Six Short Films About East Rutherford

Quick takes from UFC on Fox, including the dramaturgy of punk beanpole Nate Diaz
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Nate Diaz, pride of Stockton, CA.

Image via nathandiaz.com

Progressive Sadness

The Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey is maybe 60 percent full for UFC on Fox 3, but that’s about how full the Izod Center should be for any event. The crowd that did show up is not satisfied with the offerings.  A fighter gets poked in the eye and the fans boo, for reasons known only to them. A fighter taps out and yells of “QUITTER!” echo through the arena. A fighter does something awesome and is booed 10 seconds later because he stopped doing whatever it was that was awesome. I get up to survey the crowd up closer. I see a lot of half-men who seem eager to forget their own shortcomings for an evening by showering others with cruelty. Occasionally, there is a woman in a cocktail dress and sky-high heels sporting a thousand-mile stare colored with faint disgust.

Peace

John Lineker, Brazil’s best attempt yet at a Lilliputian fast-twitch Frankenstein, is about to fight. His opponent, Louis Gaudinot, is 92.8 percent smiles and green hair, which creates a cheery vibe that clashes with the beating he is about to take. Lineker stays hitting Gaudinot while taking return fire in suitably Frankenstein-ian fashion. Gaudinot never quite takes enough of an ass-beating to end the ass-beating; miraculously or predictably, he makes it to the second round. The left side of his torso looks like it has huge beets stashed between his ribs and skin.

Between rounds is time to shine for UFC visual display engineer (read: ring card girl) Arianny Celeste. Five fights into the evening’s 12-fight slate and she’s not making eye contact with the crowd anymore. They’ve grown increasingly aggressive and ugly with their cat-calls, and seem to think Celeste owes them something.

As Celeste completes her cage-side stroll, someone in the crowd yells, “Look at me, you fucking bitch!” She barely flinches, but she flinches nonetheless.

The fight is back on and the beating resumes, until it ends. Gaudinot grabs hold of a guillotine choke and, as he cinches it, smiles a knowing smile. Lineker resists the urge to tap until it ceases to be an option—he’s out cold. Can’t feel a thing. Can’t hear anything either.

I wonder if Celeste envies his peace.

Advanced Media Room Pasta Techniques

UFC matchmaker Joe Silva is beasting on some pasta in the media room, straight dominating that plate of cheesy gluten with flawless chomping technique. Dude is tiny and still takes down absurdly outsized forkfuls. I watch intently between sips of water, trying to catch the moment when he unhinges his jaw. I must have just missed it.

There has always been a certain mystique to Silva. His Napoleonic stature matches the power he holds over the UFC’s roster. Managers, coaches and fighters are perpetually desperate to capture his attention in private and sell him on their latest half-baked matchmaking idea. Beyond his powerbroker status and obvious love of carbs, little else about him exists on the record. And that’s exactly how the UFC wants it—he’s actually banned from speaking on the record.

Still, I have my Joe Silva story: Dude loves a pasta.

PUNCHING

Pat Barry and Lavar Johnson are engaged in something that vaguely resembles professional fighting. Johnson is on his back, while Barry is fumbling for a keylock like some antsy teenager unwrapping a condom. The crowd’s vocal portion loves it, most likely because everything is happening slowly enough for them to understand.

And then, for reasons no one ever really needs to know ever, the fighters are back on their feet. After almost five  minutes of intermittent exertion, Barry is tired. Johnson is marginally less tired and starts throwing rubbery punches. Barry’s response is an impression of a man cautiously getting on an invisible bed. The referee halts the bout due to Barry’s inability/refusal to defend himself.

Despite the fact that one man lost and one man won, Barry and Johnson embrace as if they both succeeded. Congratulating each other for understanding that their purpose wasn’t so much victory as it was to deliver what was asked of them. That mentality is not altogether uncommon in MMA—and it clashes with my idea that the only reason to fight is to win.

As they whisper sweet nothings into each other’s ears, I gain a modicum of respect for their honesty. Sometimes, people need to see two gigantic dudes going HAM on each other. Still, there is no dishonesty in what they’re doing. I just wish they were a bit better at it is all.

