They are creatures crafted from the finest material and the way they shift between martial honor and showboating is impeccable. Impeccable as their light, shimmering attire, their tightly pulled-back hair, their economy of expression, their demure though impassioned devotions to the Virgin Mary, their glistening sweat. Impeccable as their injuries, which indicate not pain but grandeur: the grandeur of human potential. Neither flaunting nor concealing their wounds, they privilege us with a view of vulnerability as well as strength, as if to say, ‘Gaze upon our abundance: the stuff of mythology, all the world’s knowledge condensed within us. The divine uses us for its own ends, rewarding or reprimanding us, and that is our academy. Most of all, we are free, and the sea or the mountains or their urban surrogates roar at our backs.’
Their human radicalism makes us naively grateful to belong to their same species. When we see them, we think, ‘If you hit us, do we not bleed?’ (as in the Shakespeare monologue); ‘If you immobilize us with your knees, can we not punch our way free?’ How foolish we are, clinging to culture, clutching at straws to feel a connection with these venerable creatures! Wretched, useless, fraudulent humanism! Wretched, useless, fraudulent medicine, obsolete propaganda, coaching, self-help, democracy and the sinister consolation of morality and law! Never will we experience an elbow masterfully smashing our face in, never will we be toppled by the likes of Julia Avila, a 32-year-old Mexican American weighing in at sixty-two kilos, with ten professional MMA fights and eight wins, four by knockout and one by submission, or the likes of Kana Morimoto, 28-year-old Japanese K-1 fighter weighing in at fifty-two kilos, with twenty fights and seventeen wins, seven by KO.
We, mere fans of mixed martial arts, suffer and inflict violence every day; we are undeniably violent and violated as we trudge through life, but the punishments we give and receive pale in comparison to a knockout punch or a loss by submission. She who says knockout, who says tap-out, speaks the words of glory. The word for what you and I suffer and inflict is violence, that cheap natural phenomenon of survival or domination. Not so for the fighters. If violence is the unwilling subjugation of one person by another, then their fights are devoid of violence. In its place, there is longing; longing is all there is. The fighter has come for the express purpose of beating the shit out of her opponent and getting the shit beaten out of herself. Depending on which of the two she longs for more, we can say there are two basic modalities: attack or counter-attack. The attacker is in a rush, she wants to edge in on her opponent, back her against the ropes and devour her, whereas the counter-attacker remains in the center of the ring waiting to be devoured, strategically withdrawing, periodically kicking to keep the attacker at a distance. With the legitimate authority of the devoted fan, I have christened the first modality the Locomotive School: full steam ahead, smack her in the head!
Women of martial arts, I sing of thee. O willful creatures, amassers of strength, vessels of action and silence like polished weapons wrapped in velvet cloth! What do you hold within your elongated deltoids, your robust quadriceps, your bull necks? You hold desire. And in the massif of your biceps, the valley of your latissimi dorsi, the orography of your abdominals? More desire. Your shattered knuckles? Desire there, too, my idols, and desire in your deviated septa and your cauliflower ears swollen from so many hours with your heads rubbing against the gi and the mat. What a crepuscular poet would call ‘the threatening air that envelops you’ is but the perfume of your plenitude, for your existence belies the false binary of body and mind. You are not threatening, nor are you intimidating: the poets have gone mushy from stewing in their own masculinity so long, they’re less precise than an arcade gun, so of course, packing a prop like that, they feel threatened not by the fighter (who utterly stupefies them), but by her serenity, her millimetric grasp of when to rouse herself and how much damage to dole out.
I sing of thee, Joyce Vieira, 28-year-old Brazilian amateur MMA fighter in the 60–80 kilo weight class who, in April 2019, interrupted your photoshoot with a friend on the beach of Rio de Janeiro to brutalize a man who was masturbating while watching you from the bushes.
‘Are you kidding me, dude? Put that thing away!’ Vieira yelled.
‘Why? Don’t you like it? Why don’t you come on over here,’ the voyeur replied. And Vieira, with her monokini and her salon-fresh hair, was happy to oblige.
