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Book Review: The Laws of the Ring

The Laws of the Ring

by Urijah Faber

William Morrow, 2012

Since it’s the 21st Century and every flamingo in the Bird House gets a memoir, bookstores are now featuring The Laws of the Ring by former WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting) and UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) champion Urijah Faber, one of the most popular and highest-grossing MMA (mixed martial arts) fighters in the world. In addition to telling Faber’s rise-to-stardom story (high school wrestling, graduating from the University of California at Davis with a degree in something called ‘human development,’ breaking into the fledgling ‘ultimate fighting’ racket, etc.), The Laws of the Ring purports to be a kind of business/motivational book designed to help readers “find your passion and incorporate it into your life.” According to the book:

I believe there are laws at work in human interaction. These are laws that dictate success or failure, laws that portend a life of happiness or a life of regret. Put simply, they are Laws of Power. They are equally relevant to a salesman or a professional fighter. They work in the office or out. By maximizing your Laws of Power, you will lead a happier, more fulfilling life.

There are a good many lies in this slim book, some of which are obvious even in that opening salvo.

Laws of the Ring was written ‘with’ Tim Keown, the veteran ghost-writer who similarly ‘helped’ Dennis Rodman write Bad As I Wanna Be and Josh Hamilton write Beyond Belief. As in those cases, so too in this one: Keown has more than earned his money. Five seconds’ exposure to Urijah Faber will exclude from your wildest imagination the possibility that he knows – much less conversationally uses – words like ‘portend’ or ‘equally relevant.’ When you read, a bit later, lines like “A good way to illustrate one’s aptitude is with the competency model,” the only possible response is a burst of laughter. Faber might have done a scattering of book-signings for this thing (hip-hop cap stylishly askew, tongue sticking out between lips, pen gripped tightly, brows knitted in laborious concentration), but the smart bet says he’s never even looked inside it, much less read it.

But even if we grant some kind of distant, indifferent agency (I think Faber’s discussion of natural theology happens in Chapter Eight) to all this – maybe Keown sat down to talk with Faber about “the book and shit” and took some notes while his host was busy crushing empty beer cans against his forehead – there’s still the lie about means and ends. Keown has Faber spout platitudes all through The Laws of the Ring about following your passion and letting it open doors to your future, but Faber was a brainless, hustling cage-fighter in the Colusa Casino with no plan, no money, and no prospects when he was basically scooped up by some rich, idle backers who sensed – rightly, it turned out – that they could turn his good looks into money in an emerging sport. Faber himself could have had all the passion in the world, but without the luck that comes from being born pretty, he’d be coaching men’s wrestling in Southern California and watching MMA on TV.

And then there’s the lie about that emerging sport itself. Keown has Faber refer often to the ‘tactics’ of cage-fighting (and Faber himself has used both the terms ‘science’ and ‘warrior’ in connection with it), but none of that applies to the reality, which Senator John McCain once very accurately referred to as “human cockfighting.” Contestants – barefooted and bare-handed, helmetless – essentially maul each other until one is senseless. There’s none of the blundering technique of boxing and certainly none of the skill of actual martial arts – it’s parking lot brawling, only topless and with sponsors. Well over 80 percent of Faber’s ‘victories’ have come about as a result of him choking a downed opponent, and his most famous defeat happened when he walked right into a punch Joe Frazier would have seen coming a full week away. Calling it a sport at all is a mighty big stretch, but calling Faber a ‘master’ of it is going above and beyond. Fight two badgers in a cage and one of them will win – that doesn’t make him Mr. Miyagi.

Worse than all these lies is the one about motivation – that ‘happier, more fulfilling life’ crap. This book purports to convey 36 “Laws of Power,” and Keown has Faber say repeatedly that realizing his dreams and furthering his goals and such nonsense has always been his overriding focus. But as the California politicians whose ranks Faber will almost certainly join one day soon could tell him, there’s a point at which euphemisms start to shatter under their own absurdity. When Keown has Faber talk about “lifestyle,” he’s getting closer to the truth: what Urijah Faber wants – what motivates him, what he cares about – is money. Money and the long list of things it can buy: jeeps, cars, houses, blocks of houses, bling, sycophants (in these pages referred to as “Team Alpha Male”), and spectacled bean-counters who can be mocked even while their nerdy skills are utilized.

The Laws of the Ring comes with a ready-made rejoinder to reviewers:

Just because you haven’t done something doesn’t mean you can’t, so resist the urge to criticize. This is harder than it seems. There’s a difference between being a critical thinker and being a critic. A critical thinker comes up with constructive criticism after looking at a problem from all angles; a critic simply tosses out his or her caustic opinion with nothing substantive to back it up, and tends to lend mostly negative thoughts on any given topic.

Needless to say, this is another lie, or at least wishful thinking. Critics form their caustic opinions by looking at a problem from all angles, after all – and there are lots of problems with this book, the biggest of them being the faint but still real possibility that some young MMA fan out there might take seriously as a life-guide what is in reality just one more tentacle in the concentrated cash-grab of a cynical and unprincipled young thug who couldn’t care less whether they fulfill their life’s dreams.

Keown’s Faber says “In pursuing your passion, accentuate the positive in yourself and other people.” The real-life Faber accentuates the positive in other people mainly by sucker-punching them in the larynx and then smiling big for the cameras. Let’s hope most of this book’s readers pick the right one to emulate.