The XX Factor

A Love Letter to Mixed Martial Arts

I think it’s already a cliché for bookish girls to be into MMA, but Nina asked -so here’s why I, like novelist Katie Kitamura , frequently find myself watching muscled young men disfigure each other on national television. Boxing and wrestling bore me, and I’ve no desire to watch the kind of gruesome, barbed-wire-intensive spectacle so graphically featured in The Wrestler . MMA is different. As cultural critic Greg Beato once put it, MMA is a free market of fighting -a competition not just between fighters, but among fighting styles. Back in the hallowed days of MMA’s infancy, kickboxers would attack wrestlers who would go after Brazilian jujitsu aficionados; you’d be watching an art hundreds of years in the making, an entire tradition, against a wholly foreign challenge. Now accomplished UFC fighters know a bit of everything, but their mixes of strengths and training are different, so there’s still a some kind of global dynamic at play, a question of which mix of skills and traditions most effectively takes down an opponent. Because each guy (or girl! ) comes off as representative of that mix, it’s easy to get invested-the overall narrative is much greater than this one individual 22-year-old. People talk about “evolutionary phases” of MMA, as different combinations of skills sets rise, conquer, and then fall as some fighter shows up with better ideas and force everyone to adapt.

Beyond this, there’s the fun of watching practitioners of a sport once marginalized as “human cockfighting” struggle for status as legitimate athletes. As Beato points out in his column, every time the sport’s promoters agree to more restrictions, regulations, and tweaks that align the practice with acceptable standards for middle class spectacle, MMA grows more popular.

So yeah, all that, and the primal pleasure of watching consenting adults unleash themselves upon one another.

Photograph of American MMA fighter Marcus Davis by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images.