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Book Review: ‘Fighting Words’ by Mike Straka

Summer is upon us, which means it’s time to stuff a faded towel, a year-old bottle of tanning lotion and a paperback into your knapsack and head to the beach.  But which trusted tome should you bring?  If you’re an MMA fan, you might want to consider Mike Straka’s “Fighting Words”, which features interviews with fifteen prominent personalities in the sport.  As Straka hosts an HDNet show of the same name, the contents of the book should come as no surprise to those familiar with his brand of conversational info-dump.  So why should you purchase the hardcopy in lieu of finding and downloading the actual individual episodes to your iPad?  Besides the obvious “What’s a BitTorrent?” and “I’d rather not get any sand in my iPad, thank you very much”, there are a few reasons – like the breadth, depth and scope of the book – that makes “Fighting Words” worthwhile.  But don’t take my word for it.  Read this handy-dandy review and draw your own conclusions.

-The fifteen interviewees are Dana White, Frankie Edgar, Frank Shamrock, Jon Jones, “Big” John McCarthy, Bas Rutten, Matt Hughes, Cain Velasquez, Josh Thomson, Renzo Gracie, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Clay Guida, Ken Shamrock and Scott Coker.  That’s a fair cross-section of personalities, and it goes a long way towards providing a decent glimpse into MMA from some very varying angles.  Straka may have the vantage point of a media member, but we see more than just what his lens catches.  We see what his subjects see.

-There’s no story arc (i.e., no narrative journey from point “A” to point “B”), but what did you expect?  The book is touted as a collection of interviews and it succeeds in that regard.  There is, however, a solid amount of color surrounding the words coming out of the interviewees’ mouths, with Straka giving context as to the individual’s role in the MMA world and how they came to speak to him.  Did you know he interviewed Clay Guida while Guida was incarcerated for hair-related misdemeanors?  Ha, just kidding.  Seriously, though, from Straka’s scene-setting, we get a strong sense of the “what”, “when”, “where”, “why” and “how” surrounding the interviews, and it makes for solid context.

-The greatest accomplishment of “Fighting Words” is the depth of the insight it provides.  Did you know Coker credits four fighters as forming the foundation of Strikeforce’s success?  Are you aware of Cain Velasquez’s stance on Arizona immigration law?  Did Renzo Gracie really shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die?  (Again, just kidding.)  Straka did his homework, and he’s got plenty of gems in there for the both the knowledgeable fan and the newcomer alike.

-The lone gripe with “Fighting Words” would be the select few factual errors found within.  For example, Frank Shamrock never fought anyone named John Glover; he did fight John Lober, which is the epic bout Shamrock describes.  But really, that’s something that can be attributed to a publisher-employed copyeditor/fact-checker asleep at the wheel, and only the most ardent of MMA fans might pick up on such details.

Bottom line: “Fighting Words” gets a thumbs-up.  It’s worth checking out.

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