important, you see. They were only human. Another way to look at the satire that is A Clockwork Orange is to take it at face-value. Let’s judge it on its own terms as a treatise on mind control and freedom. Again, let’s re-quote Kubrick:

…a

social satire dealing with the question of whether behavioural psychology and psychological conditioning are dangerous new weapons for a totalitarian government to use to impose vast controls on its citizens and turn them into little more than robots.

and

It is a story of the dubious redemption of a teenage delinquent by condition-reflex therapy. It is at the same time a running lecture on free-will.

This is frankly laughable. I love how Kubrick refers to Alex as a “delinquent”. Alex is not a delinquent. Alex is a serial rapist and murderer. Anything the government does to keep him from the electric chair is a mercy in my opinion. By giving him a second chance through experimental behavioral conditioning, the government looks good in my opinion. They chose the very risky path (for them and for Alex) of redemption when the path of least resistance would have been a swift execution. And yes, capital punishment had been abolished in England when the film was shot, and yes, they wouldn’t have executed Alex anyway for his status as a minor. But so what? This is the dystopian future. Laws can be overturned in dystopian futures. Here is an additional quote on the subject from the man himself, found here.

The idea that social restraints are all bad is based on a utopian and unrealistic vision of man. But in this movie, you have an example of social institutions gone a bit berserk. Obviously, social institutions faced with the law-and-order problem might choose to become grotesquely oppressive. The movie poses two extremes: it shows Alex in his precivilized state, and society committing a worse evil in attempting to cure him.

So the point of the satire is to make this kind of governmental mind control out to be a bad thing. It villainizes the government when it tries to (gasp!) hinder the free will of serial rapists and murderers. Well, you know what, Stan? Putting people in prison also hinders free will. How come you’re not complaining about that? And if you must have serial rapists and murderers walking the streets as free men, wouldn’t you want their free will to be hindered somehow? It’s either that or subjecting society to more rape and murder. Also, according to the film, the government reserves its “psychological conditioning” only to its basest criminals, not ordinary citizens. Doesn’t that make a difference? A Clockwork Orange is a far cry from 1984, and the Ludovico Technique is a far cry from the tool of a “totalitarian government”. Remember, Alex volunteered for the treatment. He could have said no at any point and gone back to the prison where he belonged. I suspect Kubrick simply didn’t think this satire thing all the way through. It’s either that or he really believed that allowing thugs to rape and murder is a small price to pay for free will. And I don’t think he did. When I knock Stanley Kubrick for his lack of humanism, I’m knocking the artist, not the man. Kubrick had two daughters. I refuse to believe he would have enjoyed watching what happened to Mr. Alexander’s wife happen to them. So A Clockwork Orange may glorify cruelty under a clumsy guise of satire, but I will say this for it: the first chapter is brilliant, and the film would have been better if that’s all there was to it. My friend (the same friend who challenged me to write these posts to begin with by claiming that Kubrick was a humanist) asserts that the first chapter of A Clockwork Orange is a priceless addition to Western art. He feels that by making evil both repulsive and attractive, it allows us to face any evil we have lurking inside of us. He calls to our attention the scene in which Alex reveals the breasts of Mr. Alexander’s wife with a pair of scissors. We have seen it before, but not like this. Hard to look at, isn’t it? That’s because this scene titillates as it horrifies. Only a filmmaker as adroit as Stanley Kubrick could have pulled off something this schizophrenic and this powerful. But when my friend says the first 43 and a half minutes of a A Clockwork Orange, viewed as a whole, is great art, I cannot entirely agree. True, the film’s juvenile and sloppy satire slathers an intellectual veneer over the violent chapters like a layer of grease. And when robbed of that, the film does become less dishonest. But even at his best in this film, Kubrick is just too snide, too cold, too vicious for me to champion. He shows not one iota of compassion for humanity in that first violent chapter. Lopping off everything after chapter 1 of A Clockwork Orange would put it in league with Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou and Leni Riefenshtal’s Triumph of the Will as a masterwork of filmmaking, creepy as it is brilliant, but just too weird to be taken seriously or even noticed by the mainstream. And that would not be nothing. It would also be much more than what we have with the entire film, which is basically virtuosic evil masquerading as something highbrow, poignant, and funny. One interesting trick Kubrick kept from the novel was Alex’s constant use of the Russian word “Хорошо”, which, as a Russian adverb, means “good, fine, or well.” It’s pronounced in English as “Horosho”, or, as Alex likes to say it, “Horror show”. It’s a clever use of diction, full of meaning and irony in a dystrophic future in which the Soviets presumably won the Cold War – or at least made headway in England where young cockneys now salt their rhyming slang with choice Russian slovos. But it’s also a double-edged sword that can symbolize the film itself. A Clockwork Orange may seem хорошо with all its vaunted brilliance and satire. But really it’s just a horror.

