Since the MMA boom in 2005 there have been plenty of books written about the history of MMA, how the UFC took things to a new level, and autobiographies from various fighters and MMA personalities. Some books are actually informative while others are just cash grabs with information that you could find on Wikipedia.
Raw Combat: The Underground World of Mixed Martial Arts by Jim Genia falls into the former category. It’s not your typical MMA book that profiles some of the top fighters in the sport or talks about UFC being banned on PPV. This book gets away from the glitz and glamour that you see on PPV or SpikeTV and focuses on fights that take place in gyms and can only be seen by people lucky enough to receive a text message.
The book explores the fight scene in New York, which, as most fans know, isn’t exactly legal in the Big Apple. Jim paints a pretty vivid picture of how fights and events go down in New York and things definitely have a Fight Club feel. I’m actually a little worried for Jim’s safety once this book comes out for talking about the subject and breaking the first rule.
The Underground Combat League (UCL) is the main subject of Genia’s writing. While it sounds like a place that houses some of the best bar fighters in the state, some talented competitors actually got their start in the UCL, including a current UFC champion. If you think you can show up to the UCL with your “I’ve watched a ton of MMA fights, so I know what I’m doing” training program and be successful, you’ll probably end up with multiple broken limbs.
The main character in the book is Peter Storm, who is not only the promoter of UCL, but also fights if another fighter decides to no-show or if he just feels like punching someone in the face. There are plenty of characters throughout the pages though, including a chapter on internet sensation Kimbo Slice. Jim does a great job telling the story of certain underground fighters, capturing not only their fight personality, but also giving you some background on the fighter and telling the reader why they fight and how it helps them. Furthermore, he follows up on a lot of the fighters who started in the UCL and how their career progressed or failed from there.
There’s more to the book than just the fighters though. Jim also talks about the local MMA scene in New Jersey and the history of MMA in New York. It’s actually astonishing at how long people in MMA have been trying to get the sport sanctioned in New York and Jim, who has been covering the sport for 10 years, has been there through it all.
More than anything I really enjoy Jim’s writing. As I just mentioned, he’s been covering the sport for a long time and, along with being a good storyteller, he writes with some snark, which I always appreciate. While the book does take a serious tone, profiling the ups and downs of the underground/local fight scene and certain fighters, Jim manages to keep things light throughout the book with witty comments and analogies.
If I have one complaint about the book, it’s that there might be too many characters. It’s kind of like Boardwalk Empire, where the characters are great and defined, and the stories are compelling, but there’s so much going on that sometimes you lose track of what’s going on and it takes a gunshot, or in this case a nasty cut, to remind you of why and how things happened.
If you want to dive deeper into MMA and read the stories of fighters starting at the bottom level and working their way up, then read Raw Combat. You won’t find a better book out there that covers the sport from where it begins, underground and local fights, and not from where it is now, national TV and PPV.