Well, at least sometimes I do. Other times I want to be a singer in a punk rock band, but that’s beside the point.
I wouldn’t want to be a fighter however for the reasons you might suspect; I wouldn’t want to be a fighter for the fame. Not for the chicks (well, maybe the chicks), and certainly not for the money. Not for glory, nor the rush of winning the most pure competition in all of sport in front of a million cheering fans, nor for the adrenaline, or even for the orgasmic feeling it must be to have your nose caved in sideways from a well-placed Anderson Silva thai plum knee up the middle.
No. I would want to be a fighter for one reason and one reason only:
- Epic, reality-bending, hilarious, and historically memorable entrances.
I still believe to this day, that perhaps the coolest thing I have ever seen in my life was when Sakuraba came out to fight Royce Gracie for the 2000 PRIDE Grand Prix. The Gracie-Hunter made his walkout with two of his best friends, roughly the same size and shape, all wearing bright orange Japanese pro-wrestling masks. No one knew which one was the real Sakuraba, and he played the prank right up until they called his name. (the ‘Gracie-Train’ entrance was pretty sweet too, but Saku won this one unanimously… sorry Royce)
So here is this kid, coming to represent his country in a cross-cultural rivalry against the legendary champion of the Gracie family, at the biggest no-holds-barred MMA venue mankind could ever have dreamed of, in what might still be considered the most significant martial arts fight in history – and he pulls a stunt like that.
The way Zuffa and UFC has shaped MMA into professional sport since then is wonderful, don’t get me wrong. Worked matches, over-the-top grand firework opening ceremonies, and images of Nobuhiko Takada in a diaper were entertaining in their day, but I think we are all thankful what Zuffa has done to make MMA respectable in the eyes of the mainstream perception.
But that doesn’t mean fighters still can’t take advantage of this vastly underutilized artform.
Of course, not everyone can pull it off. You should be able to back it up, or at least believe you can. Coming out with a flashy entrance only to lose pitifully in the first round is really embarrassing (see Bob Sapp). On the other hand, if you already reek of awesomeness without it, you wouldn’t want to belittle yourself to such childish foolishness. (see Emelianenko Fedor) Others try, but somehow it just doesn’t click. (the verdict is still out on Tom Lawlor)
But there is that rare type of fighter that comes along every once and while with the perfect combination of skill, charisma, confidence, and humility that makes the magic happen. Those few fighters who understand themselves so clearly, and who have focused their mind, body, and soul so acutely that they transform themselves into something bigger. “You have to become an idea!” as Qui Gon Jin once said to Batman.
What happens to us when we listen to our favorite music? What happens to us when we fantasize about manifesting our loftiest dreams and goals? There is an extra energy we find from that same mysterious force that feeds us our creativity, willpower, heart, and innovation – and the walkout seems the perfect time to bring this all into focus.
From the master of entrances himself Kazushi Sakuraba, to the eva-awesome robes and sunglasses of Phil Baroni, to the alternate universe that spawned Genki Sudo – when the alchemy is right, it creates some kind of weird pocket in space-time where everything we love about MMA comes shining together. Fans go crazy, history is made, and I cannot even imagine what it must feel like to be steering that energy, and to take it with you in the ring to fight. We all need to dream ourselves into superheroes to achieve the impossible. To find the faith in ourselves to win against impenetrable odds – this has always been the recipe for greatness and heroic tales and legends.
But where has this artform in MMA gone? GSP has a pretty nifty headband I suppose, but with all the amazing superstars we currently have to enjoy, an alarming few of them have contributed their own creative contribution to this rich and beloved tradition. Where are the Tito Ortiz flags? Where are the Rampage wolf-masks and chains? Where are the Nick Diaz nunchucks and ninja outfits? (OK, I made that one up – Nick please consider this. – please?)
Perhaps not every fighter needs this. Perhaps such antics would cloud the purity of some fighters’ honest walkouts. No doubt when Lyoto Machida or BJ Penn come to fight, they are living embodiments of the heroes of their own mythologies, and we love their entrances just exactly the way they are.
But if any fighters out there dig them some good walkout showmanship, and have an idea to merge it with their own unique style and energy… please don’t be afraid to do it. Sakuraba can’t keep coming back to carry the torch forever.