But few fighters are meant to become champions and not many more are meant to come close. Barry and Johnson are journeyman-caliber brawlers on the wrong side of 30 and their time spent on the other side of that number wasn’t terribly productive. Ask them about title aspirations or and you’ll get a string of vagaries that circle back to their desire to “fight tough guys who are tough and want to fight tough guys who are tough. Also, fight.”

The UFC rewards this outlook because audiences lap up the results and it requires next-to-zero in the way of advertising. Just show up and watch these two behemoths get tired on each other. Don’t worry, someone will get hurt eventually!

Represent Jersey

Nate Diaz is doing Nate Diaz things to Jim Miller. The Nate Diaz thing in this case is brazenly taunting a grown-ass man intent on hurting him. The visual is especially enthralling in person because Diaz looks like the last dude on the planet who can get brolic like that; he’s a scrawny beanpole with a comically serious scowl reminiscent of every self-important teenager ever.

By comparison, Miller is all muscles and right angles, more or less the physical archetype of a fighter. Still, Diaz is basically snatching Miller’s chain and waving it in his face. This is the night’s main event, a fight that could yield a lightweight title shot for either man, and Diaz is on his locked-in beanpole beast mode. The opening round ends, but not before Miller gets dropped by a bench-pressing left that leaves him bleeding all kinds of blood.

“Represent Jersey, my nigga!” yells a fan, whose voice sounds like exactly the kind of voice that would say that. He’s talking to Miller, trying to encourage him.

The second round begins and Miller is taking the fan’s advice to heart. Kicks and punches start to land and the beginnings of a rally come together. Diaz’s response is to up his taunting bully game. At one point, he straight-up pushes Miller into the cage. The strikes are piling up again for Diaz as Miller fumbles to regain his brief bit of momentum.

Finally, Miller gets pissed off. Most all forms of sports entertainment have programmed us to think that this is a good thing; that getting angry will result in increased performance and ownage and Built Ford Toughness. When faced with a skilled professional fighter, getting angry is actually the worst thing you can do, a fact driven home when Miller dives for a takedown and Diaz instantaneously locks up an arm-in guillotine choke.

The Fuck is an Aristeia?

As Miller struggles to fight the choke off, he spits out his mouthpiece for no reason, until I glance at one of the gigantic monitors hanging throughout the arena. The reason is that Miller’s tongue is sticking out of his mouth, and it looks like he’s on the verge of biting through it. Disgust and awe percolate until Miller taps out and spares us all the visual of a dismembered tongue.

As Diaz’s hand gets raised I realize that there has always been something distinct about his fights. He seems motivated by a desire not to win so much as to create the kind of fight he can be proud of. It’s an unusual brand of craftsmanship, but it makes sense. Anything short of a personal aristeia is unacceptable to someone who gives so much of themselves to fighting.

The aristeia, as all rad persons know, is the most baller aspect of ancient Greek storytelling. In short, aristeia is when a hero decides to mess everyone up, and, after some dramatic set-up, everyone gets messed up. A conventional hero he ain’t, but Diaz’s whole shtick actually lines up nicely with the Greek pantheon of heroes. Achilles, Odysseus, Ajax, all major dicks. Except for Diomedes, that’s my dude.

Now, Diaz almost certainly has no idea what an aristeia is. This is a safe assumption because the only thing he particularly cares about is fighting. That’s quite different from only caring about winning and it’s also quite different from what Pat Barry and Lavar Johnson cared about earlier in the evening. The differences become clear during the post-fight press conference. A media member asks Diaz a question and his answer is as nonsensical as it is brief. This input/output cycle repeats itself until Diaz admits that he’s busy looking through the texts on his phone, choosing one mundane obligation over another.

There isn’t a trace of emotion on his face and why would there be? The aristeia is over.


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Comments

that pic of Diaz giving the finger is the most Sacramento Valley physical sentiment of 2012. i think the 209 area code is my spirit animal.