Blessed be thy name, Joyce Vieira, for venturing confidently wherever you are called and leaving emancipation in your wake! ‘After that “come on over here”, I went straight for him without even thinking, I was in a state of ecstasy because the whole thing was so surreal. Usually when you catch people doing stuff like that, they deny it, all, “no I wasn’t, no I wasn’t”. But this guy, he just kept jacking off.’ With his pants around his ankles and a hard-on, he fended off the battery of low kicks you delivered to his legs with the generosity of a sharpshooter aiming for non-vital body parts. The ingrate managed to land a right hook. ‘It just made me angrier when he punched me, I wanted to kill him, I wanted to beat the living shit out of him. When he realized I was about to start hitting him for real, he started screaming. A kid broke us up and the guy got away. In martial arts they teach us not to get into street fights, but I didn’t want to stop beating on him, no way.’ The victim forcing the sex offender to cry for help and run away! O Vieira, Annihilator of the Patriarchy’s Foundational Concepts, I sing of your unstifled rage and your brilliant interpretation of the martial arts code! You were right to attack, not only because he was violating you, but because he believed he had the right to do so. Your low kicks and jabs didn’t just halt his aggression, they struck down the presumption of docility cast over all women. I don’t know your aggressor’s name. If I did, I would include it in this ode so we could all laugh at him, so the women of Rio could laugh at him and rebuke him wherever he goes, and so the men of Rio wouldn’t rush to his defense in the spirit of masculine solidarity, but instead would reprimand him and fear to follow in his footsteps. We don’t know his name, but there are photos online.
I sing of thee, Polyana Viana, 28-year-old Brazilian weighing in at fifty-two kilos, with fifteen professional MMA fights and eleven wins, four by way of knockout and seven by submission. In the very same city where Vieira imparted justice, you had already restored the planets to their rightful orbit four months earlier when confronted with a vile miscreant – whose name we know and whose photos can be found online – when he dared cut off your path while you were waiting for an Uber. Is it possible, O Viana, that you were the inspiration for Vieira the Low Kicker? It’s the Locomotive School all the way in Rio de Janeiro: full steam ahead, kick him till he’s dead!
‘Sorry, do you know what time it is?’
‘Yeah, lemme check,’ Viana responded, pulling out her phone. ‘Seven fifty-five.’ But instead of leaving, Max Gadelha-Barbosa invaded Viana’s space and said:
‘Give me the phone. Don’t try anything, I’ve got a gun.’
O Polyana Viana, she who walks unaccompanied wherever she pleases! The turdlike Gadelha-Barbosa reached for his gun, but you, O Lucid Supernova, could see that it was just a little blade at best. ‘He was very close, he was practically on top of me. I thought: if he does have a gun, I won’t give him time to draw it.’ Let us relish every detail, O Polyana. Lead us with your example. ‘I threw two punches and a kick. He fell, then I caught him in a rear naked choke.’
‘Let me go!’ Gadelha-Barbosa pleaded with the tiny thread of breath Polyana’s arithmetical arms allowed. Make them beg, O Human Greatness, O Erector of Due Respect and Overdue Repentance, O Destroyer of Male Privileges! ‘I just wanted to know the time.’
‘My ass you wanted to know the time!’ Polyana responded with the unassailable fury of a fighter whose quiet evening had been disrupted.
‘Then call the police,’ implored Max the Deflated, who, like all outcasts prostrating themselves before the very hegemony that shuns them, would rather embrace the necropolitics of the State than the life-expanding opportunity Polyana was offering. ‘Then I sat him back down.’ And you placed him in a Kimura lock.
‘Now,’ you told him once his face and shirt were covered in blood and his eyes had sunk into his swollen cheeks and brow, ‘now we’ll wait for the police.’
‘After leaving the police station, I went home and made dinner. The next day my hands hurt a little, but nothing serious.’ O Polyana, Inimitable Caretaker of Herself, Attentive Minder of Nutrient Intake, what a gift it is to picture you opening the fridge, plucking a bag of ice from the freezer, lighting a burner, peeling a carrot, seasoning a steak, lifting the fork to your mouth at the dining-room table, swigging a beer, tearing off a mouthful of bread, wiping your lips with a napkin, taking little pauses to soothe your hard-working hands with the ice, unhooking your bra with your T-shirt still on and pulling it out a sleeve! O Polyana, Woman Who Eats!
‘It’s not the first time it’s happened to me. When I was living in Belém, two men on a motorcycle drove up to me. One got off, the other stayed on. The guy who got off broke my umbrella and tried to take my phone. I said I wouldn’t give it to him and he tried to grab it out of my hand. I punched him in the face and he got scared. And I was scared too that time, maybe because there were two of them. But he was more scared than me. He got back on the bike and they rode off.’ We do not know either man’s name, and there aren’t any photos.
