One Girl’s Journey From Loathe To Love In The Violent World Of Mixed Martial Arts

Cro Cop Squats In Defeat Against Cheick Kongo

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NOTE: This is Kristina Kolesa’s first contribution to A magazine editor and a writer for several publications, Kristina is the editor of’s content, and we are excited to feature her unique perspective of the sport as a female fan. You can reach Kristina through our contact form or leave a comment.

If the veins in my neck and the hoarseness of my voice are any indication, I want this man to win. Badly. Very badly. I’m perched on my knees, arms outstretched, commanding the cowering fighter through the TV to “Fight!” Then just, “Do something!” Followed by, “Do anything!” And finally, the straw-grabber: “Act like a fighter!” By the end, I’m head-in-hands. I feel like I just got punched myself. I feel sick to my stomach. Mirko Cro Cop, my fighter, the fighter of my father’s homeland—well, Croatia’s close enough to Slovenia—has just been beaten by some upstart Kongo guy. What happened, Mirko? What happened to the head kicks? The glory days of PRIDE? PRIDE. I thought of renewing my Cro Cop faith by watching an old PRIDE DVD. Immediately. Perhaps the one with him nailing Fedor’s younger brother in the side of the head with the top of his foot. Instead, I sit in disbelief watching Mirko stand head-hung in the center of the Octagon, waiting for the obvious decision. I’m too invested in this sport, I tell myself. I sound like one of those stinkin’, clamorin’, barbaric, idiotic MMA fans. What happened to me?

Call me John McCain. A dozen or so years ago, when the sport was being blasted by the American press as bloodsport, human cockfighting, and the end of civilization Roman-style, I would have sided with the senator—if I’d have been paying any attention. Instead, I was in high school. Private high school. I was busy riding horses and playing acceptable sports. We didn’t have HBO. There was no YouTube yet. The UFC couldn’t have been any further off my radar. College came and still very little of the MMA world reached my own. Cage-fighting was one of those issues I only heard about briefly on TV but before I could form any semblance of an opinion about it, I’d ask someone if “that’s like the Brad Pitt movie fighting?” and then digress into thinking about real cockfighting and how they should certainly eradicate that. The little I did see of the sport I didn’t like. At all. I couldn’t understand the appeal in watching someone’s eyes roll back in their head, their arms stiffen to their sides, blood splatter on the mat. In fact, it bothered me. I thought it base and wrong.

Flash forward a few years to just 10 months ago. My boyfriend and I had stumbled head-long into a heated debate about the UFC. I was stunned to learn someone I’d known for years not only enjoyed watching cage-fighting but was whole-heartedly defending it. We’ve evolved, I explained. Fighting in a cage is low-brow, although I couldn’t well explain how boxing and wrestling were cleaner sports. They’ve been around longer? Boxing has Ali? I’ll admit, though, that I was intrigued by how such a good person as my boyfriend could enjoy a sport that I had categorically dismissed as gluttonous. So, after hearing mention of some impressive fighter named Chuck during the course of our disagreement, I agreed to watch a documentary about the sport’s biggest star. Let’s find out what I’d been missing. From the picture on the DVD case, I could see this Chuck character had a Mohawk and tattoos on his head. And the lady wins. Or so I thought.

Chuck had me at bachelor’s degree in business/accounting from Cal Poly. This toenail polish-wearing “barbarian” had as much education as I did and in the same field to boot. Like lots of Americans—male and female alike—he had been an athlete growing up. He wrestled through his college years and then decided he didn’t want to trade his life’s passion for a desk job after graduation. Who can’t relate? Out of my appreciation for Chuck’s desire to do what he loved for a living grew an actual fondness. I was in. I wanted to see everything he’d ever done, and did.

After my Chuck immersion, I delved into PRIDE. This was the fun part. Some exceptional (and colorful) fighters took to the PRIDE ring during its decade-long run. It was my first introduction to Cro Cop, Fedor, Wanderlei, Shogun and the rest, although it took me a long time to identify them by name. Mostly, it was “Tom Selleck look-alike with serious moustache,” “English guy who charges from the corner like a maniac,” and “solemn Russian non-human who wins every single fight.” For a girl who likes reading history books and having flowers around the house, I grew surprisingly committed to these ripped, diehard athletes. MMA had become more sport than spectacle. Before long, I even found myself having the occasional opinion. I was becoming a fan, and I didn’t even mind it.

In all fairness, there are a few things I will never truly get about this sport. For example, no matter how many times I see it, Mark Hunt’s “atomic butt drop” move will never strike me as “awesome,” and I could do without the tight camera shots of bulbous cauliflower ears. I disagree with Kimbo-style street-fighting and won’t watch it, and without fail, when a bout gets bloody, I grimace. But no sooner do my old MMA prejudices creep up than the sport redeems itself with a technical, Jiu-Jitsu beauty of a fight and I return to the fold. My fan status is even evolving. I’m now the loyal, stinkin’, clamorin’, barbaric, idiotic type. Yes, for all heartache the Cheick Kongo tragedy of last September induced, Cro Cop hasn’t lost me yet.