Against Kubrick 6

This is part 6 of my polemic against the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. My premise basically is that his great films had negative effects on the world and that Kubrick was anything but a humanist. I will go after his great films one at a time, continuing with part 2 of my discussion on…

A Clockwork Orange

In Part 1 I argued that A Clockwork Orange is a cruel, nasty film in which Stanley Kubrick uses “satire” and other intellectual ruses as an excuse for his near-pornographic interest in violence. My evidence thus far has been mathematical. I’ve added up the minutes spent on violence and sex, and on satire. There are more than twice as many minutes dedicated to the former than to the latter.

For convenience sake, I split the film into the following chapters.

1) Ultra-violence (43.5 minutes)
2) Prison (24 minutes)
3) Ludovico Technique (where the satirical elements are introduced) (20 minutes)
4) Freedom and Fall (more ultra-violence) (33.5 minutes)
5) Hospital and Rebirth (more satire) (13 minutes)

For more detail, please see my previous post Against Kubrick 5.

The second part of my argument is subjective: I argue that Stanley Kubrick is more inspired when someone is either doing harm to another or is about to do harm to another than he is when he is trying to be satirical. Further, in the satirical parts, he more often resorts to cheap tricks and shocking images. If I can prove this, then I think I can reasonably help strip away any notion that Kubrick is acting as some kind of humanist in A Clockwork Orange.

So to continue…

This is part 6 of my polemic against the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. My premise is basically that his great films had negative effects on the world and that Kubrick was anything but a humanist. I will go after his great films one at a time, continuing with part 2 of my discussion on…

A Clockwork Orange

In Part 1 I argued that A Clockwork Orange is a cruel, nasty film in which Stanley Kubrick uses “satire” and other intellectual ruses as an excuse for his near-pornographic interest in violence. My evidence thus far has been mathematical. I’ve added up the minutes spent on violence and sex, and on satire. There are more than twice as many minutes dedicated to the former than to the latter.

For convenience sake, I split the film into the following chapters.

1) Ultra-violence (43.5 minutes)
2) Prison (24 minutes)
3) Ludovico Technique (where the satirical elements are introduced) (20 minutes)
4) Freedom and Fall (more ultra-violence) (33.5 minutes)
5) Hospital and Rebirth (more satire) (13 minutes)

For more detail, please see my previous post Against Kubrick 5.

The second part of my argument is subjective: I argue that Stanley Kubrick is more inspired when someone is either doing harm to another or is about to do harm to another than he is when he is trying to be satirical. Further, in the satirical parts, he more often resorts to cheap tricks and shocking images. If I can prove this, then I think I can reasonably help strip away any notion that Kubrick is acting as some kind of humanist in A Clockwork Orange.

So to continue…

The first shot of the film is unforgettable. Alex, our anti-hero, staring into the camera at the Karova milk bar. Eerie synthesizer music. Then Kubrick slowly tracks back, revealing the futuristic setting. Everything here is laden with meaning, foreboding. You can’t take your eyes off it.

acwo_openingshot

This is what I mean when I say profound cinematic idea. I’ll wager Kubrick didn’t consult any rules of direction or cinematography when devising this scene. Rather, he just knew. He knew that it would work because he saw it crystal clear in his mind’s eye before he shot a centimeter of film. This is talent. And odds are you can close your eyes and throw a marble at any scene prior to Alex’s incarceration and come up with something just as good. This is genius.

Here’s a presentation of a half dozen of these images, most from the first chapter of the film:

I love this image. The wide angle. The long shadows. The truncheon resting comfortably on Alex’s shoulders. It’s urban. It’s subterranean. You know something bad is about to happen, but the setting is so…inviting you can’t pull yourself away from it.

I can’t pull myself away from this scene either, but for entirely different reasons.

