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Editorial: The Observation Safe House

Whenever I saw my brother biting down on his bottom lip with a scowl, I knew it was on. That was the blood-boiling signal he gave when he was ready to bring the pain.

The Smith Brothers had a few unspoken rules when they fought, though. There was plenty of tackling, punching, pinching, pulling and twisting — but hitting in the face was prohibited. In that respect, our altercations could be considered Ground and Pound Light.

Still, taking enough beatings from my older sibling (and dishing out a few of my own), I learned an important lesson at a tender age: I am not a fighter.

I prefer to observe fistic rage, rather than stand on the giving or receiving ends. Heck, my wife takes a cardio-kickboxing class that makes her more of an aggressor than me. Perhaps this means I’m a wuss, but I’ll accept that the same way I used to accept those behind-the-woodshed whippings from my bro.

Fighters are fascinating creatures. They make terrific subjects for writing, especially for us wussies. I’m reminded of that whenever I read depictions of MMA in mainstream media publications — stories that aren’t generated by MMA websites and attempt to explain the sport to ignorant readers. For example, last week a co-worker left a recent copy of The Atlantic magazine on my desk. It was open to an article titled “Rampage” and included an intimidating portrait of Quinton Jackson glaring at the camera.

Having never heard of The Atlantic, I asked my fellow-writer for a description.

“It’s pretty high-brow, does a lot of long, analytical pieces,” he explained.

So, it seems even society’s upper crust feels a need to investigate the dark world of professional fighting these days. The piece, however, didn’t come off as snobbish or project a harsh light on a barbaric endeavor. Rather, the writer, David Samuels, skillfully wove details of the sport and its origins into a tale about Jackson that took readers through the preparation, incidence and aftermath of his five-round, championship loss to Forrest Griffin.

Jackson was a solid protagonist for the article. He is a character, one of the few men in MMA who actually have a sort of shtick, with his chains, snarls and wolf-like howls that define his pre-fight ritual. At the time of the article, Jackson also was king of the UFC’s light heavyweight class, arguably the most talented division in the world.

While the story was well formed and educational, Samuels had prevailing questions he touched on with nearly every source in the story: Why fight? Or, why watch fights?

Those are common queries among scribes who delve into this subject as relative outsiders. To be truthful, many of us are probably pencil-neck dweebs with childhood horror stories about being stuffed in lockers. We didn’t retaliate and now we tickle keyboards for a living.

If we fought, it was when we were little and didn’t know any better, when we battled household rivals because, dammit, he broke my Knight Rider toy. That’s long before we’re forced to conform and reluctantly acquiesce to the rules of acceptable behavior in the maturation process.

Rampage? Rampage and men like him are driven to find ways to stay outside of the safe house. Rampage fights because, as he told Samuels, “I have a samurai spirit. God made me to be a fighter.”

(Picture this: Upon our separate births, God touches his hand upon two babies and says in a deep, reverent tone, “Quinton, you will be a warrior, a man who will stand and battle men in tests of bravery and physical skill. … Josh, you will be the wussie who watches Quinton fight.”

Jackson’s samurai suggestion is type of refrain I’ve read in other pieces from the mouths of MMA pros. If it wasn’t God telling them, it was a voice urging them to challenge themselves. Or it was an internal drive to impose their will on another man. All of the reasons seem inborn, I think.

So, Rampage will fight on, even though his loss to Griffin set off a near-disastrous domino effect that ended his relationship with trainer Juanito Ibarra, sent him on a energy-drink binge, landed him in handcuffs and, later, in a summit with mental-health professionals.

Rampage will fight on, even though on Saturday at UFC 92 he’ll face a foe, Wanderlei Silva, who has throttled him twice before and would take pleasure in delivering another beatdown.

Rampage will fight on because it’s what he knows and what he does best. He has spent years fine-tuning his skills of destruction the same way businessmen or lawyers might attend seminars, trade secrets with contemporaries and put the information to use in the real world.

Rampage was born to fight and his life has been a perpetual search for the clash.

It’s fascinating. Even upper-class readers of a fancy magazine can appreciate the process.

As for me, I’ll remain a steadfast observer. That Smith Brother Ground and Pound was just too painful.