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Mixed martial arts as art

Bronson's character, Chaney, contemplates the pros and cons of a downed opponent. From the movie Hard Times.

When I began writing Char Broiled, I wanted to get away from the tired aspect of the grizzled PI who back in the day went five rounds with the heavyweight boxing champ. Mixed martial arts is  one of my loves, and the fastest growing sport in the world. I wasn’t the only artist looking to MMA for inspiration, though -- there are a variety of artists coming out of the woodwork who have mixed martial arts as their muse.

The three founding members of TapouT may have been the first artists to enter the cage, putting their designs on tee shirts and selling them at the events, back when MMA was illegal in many jurisdictions. Of course, TapouT is now a huge, successful clothing company and sponsor of events and fighters. They’ve used their success to benefit the sport and those participating, a lofty goal for any artist.

Sports artist Edgar J. Brown paints most sports, but his MMA paintings are some of his most intriguing. His unique style brings out the subtleties of MMA moves, such as takedowns, that can’t be grasped in the speed of a fight on PPV. Similarly, Richard T. Sloan creates portraits of fighters distinctive to each person.

Evan Shoman’s pencil drawings are my favourite. His interview with FIGHT! Magazine introduces the reader to a highly motivated, cerebral man with a deep sense of self and humour. It’s always impressive when an artist’s finished products are so good you could mistake them for photos, yet maintain the heart and soul of a work of art.

Now, artists of varying kinds are coming out of the woodwork. The Tommy Toe Hold Show, a weekly two-and-a-half minute comedy video show that airs each Wednesday, shows the clever mind of a man---sorry, cartoon---who knows MMA inside out, and is somehow able to draw out belly-laughs from viewers each and every episode.  In this world you have to set yourself apart. Tommy Toe Hold certainly has.

Boxing, baseball, football, and many other sports have had timeless works of art birthed from the sport, works that have stood the test of time. Not even two decades in, mixed martial arts is proving to be a rich source for art of all kinds. 

But sometimes life mimics art.  In the late 70s, Hard Times was released, starring Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Strother Martin and Jill Ireland.  The movie takes place in New Orleans circa 1930, and has a simple, elegant plot. Bronson plays a drifter who stumbles onto a circuit of street fighting where money is made on bets. Despite his advanced age, Chaney---Bronson’s character---proves more than able to handle himself, and work out some of the problems in his past.

The casting, sets, and poetic storyline make this one of my favourite movies. It was a favourite of Royce Gracie, the representative of the great Brazilian Jiu Jitsu family that spearheaded the UFC here in North America. The fight scenes and choreography in the movie are unequalled, and it’s hard to watch Rocky when you see the effort put into this movie to simulate real fights. One of the fights in Hard Times takes place in a warehouse that has a chain link enclosed area, which eventually served as an inspiration for the Octagon.

Art is a necessary link to all aspects of life---even MMA---no matter whether you think it’s the chicken or the egg.  The only question left for these artists, or for any artist really, is how to earn some sort of a living from it.

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