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Midnight Mania! ‘The Cage Fighter’ Explores the Dark Side of MMA

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Welcome to Midnight Mania!

It’s a dark night. Joe Carman, a mixed martial artist cutting weight, has stumbled into the parking lot and is leaning against a wall, his head in his arm. His trainer strides out to collect him, quipping, “If you get sick, that’s less weight you need to cut”, before bringing him back towards the light from the gym door.

Trainer: You wanna know what separates us from normal people?

Joe: Yes.

This. This right here is what separates us from normal people. Normal people are sitting on a couch watching TV right now.

An early scene from the documentary “The Cage Fighter”, these words form the motivation behind Joe’s continued training. Joe keeps taking amateur fights, despite his family’s dismay, his issues with concussion, and the personal drama in his life. As he tells his wife when questioned, fighting is “the only time I like me.”

“The Cage Fighter” tells the real story of the culture of everyday MMA- fighters who never are going to make it into the limelight of the UFC, much less mainstream stardom. In fact, Joe Carman is an amateur. He’s not even making money. But if you’ve ever trained at MMA gyms for any length of time, his story will ring true to you. Really, this is a movie about addiction. That’s what director Jeff Unay told me in our interview, and having screened the movie, I have to agree.

Joe is the protagonist, but the real drivers of the plot center on the people around him. His wife. His recalcitrant father. His coach. His daughters. Joe doesn’t like the conflict it creates in his family, but he keeps training MMA because... he needs to. His wife hates it. His daughters cry. His doctor tells him he’s probably dealing with post-concussion syndrome.

As someone who’s experienced what it’s like to go through a training camp and fight on the amateur level, it’s not hard to see why, at 40, Joe still does MMA. In fight camp, everything is about you. You get to be selfish. In fact, you have to be selfish. You get to push yourself, too; it feels good to get that sense of improvement. You have the full attention of your coaches. It’s far from being fun. But it’s rewarding. It’s an identity you feel you can be proud of. Then, there is fight night; putting on a show in front of hundreds of people. That’s addictive too. In the documentary, Joe is seen after a win taking pictures with fans, absorbing those good feelings. And when he loses to an impressive younger fighter, he’s obsessed with getting that loss back. Fighters are optimists; he knows he could win a rematch.

The definition of addiction is continuing to pursue an activity when it’s not healthy for you, past expressing a desire to quit. One of the core components is conflict, and in Joe’s life MMA creates plenty of conflict. His daughters cry after watching him lose a fight. His wife has serious health issues of her own. He’s getting older- he can’t just keep getting beat up in a cage forever. That’s the primary tension in this masterful film.

It’s all too common a story. That’s what makes it compelling. Just like Crossfit or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or any other sport-oriented community, MMA can be a cult, all-absorbing, an unhealthy influence on people’s lives as well as a healthy one. Anyone who has spent enough time around a gym of fighters knows this. That’s what is clear about Joe’s journey. He loves MMA. That’s the version of himself he is happiest identifying as. “I’m an MMA fighter” is a satisfying self-image, especially in an America where life can be a relentless grind. Overcoming adversity in a cage can be a satisfying proxy, an alternative to navigating the labyrinthine and confusing maze that is real life. For Joe, that includes a powerful theme of fatherhood- both overcoming his issues with his own father, and being a good father to his daughters.

Like any real story, this one doesn’t stop happening once the camera turns off. It’s happening in gyms across the country. As Jeff told me, Joe could be anyone, in any city in America. That’s what makes “The Cage Fighter” a must watch.


Okay, Floyd.

This is funny from Chris Weidman

This is a great GIF, applicable to many things in life.

Demetrious Johnson and Jamie Foxx just hanging out playing video games:

Din Thomas with another take on that Floyd Mayweather video:

The Black Beast, Derrick Lewis!

A post shared by Derrick Lewis (@thebeastufc) on

Slips, Rips, KO Clips

This is a nice knockout

What a beautiful superman punch

I’ve always wanted to see someone get countered off of that missed high kick spin

Rodbod with the delayed knockout!

I love hellbows.

This was a weird flying knee

It was a day for weird knockouts to the body

Just keep hitting

Podcasts and Video

One more time- y’all gotta listen to our Nate Quarry interview on The MMA Outsiders! Check us out on SoundCloud as well as iTunes and Stitcher on the official MMA Mania channel! Follow MMA Mania on Youtube too.

Quick Hits

Random Land

Shoebills seem fun

A Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex)...

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