Now, we all should know what Alex is about to do with those scissors. He’s about to expose his victim’s breasts prior to gang-raping her. It’s horrifying partially because it’s entirely unnecessary. He uses the same pair of scissors to remove all of the woman’s clothes a few seconds later. What does he need to expose her breasts for? He does it because he can, you see. And because she’s a woman and has breasts that Alex the psychopath simply wants to take a gander at. All this and “Singin’ in the Rain”. Chilling cinema.

And who can forget the slow-motion bashing by the lake. Rossini’s “Thieving Magpie” playing on the soundtrack. A real feast for the eyes. Notice also how Kubrick frames these last three examples in wide angle, with the boots of Alex and his droogs figuring prominently. For me, this brings to mind storm troopers and documentaries about Nazi Germany. I’m sure it would bring to mind something else for you, but whatever it brings, I’m sure it won’t be comforting. I would be shocked if this wasn’t Stanley Kubrick’s intent from the very beginning.

Then of course there’s this:

And this:

Hmm, I wonder Kubrick is up to here? And I mean that in a positive way. There is so much meaning in both of these screenshots that I’ll leave it up to the viewer to come to their own conclusions. Keep in mind that Kubrick filmed it so you could do exactly that.

By the way, the woman in this last screenshot is attacking Alex with a bust of Beethoven. Beethoven is Alex’s favorite composer, and Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy” (Symphony #9) is Alex’s favorite composition. Of course, Alex’s self-serving hooliganism has no place in the peace and brotherhood promoted by Beethoven’s 9th, yet he loves Beethoven anyway. Beethoven also plays a very important role during the satirical scenes coming up in the film. So the levels of cinematic and narrative irony just keep piling on.

Perhaps my favorite shot in the entire film is this one, from chapter 4…

…which tracks back into this one:

So what’s going on here? After the Ludovico Technique, Alex is not only conditioned against violence, he is also conditioned against Beethoven’s 9th. That man in the middle is a writer known only as Mr. Alexander. He can be seen in the third screenshot above, about to watch Alex and his droogs gang rape his wife, the lady soon-not-to-be in red. Well, Alex stumbles into his home after being released from prison. To get revenge, Alexander locks him in a room and plays Beethoven’s 9th at full blast from the floor below, attempting to drive him mad. Alex screams in agony, but to Alexander it’s all sweet music.

But why is this sequence so mesmerizing, from the exaggerated schadenfreude on Alexander’s face to the apparent indifference of his co-conspirators? I don’t know. But I do know that it generates an emotional response in me that I cannot name. I also love the guy idly rolling billiard balls across the table.

So, I will ask you then, what do these all these scenes have in common? Well, yes, they are products of Kubrick’s stunning cinematic vision. But what else, my dear brother and only friends? What else do they have in common?

Answer: cruelty and violence. In all cases except the first, someone is in the process of getting beaten, raped, murdered, or tortured. And in the first, Alex reveals that whatever he and droogs decide to do that evening, it will involve “a bit of the old ultra-violence.” So if the violence ain’t happening, it’s certainly about to.

So, let’s compare all this great stuff with some of the conceits Kubrick comes up with during the other chapters in the film, namely 2, 3, and 5.

First, we have the chief guard of the prison.

With all his foot-stomping, order-barking, and anal retentive military etiquette, I never quite understood what Kubrick was going for here. And he must have been going for something since so much time is dedicated to this man. Is Kubrick lampooning the military? The British stiff upper lip? Not that it has anything to do with the story or anything, of course. I guess the prison chief is kind of amusing the first time you see him. After that, you’ll realize that Benny Hill did the schtick much better. So did Monty Python.

Then there are the moments that are just disgusting or placed in the movie for shock value. These are what I call cheap tricks, unworthy of their director. They command a person’s attention the same way a car wreck on the side of the road would. They require no sophistication to appreciate. They carry no meaning, present no vision. Here are some examples. See if you disagree.

So you have someone spitting in Malcolm McDowell’s face (Geez, I wonder how many takes it took to hit the lips like that), Michael Bates looking directly into Malcolm McDowell’s arse (Geez, I wonder if he really is pulling apart those arse cheeks), a close-up of Godfrey Quigley’s impossibly bad teeth (Geez, did Kubrick make him chew through a box of Oreos before shooting?), and a close up of Malcolm McDowell licking the sole of a shoe (Geez, I wonder if that’s a new shoe).

