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“Made in America” reviewed in Total-MMA

Posted by Lee Casebolt on January 9th, 2008

 

Matt Hughes is my favorite fighter.

It’s not that I relate to him on any sort of personal level. We’re both hyper-competitive, but I was on the debate team in high school and the most athletic thing I ever did was run my mouth. Meanwhile, Hughes has been wrestling since he was a fetus. Had we gone to school together, he probably would’ve given me a wedgie and stolen my lunch money (and the joke’s on him – I didn’t have any lunch money) if we crossed paths at all. Other than that, we’re both Caucasian males of approximately the same age, residing in adjacent states. Otherwise, we couldn’t be more different.

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And I didn’t jump on the Hughes bandwagon after he became the most dominant UFC champion of all “times”. I was rooting for him when he beat Valerie Ignatov (look him up) in his one sided snoozefest of a UFC debut. I’d gone to see him fight in tiny venues in Illinois and Iowa, beating up guys whose names I can’t remember. Frankly, I was with the UFC brass and overwhelming internet opinion in expecting Carlos Newton to absolutely embarrass him in their first bout. Hadn’t the much less talented Dennis Hallman done so twice already?
Sorry, Matt.

I love Matt Hughes as a fighter for one simple reason. My favorite thing in all of combat sports (which is to say very nearly my favorite thing in all the world) is to watch some poor bastard get picked up against his will and thrown to the ground with maximum force. If the poor unfortunate happens to break something on the way down, so much the better. If I weren’t something of a sadist, I’d watch soccer. Nobody in the short history of MMA has ever done that as well as Matt Hughes, and I love him for it.

So, naturally, when my favorite fighter “writes” an autobiography (I haven’t believed an athlete has written his own autobiography since I was thirteen years old), I feel compelled to buy it, as much out of obsessive collectorhood as any belief that the book will be any good. As a public service to you, the discerning TotalMMA reader, I feel likewise compelled to review said tome, so that you may make an informed decision as to whether to shell out the twenty four bones on your own. That, and Iain and Jon will probably send me mailbombs if I blow my first deadline.

The fact of the matter is, no one comes out of Made in America looking particularly good. Matt Hughes and his (perhaps aptly-named) co-writer Michael Malice are not afraid to throw anyone under the bus at any time. Some targets are predictable; it takes Hughes about six lines to get in his first shot at Frank Trigg, and there are plenty more where that one came from. But Hughes doesn’t play favorites. He’ll call out Tim Sylvia, Rich Franklin, or Randy Couture as quickly as Georges St. Pierre or B.J. Penn. For that matter, he isn’t shy about mentioning his own failings, either. From teenage violence and college pranks to personal infidelities and spiritual weakness, Hughes spends every bit as much ink on his weaknesses as he does on his strengths.

The tone of the book is very similar to that of any of Hughes’ on-camera interviews. He has the same “voice” in print that he does when speaking, which implies that either the SpikeTV editors didn’t edit as much as some people claim, or Hughes and Malice are adeptly following their lead in building the Matt Hughes character. Personally, I’m inclined to believe the former, if only because I find it hard to believe that Hughes is willing to put that much effort into a consistent image. Regardless, how you feel about the Matt Hughes on television will very much impact what you think of the Matt Hughes in print. If the reader is predisposed to think Hughes is a jackass, there is more than enough material to support that. He isn’t at all shy about knocking everyone around him, including teammates and MMA icons. Only mentor Pat Miletich seems immune. He rather matter-of-factly details some frankly horrendous behavior earlier in his life; it never fails to amaze me how many felonies people are willing to admit to in print.

A more sympathetic reader can find mitigating factors, though. His “country boy” image brings with it certain preconceptions, but Hughes’ early life wasn’t exactly The Waltons. He shared the same sort of fractured family life that it seems most fighters do. Most tellingly, while Hughes is quick to judge – fairly or unfairly – he is just as willing to change an opinion in the face of new information. It’s a rare trait. Randy Couture and Tim Sylvia, most notably, see positive reversals in judgment before book’s end.

The biggest criticism of the book has nothing to do with Hughes as person, though. Made in America should be a unique chance to see the history of MMA through the eyes of someone who’s literally done it all. Hughes went from nobody journeyman to poster boy world champion. Along the way he’s trained with and fought virtually everyone worth talking about in the sport. Matt Hughes, for whatever reason, didn’t want to write that book. He makes the kind of errors – referring to “Mark” Severn, confusing Ken and Frank Shamrock – that indicate he does not particularly care about the sport of MMA, or about the history he makes. More damningly, neither does his co-author, and neither do his editors.

 

Made in America is so much shallower than it should be. The first Hughes/Newton bout, an all-time classic that established Hughes as a world-class fighter, gets just a few paragraphs and not the slightest detail. Workouts with MFS Elite, which could be a fascinating look into how the first great MMA camp puts together fighters, get even less. Hughes’ book, like Hughes’ career, is primarily a money-making opportunity. It exists to market a soon-to-retire Matt Hughes, whose income will soon rely more on his name recognition than on his physical skills.

That’s Hughes’ prerogative. Far be it from me to criticize a fighter for making money. Most don’t make nearly what they should, and end up the worse for it. All the same, Made in America reminds me a lot of the Hughes/Lytle bout. Matt Hughes got what he wanted out of it, and it wasn’t really bad, per se, but I can’t help thinking there should have been more there. Unless you’re an MMA completist, or a particular fan of Hughes, you can afford to give this one a pass and not miss anything of substance.

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2 Responses to ““Made in America” reviewed in Total-MMA”

  1. Jonathan Snowden Says:

    Lee, nice review. Hughes is just what he appears to be. He’s a straight shooter and will tell you exactly what he’s thinking. I’m mad in a way, because I bought the book and was looking forward to reading it. Now, not so much!

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