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The Old Lion: The Fight Continues

By SJ Jarapa

Fighting… oh, so we all say is no country for old men. Yet the granddads remain confidently rooted with an adamant refusal to be moved despite all the heartaches. Why? We go figure, roll our eyes, and just plain shake our heads mostly on what is obviously no longer there. Perhaps it’s got something to do with the stubbornness that comes with age. Or perhaps it is simply the thrill of the ride, the fun of the chase – that whole out of body sensation which keeps time at bay through the system of living life on the edge – that foolish attempt to hold that ever elusive feeling of being alive which gives them the audacity to refuel and forge on.

When things go bad we all implore them to call it quits. Just hang it up gramps, we all bark. But what do we know? Most of us are young enough to not have seen many a million more of their waking hours and we think we know what boils deep in their hearts? We tell them – we imply what must be done next even though we know that they must know what to do with their own lives. And if they want to depart life in a cold but cheek way as to get their souls knocked out of their bodies for good within the ringed caskets of professional fighting like the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s infamous Octagon, why should we tell them otherwise? After all, dying cool is an admirable way to go when most people just go on right ahead for a boring death. So why don’t we all stop nagging at our good ol’ elders since we already know they won’t be moved and would stay for as long their ailing bodies would allow. They would fight, fight, and fight for fighting is the love of a warrior.

Picture this:

An old lion paces across the cage before his young challenger. He looks sharp, in shape, but clearly out of his time with all the visible sag and wrinkles speckled all over his muscular body. He fights on because he loves the adulation of the crowd. Their screams ignite his bones; their booing inspires him to prove them wrong. This is the wisdom that has been established in him by his years and years of fighting. It is the one thing his challenger does not have over him. But the young lion could care less about this – he doesn’t care or that he is not aware that such wisdom exists. To him, the screams mean he is liked; the booing simply upsets him and it makes him want to tear the old lion’s head off to make it stop.

The bell rings.

The Young Lion charges forward, adrenaline rushing through his veins. The Old Lion, all calm and calculating, snarls and skips forward. When both lions break the distance between them, their guns draw at the exact same time. But before either one could land the hay-maker, the Old Lion collapses to the ground. He is dead. The replay shows: A vein in his head popped out of his forehead for not being able to withstand the stress. Another angle on the replay shows: The left side of his chest visibly contracting somewhat grotesquely and then it expanded with a shocking, tremendous force as if a sudden blast occurred inside him. Later, autopsy would reveal that his heart exploded due to pressure.

And we are left with the Young Lion gaping in wonder and the crowd divided between the states of quiet awe and panicked shrieking.

Now wouldn’t that be a sight?

Such an image would last forever.

It would be the talk on Earth for years and years and would lay down a very strong foundation for debate on the safety of professional fighting. Of course the story is a work of fiction out of my clever mind… that could become reality if some of the most stubborn old lions in professional pugilism decide to push on regardless of their physical conditions. I see so many of these aged cats roaming the boxing world with the once great former heavyweight champion Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield being its prime example.

Holyfield’s boxing ingenuity has long deserted him. He’s now the poster boy for boxers who seem unable to get past the past – a desperate body that clings to the hopes of re-attaining past glories.

Either that or The Real Deal simply loves the sport too much to let it go.

Even the young world of Mixed Martial Arts has not escaped the grasp of old age with its icons from times of yore lingering longer than they should. Its seemingly safer bureau of fistic exchange even had a pulling effect on one of boxing’s former greats in Ray Mercer, who recently appeared in a cage to get mauled and then – by divine providence – gets lucky with big Tim Sylvia. What do you know? Third is not the charm after all. He stunned the MMA public with a one-punch KO over a former UFC heavyweight champion with a solid record. The win is a trick to the eye that says Ray Mercer still has a lot of fight left in him. But how can a 9 seconds bout even be considered a fight? Popular belief expresses that should Mercer continues to pursue his quest for MMA glory, he would make history as the sport’s first ever fatality.

I raise my glass to him. Ray Mercer has embarked on the audacious crossing towards a cool death.

And that in itself is glorious.

Yes, certainly, I know… this piece has indeed taken on a slightly moody undertone but I assure you my intention here is not to demoralize the reader by any stretch of morbidity but to prepare or even prevent the shock of what such an occurrence might cause in the future.

Thing’s can happen.

I am not saying it will. But it can.

A vein can in fact pop out of someone’s forehead under the right circumstances and hearts do explode if pressured.

