From “Sugar” Ray to “Suga” Rashad: Why I Love Combat Sports

I’ll admit it: I’m not what you would call a typical fight fan.

You won’t find me flossing foiled Affliction T-shirts, sporting lots of tribal (and other) ink on my body (which is far from chiseled) and the truth is that people that know me would say I’m far more likely to have my face buried in a book than my ass sweating in a gym. And they’d be right.

I can’t tell you how many people close to me were shocked when they caught me watching or talking about boxing back in the day. Those same people express surprise that I watch/follow MMA. I don’t like to lump people in groups, but the fact is that most of my friends aren’t into combat sports, so it just never comes up.

I guess you could trace my love of combat to my childhood. I have great memories of watching big boxing matches: everyone gathered around the “big” TV in the living room, I sitting at my dad’s feet, my mom cooking a big pot of her chili… Family friends would come over for the fights and we’d root on “Sugar Ray” Leonard as he took on “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler or “Hitman” Tommy Hearns…

I also found myself fascinated with Roman and Greek mythology as a young man. That, and the hours spent playing Dungeons & Dragons with my friends gave me an appreciation of battle. From learning about gladiators fighting gladiators to playing a Fighter battling both beasts and men, combat was central to my interest in these things.

But there’s more to it. Seeing two fighters face off against each other, whether in a ring or a cage, appeals to the primitive, animal side. The strikes, the action… while the strategy involved appeals to the intellect. Poor strategy and/or poor execution can have very real consequences in the fight!

When I’m watching a fight, I’m watching two professionals that have trained to the best of their ability. They’ve spent hours in a gym, training moves and counters, most of which they won’t even get to use in any given match. All for no guaranteed outcome. The bout may go to a decision because they’ve figured out how to counter each other’s skillset, or it may end quickly on one punch or submission.

As they fight, I’m living vicariously through them, as they circle the ring, attack and defend. Action and reaction. Punch, kick and shoot.

Seeing how a fighter reacts to adversity is also part of it. How do they counter someone who has superior striking? Can they escape after being taken down? Can they reverse it? If they’re in a tough situation, can they last until the round ends? How will they adjust in the next round? What are they going to do about that hematoma popping out of their head?

Then again, sometimes I just want to see a guy nicknamed “Pitbull” knock a sucker out.