I don't know how to break this to you easily, so I'm just going to come right out and say it.
You have been lied to.
That's right folks, you may think you know what Thanksgiving is all about, but the standard tale all American school children learn about the Pilgrims celebrating the harvest at the Plymouth Plantation is nothing more than a cleverly concocted cover story.
Recently, after months of tireless investigation into the matter, I have unearthed the real reason the Pilgrims put on their legendary soiree that fateful Thursday back in 1621: they were celebrating the conclusion of the first-ever New World Fighting Championship (NWFC) event.
You've doubtlessly heard the story of how the Pilgrims' Native American buddy Squanto helped the recent arrivals out by teaching them to grow corn and catch eel, and while all that did indeed go down as the history books say, his major gift to the Pilgrims had nothing to do with filing their bellies.
As it turns out, Squanto had a sick ground game. One morning a band of Pilgrims out foraging for food caught a glimpse of Squanto schooling some fool on the ground by tapping him out with a beautiful omoplata. Being huge fight fans, the Pilgrims begged him to teach them how it was done.
Squanto, whose full name "Squanto Gracie" has been suppressed over the years, was an obliging chap and he agreed to school the Pilgrims the art of Patuxet Jiu Jitsu (PJJ) in exchange for them teaching him the rudimentary martial art many of the English settlers practiced known as Muay Thames kickboxing.
Keep in mind this was long before the days of playing Candy Crush Saga on your iPhone, let alone watching Honey Boo Boo on TV. The Pilgrims and Patuxet were starved for entertainment and soon realized that holding an event where the best Native and colonial fighters could pit their skills against one another would be a good way to kill time on an interminably long summer night.
The first NWFC event was a smash success. Soon word began spreading all across the East coast about how exciting these NWFC fight cards were.
However, it wasn't long before a cadre of Puritans caught wind of the NWFC, and began a merciless campaign to outlaw the fledgling sport. Labeling the NWFC as purveyors of "human turkey fighting" the Puritans, led by an outspoken minister and orator known as Cotton McCain, were soon successful in getting the new sport outlawed, thus robbing Squanto of his true place in history as a martial arts pioneer.
In the true spirit of Thanksgiving which I have unearthed -- and totally didn't just make up -- let's take a look at a few things yours truly is thankful for in mixed martial arts (MMA) circa right now.
1) Great action fights in 2013: While I'm a big fan of all the promotional bells and whistles that often go into the promotion of a successful fight -- see more on that below -- the greatest prefight promos in the world wouldn't amount to a hill of turkey bones if sometimes this sport didn't deliver transcendentally great action. Seeing a truly phenomenal fight is all it takes to remind me why I suffer though all the judging controversies, conservative gameplans, PED abuse, and other scourges of the sport.
While my personal pick for best fight of 2013 remains the epic that was Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez from UFC 166, there have been a number of potential fight of the year (FOTY) candidates that may be better than anything we saw in 2012.
That was my pick for FOTY for much of 2013, but then at UFC 164 Alexander Gustafsson exceeded expectations and gave dominant Light Heavyweight champ Jon Jones the challenge of his career in a gritty back and forth battle.
Then just one month later at UFC 166, easily one of the best all-action cards in company history, Melendez and Sanchez put on a singular display of will and fistic fury that unseated Gus and Jones from the top spot.
UFC 167 may have started out slow, but it kept the streak of hot matches alive, with Johny Hendricks and Georges St-Pierre engaging in thrilling war, that depending on how you saw it, ended with "GSP" holding on to his title by the skin of his teeth or "Big Rigg" getting screwed by a bad judges decision out of the belt he rightfully won
Speaking of controversial decisions, Bellator MMA had at least one FOTY candidate with the Michael Chandler vs. Eddie Alvarez rematch at Bellator 106. Although the fight was a slight notch below their first meeting, it was still an excellent knock down, drag out affair that saw both men display incredible toughness and will to win.
2) Fighters who attempt to drum up interest with their mouths, not just their actions in the cage: While fans of traditional martial arts and amateur wrestling may be fond of fighters who keep it respectful leading up to fights, for most of us the polite approach is about as boring as watching Rory MacDonald practice his jab for three rounds.
That's why I'm glad there are fighters out there like Chael Sonnen, Michael Bisping, Wanderlei Silva, Conor McGregor, and even Eddie Alvarez who aren't afraid to speak their minds before a fight and give a candid opinion about an opponent.
Bisping's often hilarious videos mocking Alan Belcher ahead of their UFC 159 clash were a great example of how a fighter who isn't featured in a main event can draw attention to himself. More than many purists care to admit, this sport is primarily a form of entertainment, which means fighters who attempt to entertain only once they step in the cage are often missing a big part of the picture when it comes to becoming a star, and as a result end up leaving massive amounts of money on the table.
Plus, the one-time pro wrestling fan in me loves just loves seeing well-done promos.
3) Thomas and Jesse giving me a shot to write for MMA Mania: Finally, if you'll allow me to get annoyingly self-referential for a second, I'm super thankful to Thomas and Jesse for taking me on board a few months ago and giving me a forum to write professionally about the sport I love. While I'm still light years away from my goal of one day becoming the AJ Liebling of MMA, I'm still trying to improve on my game all the time in order to reward their trust in me and hopefully provide all you Maniacs with a good read now and then.
I also want to give a shout out to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer and MMAFighting.com, who was the first person to believe in my writing and publish it, for his invaluable advice and frequent assistance.
OK, now time to go consume an entire weeks' worth of calories in one sitting. I've resisted the siren call of peanut butter cup pie long enough.