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Book Review: Blood in the Cage, by L. Jon Wertheim

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This is both a very good and very difficult time to write a book about mixed martial arts.  Good, because interest in the sport is at an all-time high.  Difficult, because you can’t assume your audience already knows anything about the sport, including basic terminology and modern origins.  The hardcore fan doesn’t want to hear the same familiar back story about the Gracie family again, but the new fan (or the simply curious, book-buying non-fan) needs that info just to understand the conversation.  

This is a problem.  With Blood in the Cage, L. Jon Wertheim has solved it in a way that should appeal to the masses without boring or condescending to the aficionados.  That alone is an accomplishment. 

The way Wertheim manages it is by weaving together two stories: Pat Miletich’s and MMA’s.  The book is essentially a biography of both, using one as a jumping off point for the other.  

To that end, Miletich might be the perfect choice.  His rise from local Iowa ass-kicker to martial arts enthusiast to UFC champ to trail-blazing trainer is not only interesting enough to keep you turning pages, it’s also a story that largely mirrors the rise of MMA in America.  

Looking back on the early days of the UFC, it’s sometimes easy to believe that all it took to be a champ back then was a decent gas tank and a working knowledge of the ground game.  Miletich’s struggles – personal, financial, and professional – remind us that the history of the sport is not so simple.

The strength of Wertheim’s book, which knowledgeable and passionate MMA fans will appreciate most, is his ability to tell the real stories behind the stories you thought you knew.  

From details on Miletich’s downright depressing family history, to the pre-Zuffa UFC and the somewhat sketchy details behind the Fertitta brothers’ acquisition of the organization, there are enough previously untold (or at least undertold) stories to make this a worthwhile read.  There’s even a hilarious revisiting of the Steven Seagal-“Judo” Gene LeBell encounter, as well as an anecdote about Dana White threatening and bullying his way through the Spike TV offices, demanding to know why Spike was pushing Al Sharpton’s I Hate My Job, which White calls “the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever seen," instead of The Ultimate Fighter.

Yes, some of the connections between Miletich and MMA feel forced at times, but Wertheim is a skilled-enough storyteller that you don’t really care.  Whatever it takes for him to get from point A to point B, by the time he gets there you’re just glad he did.  Wertheim also maintains his perspective as a very interested outsider to the sport — a kind of regular sports fan who has stumbled upong this new phenomenon — trying to understand both how it came to exist in its current form and why we, as a culture, love it so much.

Blood in the Cage is a quick, entertaining read for the thinking MMA fan, and one that mixes human interest stories and MMA history together in an entertaining and informative way.  It may very well be the best MMA book to date.

(For those interested, you can buy it here.)

Cagepotato Comments

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the guy- March 25, 2009 at 3:20 pm
great book and i know for a fact that the book is true and real great job with this one. go bulldogs
BlowMeWhereThePampersIs- February 4, 2009 at 11:33 am
Good review, great book so far. The stories from Miletich's "Thug" years are hilarious. Some may think they are exaggerated, but having grown up in the Quads, I could see every word of it being true.
Anonymous- January 13, 2009 at 8:36 pm
yeah if books are for pussies then I am the biggest pussy in the world. The last I checked this site features words and you need a skill called reading to interperate these things called words. You dumb illiterate morons are whats keeping this sport from becoming mainstream. To the rest of you who enjoyed this sick book good for you!!!!!!! It is because of you that people who cover MMA work their asses off!!!!!!
ME+URMOM=U- January 13, 2009 at 9:25 am
wait....Dana White is a bully?
NealTaflinger- January 13, 2009 at 4:37 am
Oh snap! You beat me to the punch, Potato.
Senor Tampon- January 12, 2009 at 10:59 pm
@ Reel Sandman BONGBONG and PotatoHead!!!

Why so serious????

Do yous guy understand sarcasm??? Fucking Tards
Reel Sandman- January 12, 2009 at 10:54 pm
"Great book review, Ben. Now tell me which is the most comfortable and absorbent brand of tampon, you pussy. Books."

People who think books are for pussies are generally the tools talking shit from a dark corner about the well-read thespian pulling all the ass.

Read. Train. Fornicate. Repeat.
Kyle B- January 12, 2009 at 7:23 pm
During the summers when I was growing up, the only show my mother would let me watch on TV was Reading Rainbow. Imagine going through that while growing up. You have brought back some bad memories man. I totally blame her actions those summers for my poindexter facade and my total inability to pick up chicks.
Aptninja- January 12, 2009 at 7:21 pm
Man. Irony fail.
PotatoHead- January 12, 2009 at 6:59 pm
Whew! Awesome, world-class, kick-ass book review! Makes me want to run out ASAP and tap into the old Barnes & Noble preferred member's discount.

As for the knuckleheads that boast about being illiterate... you'll have to sit on your ignorant asses and wait for the movie to come out, I guess.

Is it any wonder that unemployment is at a record high? Learn to read, dumb f*cks. There's no BAILOUT for stupid.

player from the south- January 12, 2009 at 6:41 pm
butterfly in the sky
i can go twice as high....
the glza- January 12, 2009 at 6:31 pm
holy shit you read books?
Dyph- January 12, 2009 at 6:28 pm

Mon, 01/12/2009 - 18:01

If you think book are dumb or for pussies re lower than a get tooled by pussies ..fucken morrons..

this book is the shit!

This may be a good time for you to hit the books, may I suggest English as a Second Language for starters?
walrus- January 12, 2009 at 6:07 pm
MMA books reviews are a good idea for this blog. Seems like a good book.
BONGBONG- January 12, 2009 at 6:01 pm
If you think book are dumb or for pussies re lower than a get tooled by pussies ..fucken morrons..

this book is the shit!
Senor Tampon- January 12, 2009 at 5:54 pm

"Now tell me which is the most comfortable and absorbent brand of tampon, you pussy."

Im the most comfortable and absorbent tampon!!!!! Mmmmmm dirty bloody pink tacos.......i fucking love my job!!!
longislandguy- January 12, 2009 at 5:43 pm
i dont read books, they get boring to me and i might have some sort of ADD but i never once put this book down, i couldnt stop reading and if i did stopped reading it, it was all i can think about. i loved this book.. i love miletich and mma
Ozone- January 12, 2009 at 5:40 pm
Take a look ...its in a book...A Reading Rainbow!
MMA Wannabe- January 12, 2009 at 5:32 pm
@ Aptninja

LeVar Burton would whup your ass for saying that!

But you don't have to take my word for it!
Scrambled Eggs- January 12, 2009 at 5:30 pm
Great book, definitely worth the $20. I hope it gets featured in a few places, such as the NY Times, SI, etc., so that fans of other sports can read about MMA. This definitely has the potential to recruit them over here.

P.S. Isn't "thinking MMA fan" an oxymoron, Ben?
breeze- January 12, 2009 at 5:19 pm
haha burn
Aptninja- January 12, 2009 at 5:03 pm
Great book review, Ben. Now tell me which is the most comfortable and absorbent brand of tampon, you pussy. Books.
Anonymous- January 12, 2009 at 5:02 pm
That book is sick!!! I had him on our radio show after I read the book and to be honest as a reader and an MMA fan it was one of the best reads I have had. The chapter that talks about the brawl after a UFC after party in England between Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Pat Miletich, Tony Fryklund and a bunch of other UFC studs is worth the read on it's own. Go out and cop that book!