I use the actors’ names here and not their characters’ because what’s happening here is real. That’s not fake spit. That’s not a fake arse. That’s not a fake tongue. And if those are fake teeth, they’re real enough to convince. And I ask all those inane questions because they all relate to real life, in this case the act of filming, the very thing a director is supposed to hide unless his name is Jean Luc Goddard. Your reaction to these scenes would be almost identical to your reaction to them in real life. This is why I call these images cheap tricks. You can get them anywhere, and any director can come up with them. They require no craft, no art. Just competent lighting, acting, and camera work.

Now, what do these images all have in common? Little to no violence or cruelty, that’s what. The second and third images have none at all, the second being a routine prison inspection, and the latter being nothing more than a fire and brimstone sermon by the prison chaplain.

As for the first image, yes, spitting on someone isn’t nice. But is it cruel or violent? Hardly. And sure, Alex had just been roughed up by a pair of cops, but it was nothing compared to the ultra-violence he had been heaping upon Dystopian Britain throughout chapter 1. And that wound on his nose? Caused by one of his droogs hitting him square in the face with a loaded milk bottle, not the cops.

As for the last image, from chapter 3, it’s true that Alex gets slapped a couple times by a thug presumably paid to antagonize him on stage. The point of the scene is to show the public that Alex, being conditioned against violence by the Ludovico Technique, cannot retaliate. It is to show that he’d been cured and can thus regain his freedom. So when told to lick the thug’s shoe, Alex does it. Is this cruel? Well, if licking a man’s shoe is the price one pays for freedom, I doubt I’d call it cruel at all. Just the opposite, actually.

To be sure, there’s some good stuff in the satirical sections of the film. A straightjacketed Alex being forced to watch ultra-violent movies as part of the Ludovico Technique stands out, obviously.

And yes, that’s real physician, not an actor, making sure Malcolm McDowell’s eyes didn’t dry out during filming.

But as great as this image is, I wonder how much of it came from Anthony Burgess, the author of A Clockwork Orange the novel and how much originated from Kubrick?

Also, what images during chapters 3 and 5 aside from this one are particularly memorable? Maybe the final scene in which the government official feeds Alex while offering him a bribe. But what else? All the dormitory scenes during the Ludovico sequence are brief and used largely for exposition. What about Alex interrupting a hospital-room tryst when he wakes from his coma? Meh. His final rejection of his parents from his hospital bed? Nothing special there. The Rorschach’s test scene with the blue-haired psychiatrist?

clockwork-psychiatrist

While it was nice for Kubrick to have another woman in his film who doesn’t either get raped, murdered, or appear topless, this scene doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know.

Overall, I would say that Kubrick is at his best here when depicting scenes of violence and cruelty. His vision is singular and mesmerizing, just like it is in many of his other films. Further, I think the evidence shows that he is less inspired in the sequences in which people aren’t being particularly cruel and violent to each other.

So what does this amount to? Simply that A Clockwork Orange is a film about violence and cruelty first and a satire second. In fact, I could argue that A Clockwork Orange is almost as much softcore porn as it is a satire considering how many naked breasts it contains. I, umm, counted, actually. There are 62 female breasts in A Clockwork Orange, by my count. 40 are fake or in paintings. The other 22 are unique. That is, eleven different women appear topless in A Clockwork Orange. What this has to do with “satire” is anybody’s guess.

This concludes part 2 of my polemic against A Clockwork Orange. Part 3 will address how the very satire of A Clockwork Orange is problematic, further underscoring the idea that satire takes a backseat to violence in this very un-humanistic film.

But before I close, my dear brothers and only friends, I would like to leave you with this awesome image.

This is the first shot of the film’s prison sequence, chapter 2. Alex has just been betrayed by his droogs after his murder of the Cat Lady. Here he is being stared at by a police detective, who never says a word throughout the scene. I do love this image, but perhaps for reasons other than what Kubrick had intended. I love the boredom and contempt on the man’s face, as if to say, “You think you’re hot stuff, don’t you punk? With all your sex and ultra-violence. You think you’re so clever. But I see through you. I know what you really are, and it’s no big bargain.”

This is exactly how I feel about A Clockwork Orange.