O Polyana of the Healthy Appetite, O Joyce of the Unrestrained Legs: mediums, mystics, boomerangs who return violence unto the violent themselves! In your struggle, you liberate not only yourselves, but also, in solidarity, your aggressors. How well established the Locomotive School has become in Brazil! It must be the influence of Paulo Freire, who as early as the sixties proclaimed in his pedagogy of the oppressed that ‘paradoxical though it may seem, the oppressed punching her oppressor is a gesture of love’.
O lethal and obedient fighters, obedient to none but yourselves! Your fervor to kill your opponent is a sign of respect, as it is, in any case, one of the rules of the fight! That is what distinguishes the ring from the street: in the ring, the octagon, you have no aim but the annihilation of your opponent. The referee is there to make sure no one is killed or gravely injured, halting the fight with the lightest of taps or by simply raising a tensed, gloved hand, thereby awarding victory to the fighter who will immediately, cleanly release her prey with jumps of joy.
The deep hollows of your armpits are but empty spaces where other humans would house their pity, which you want for neither yourself nor your opponent: anything short of injury is humiliating. You are trained to practice the mathematics of pain – that’s what you’re paid to do, to perform for the public and the cameras, to speak with the commentators and journalists, who are, in most instances, profoundly misogynistic, inept, offensive and garrulous, wantonly ignorant of the sport and the athlete their shitfucker news channel sent them to cover, who shamelessly peacock their ignorance for all to see. In Spain’s case, this isn’t true in most instances. In Spain, this is systematic. (Below, a few verbatim transcriptions; I have decided to forgo using [sic], as it would appear too often.)
‘Um, uh. What title fight were you most nervous about? This is the second, right? The uh, the second one you got, right?’
‘Right, I’m the defending champion. Last March we won in France. It was us, aaaand . . . my opponent was from France, so we were the away team, you know. And, so, we weren’t under so much pressure, it was just us, and . . . and obviously we were happy how it turned out, we won by KO in the third round and got to bring home the belt. So now defending the title we were a little more nervous, but we worked through it. We have a sports psychologist with . . . And I mean, I studied sports psychology too but, er, you need another person, you know, to work on that side of things. So, yeah, it went well. And I’ve been having a really good time, which is what it’s all about.’
‘Cristina, we’re looking at footage of yesterday’s bout, right?’
‘You’re gonna help me a little with the vocabulary, right? “Bout” is the right term, right?’
‘We’re seeing footage from your hometown, in the middle of a fight. You don’t, you don’t see anything around you, I’m guessing, right?’
‘I mean you’re, you’re, you’re focused on your –’
Undaunted, majestic, utterly unfazed by the interviewer’s barrage of incoherence: such was the response of the 27-year-old, three-time kickboxing world champion, weighing in at fifty-two kilos and fighting out of the city of Córdoba, with an impressive professional record of forty-seven wins, just seven losses and nine career knockouts – I love you all, O women of mixed martial arts, but I cannot conceal which is my favorite troubler of rules well established, my beloved committer of feminine sins, my dauphine of the Locomotive School – introducing the one, the only: Cristina Mooooooooooooooorales! I sing of thee! Praise be to God and the Ever-Blessed Virgin, to the stars in the heavens above, to destiny, to the indifferent or divine laws of physics, for unto us a fighter was born, unto us a three-time world kickboxing champion is given who shares my name, who hails from my native Andalusia, who walks the earth in my era, who belongs to my generation, and who even studied at my university, which means if we ever meet, we can talk about all the best dives and tapas bars in Granada! I prostrate myself, therefore, with zealous gratitude to existence: amen, namaste, Subhanallah, Sat Sri Akaal.
O Cristina, she of the Long-Range Right Hook, the way that dickbag from Córdoba TV talked to you the day after you defended your title. It’s as if a journalist had approached me, a writer, and said:
‘Cristina, we’re looking at footage of your novel yesterday, right?’
‘You’re gonna help me a little with the vocabulary, right? “Novel” is the right term, right?’
Don’t you agree, Cristina, that he deserves to be ostracized? Expelled from all the social circles to which he belongs? Spat upon wherever he goes? As we have from the beginning, we are going to give first and last names and share the information necessary to locate the reprobates who – through illiteracy, malice, desire for dominance, or wounded macho frustration at their own inability to exert said dominance as intensely as they would like – scorn the fighters whose praises I sing.