Punch Drunk Love: Fighting to Bring Mixed Martial Arts to New York

Back at the underground fight, The Observer chatted with Matthew Polly, an author who was doubling down on the book release party with the debut of his own title, Tapped Out, being published by Gotham. “It’s kind of the George Plimpton approach. What happens when a middle-age fatass tries to train with the elite of the M.M.A. world. Basically I get my ass kicked.”

Mr. Polly, a Rhodes scholar who dropped out of Princeton to study kung fu, was standing around in his socks on the wrestling mats. Like many, he was an adherent of the labor dispute theory. “Look, you follow the money from the unions to the politicians who are holding up this process and you’ll get your answer.”

“Why are you asking this guy? He’s only had one fight,” joked Joey Varner, head kickboxing coach at one of the premier gyms in Las Vegas, who had trained Mr. Polly for the book and flown in to celebrate. “We sent him home crying most nights.”

We asked Mr. Varner if M.M.A. would ever be legal in New York. “I sure hope so. You ever seen how they fix a broken orbital bone? They literally have to take part of your face off and screw your skull back together. That’s not the kind of thing you should have done without insurance.” Leagues like the U.F.C. have insurance to cover fights and training.
“The worst thing about amateur M.M.A. is the idiots with egos,” he added. “Of course the promoter is going to let you fight. He wants you to get knocked out, so he can have someone twitching on his highlight-reel DVD. In the pros, guys know how to protect themselves.”

In the bathroom, The Observer ran across the combatants, Eric and John. With limited resources, the Underground Combat League can’t provide a separate locker room for fighters.

The two men hugged and started chatting. Their match had been declared a draw. Each was still covered in the other’s blood. “I can’t believe you got out of that arm bar,” Eric said, shaking his head.

“It was tight man, real tight. But I ain’t going out like that,” John replied.

“Yeah, I heard it popping, but you didn’t quit,” Eric said. “We’ll do it again someday.”

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