From what I’m seeing in today’s UFC where a washed up old lion is constantly brought in the cage to compensate for the young up-and-comers utter lack of star power, it’s not overly impossible to think that such morbidity can indeed happen. Every time I see someone like Mark Coleman strut his stuff in there, my clenched fist turn white in fear of the punch that could be the last he’ll ever take… whiter when Ken Shamrock decided to re-enter the fences in spite of his ailing body… even whiter when Wanderlei Silva insist on fighting hardcore matches after being knocked out cold in a near succeeding sequence. I fear for their well-being. It also grips your heart to see the quality of these once extraordinary warriors diminish over time. It isn’t fun to watch them reduced to mere remnants of their former selves.

I would much rather fumble with the memory of what they once were – of how they were quite the inimitable forces which drew in the approval of a once unforgiving, disagreeing world.

Mark Coleman, Ken Shamrock, and Wanderlei Silva were part of a special race – a unique group of individuals that whose presence without, the MMA Universe would not have survived the many bombings of scorn and condemnation that it met throughout its tender days. Without them MMA would not be as booming as it is today. They were young and highly-skilled in the arts of fighting deemed too violent to ever be inducted in the norm of our daily lives. They were unrivaled in what they do, unmatched in their meteoric persona, and devoid of equals in stature – throw every designation that would qualify as godlike and they were it.

They belonged to a precious crew that made the cage worthy of understanding and soon… respect and adoration.

And how can one forget the very character of technique – the architect of perhaps the most vital element which makes MMA complete, Royce Gracie?

These men flew high and shone brighter than any star when they rode by the fire of youth. Today, they are old and not as shining as they once had been – geriatrics if you will…

The skills that once made them the best of the best have weakened down to that of a mere typical and turned them human.

But they fight still.

For they believe through fighting, they stop time and cast the day young again even if it is only for a fleeting while.

Mark Coleman bucked on the scene all powerful – the first true heavyweight Mixed Martial Artist. He was a wrestling god – a devastator, the godfather who revolutionized the game. He was champion, a colossal heavyweight favorite, until his rule’s untimely demise in the hands of fatigue. The kick that severed his brain from his head afterward should have been the waking call that it was all over. Instead, the brutal defeat drove him deeper into desires for redemption which ensues to this day. Mark Coleman is the living example of my Old Lion story. Every time he goes in the ring, I do what I can to harden my senses to prepare for the vein that might pop in his forehead. The same can be said for Wanderlei Silva who took Japan and the MMA consciousness by the whirlwind of his long reign as PRIDE Light Heavyweight Champion. For every second he is forcing the rush that makes his muscles tremble with excitement when he is fighting, the heart which beats life in his tired old body appears would explode at any given moment.

Recently, Chuck Liddell and Mirko “CroCop” Filipovic have joined this grand flock of declining warriors. Both men, like Coleman and Silva, were once the prides of their fields, both are true icons worldwide… something which perhaps is likewise their curse much as it is their endowment.

Yes we see these patients all the time and each one often bears no difference from the last. May their reason be for love, money, or honor – who knows? They all linger on despite the absence of what made them great. But then, as it is no doubt a fact of life, there are always exceptions to the chain.

Men like Randy Couture. While the rest slide and rot with age, the more this man lose hair, the more his eminence improve, his skills constrict ever more intact, with the sole purpose of defying conventional wisdom. Once he was nothing more than an unacknowledged contender, merely an old fighter who apparently lacked the backings which create the building blocks of a superstar, but like with many aspects in regards to his temperament, his light lead a dramatic rise with age. For such reasons and more, I sanction Randy Couture as Captain of this exceptional band of aging legends.

This coming February, Captain Couture will be throwing his mighty shield against The Hammer of the ex- heavyweight champion Mark Coleman in a fight where there really isn’t much to look forward to apart from the joy of watching two elderly men have a go at each other’s throats… and yet I am as certain as stone the surrounding seats around their fighting stage will no doubt be filled. Why? Perhaps it is their magnetic auras, wielding the power to compel the most dissimilar and bipolar of souls to link under the common ground of hero worship. Heroism doesn’t die. Once you are labeled a hero, greatness is yours forever.

Or maybe people would dare watch because they think the spectacle a weird version of the movie Fight Club – starring Brad Pitt – only better.

No… that is not it, but, rather, it is, perhaps, even with the knowledge that their time in fighting has run and will inexorably soon fade in the sunset, regardless of how pleasant it is to see them decaying and defeated – if you have seen them arrive on the first step of the mount, rise up the heap, and then fall from the mountain, and then rise up it again… you have to see them through with eyes wide open until the sweet or bitter end for I believe that is only the respect they deserve.

Don’t be fooled by all the folds and crease of their sagging skins, their world is neither a country of weary, exhausted individuals nor is it a retirement shelter for the aged.

When these men fight, they enter a world truly their own that is surely not for the young and fainthearted.

It is something beyond the fountain of youth.

It is something more than a world – it is something special within but an Old Men’s Crew.

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