Blood in the Cage – A Cageplay Book Review
Cageplay.com recently had the privilege of reading an advance copy of the new MMA book Blood in the Cage: Mixed Martial Arts, Pat Miletich, and the Furious Rise of the UFC as well as talking with its author – Jon Wertheim. Jon Wertheim is a noted sports writer who has been a member of the Sports Illustrated staff since 1997. Wertheim has tackled subjects like the women’s tennis tour, basketball, and pool hustling before taking on this MMA project.
Blood in the Cage is a well written account of Pat Miletich’s rise from an undersized high school football star who loved to fight to becoming an UFC champion and leader of Miletich Fighting Systems. At the same time, Wertheim details the UFC’s evolution from its early ‘human cockfighting’ days to its current status as the undisputed number one mixed martial arts promotion in the world.
Its very difficult to put down Blood in the Cage whenever Wertheim is recounting some tale of Miletich’s past. Whether its a chapter on Miletich’s street fighting prowess, winning his first $5,000 at a No Holds Barred ‘Battle of the Masters’ in Chicago, or his later UFC career, Blood in the Cage is a real page turner. As one reads Miletich’s story, one is amazed at Miletich’s utter devotion to the study of MMA before it was even known as MMA. Miletich, a legendary Quad City brawler, evolves into one of the foremost mixed martial artists at every page turn.
MMA fans will appreciate the intertwining of the UFC’s history alongside the Miletich story. As Miletich grows, so does the UFC. Wertheim traces the UFC’s history from the early UFC’s of Royce Gracie and the famed Gracie family, to the $40 million in the red Zuffa-owned operation, to the $500 million a year MMA monster that it is reported to be now. Longtime UFC fans who have been watching since UFC 1 and who read all the online forums may find some of the UFC history a little slower reading, but most readers will be amazed at the UFC’s evolution from unregulated No Holds Barred to becoming “the biggest phenomenon in sports since NASCAR.” The UFC stories also contain some real gems like one fighter comparing losing to “sucking a thousand dicks in front of your mom,” which are sure to entertain all readers.
Wertheim brings a unique outside perspective to the MMA world. Wertheim started Blood in the Cage after writing a UFC piece (the one with Roger Huerta on the cover) for SI. Wertheim dismissed MMA prior to 2007 and even had to Wikipedia “Randy Couture” prior to meeting him for the article. After watching UFC events while writing the article, Wertheim found the sport “oddly addictive” and became a fan of MMA and its approachable athletes. The UFC stars are a welcome change from the “NBA, NFL stars who sign guaranteed contracts, dog it, and still get paid,” Wertheim writes in his book. During our conversation, Wertheim also mentions that “the rythym of the sport also makes fighters unique from other athletes. They only do their job two or three times a year. Months and months of work build to a crescendo of the fight, but in baseball you have a crappy game and the next day you have another chance.”
While writing the book, Wertheim was granted complete access to MFS and its fighters. “When you want to talk to Jens Pulver for the book, you end up hanging out with him and being invited back to his home for supper,” states the author. A few times there was a little resentment for coming to the MMA party late. “(The UFC) is like an undercover band that finally blows up and the guy who saw them at the club shows are resenting the fans who are now packing the arena.” For the most part, all were extremely approachable.
Why choose a veteran near retirement like Pat Miletich for a MMA book when stars like Rampage Jackson or Forrest Griffin would be a sure sell to the newer fans? “When I started in March 2007, Randy, Chuck, Tito, Matt Hughes, and Rich Franklin were hot fighters…Then what happened? Randy was out of the UFC for a while fighting his contract, Chuck has two losses, Matt and Rich fell off, and Tito is not in the UFC.” With Miletich, Wertheim knew how the book could end. “Miletich was a great fighter whose story closes mirrors the UFC’s story,” Wertheim told Cageplay. “Miletich went through a lot of the same growing pains that the UFC did. Its also hard to pick a guy just because he is hot one year because he can be barely in the organization the next.”
MMA fans will be glad that Wertheim did choose to write about Miletich. Not only is Miletich unknown to millions of MMA fans raised on The Ultimate Fighter, this Miletich and UFC history lesson will both enlighten and entertain all readers.
Blood in the Cage is available at Amazon.com for $16.50 and at most book retailers.