Review of “The MMA Encyclopedia”

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I am tired of having to scour the internet to confirm my facts when I write editorials. Wikipedia only takes me so far, and that only gives me the barebones, if anything at all if I have a specific question. Usually, I just scour the Full Contact Fighter archives in hopes of eventually finding the answer, or if I am really lucky it might just pop up on the first dozen pages of a google search. Recently, a book came out that potentially would be the solution to my hours of searching, and that is why today we are going to take a look at the aptly named, “The MMA Encyclopedia” by Jonathan Snowden and Kendall Shields.

Snowden previously wrote “Total MMA: Inside Ultimate Fighting“, about the history of MMA, and also writes for Bloodyelbow.com and The Houston Chronicle. This is not his first foray into book-writing, and having read his work on Bloody Elbow, I was very interested in seeing how in-depth this self-titled encyclopedia would be. I was lucky enough to get a copy of this book to see for myself and let you know what I think, and as my many readers know, I am hard to please. Just check out my review of the Strikeforce DVD set and my extremely in-depth gear reviews, where we do our best to break the products and see just how good they are.

So what did I think of this book that allegedly holds the knowledge of a few decades of modern combat sports? Hit the jump for my review of Jonathan Snowden’s MMA Encyclopedia!

To qualify as an encyclopedia, your book needs to be a lengthy tome of information about its subject and a resource & reference that a newcomer can look at to learn and a pro can glance at to confirm his inquiry. The MMA Encyclopedia gives you that, but to a degree. Snowden has condensed the history of MMA into a modest 586 pages, which makes me pray that George R.R. Martin would hire this man to edit his “A Song of Fire & Ice” series. There is a great deal of meticulously researched information here that is easy to pick up and learn about a fighter, organization, or whatever your interest might be, but there is a large amount also left unrecorded.

To break down the format, popular fighters will have four to five pages about themselves, up and coming UFC fighters (or most Japanese fighters) usually get one to two pages, and younger fighters who do not fight in UFC or Strikeforce tend to get a pargraph. Exceptions to the rules include short-lived MMA legends like John Matua and Keith Hackney, but that is generally what to expect. Packed into those pages is a good amount of info, most of which will focus on their career in the big shows like UFC, Pride FC or Strikeforce. These seem to be just the right sizes for each person, promotion or whatever else might pop up (which could be an explanation of a technique or a brief write-up on the history of the “Just Bleed” guy) to tell you a bit of their life story and then their fighting career, plus any interesting anecdotes about their personality or a specific match.

Each entry is not written in your traditional encyclopedic style, rather it is written with the voice of the average MMA fan in mind. I would not call it “talking down” to the readers, far from it. Adapting an encyclopedia to reach the audience of a demographic that is not big on reference books is a smart idea, and voice in this book is one of an equal who is trying to imbue the reader with some new knowledge. There is a bit of snarkiness every now and then that some readers might not like, as this is not always an unbiased look at the facts but occasionally, the facts with an opinion built in that would be out of place in most other compendiums. That is the price of having a voice though, and I imagine if there was a lecturer giving his thesis on the sport, he would probably sound the same way. Sometimes, it’s kind of appropriate when you look at the craziness of MMA. If you can get past that, the info is the meat of the book and there is plenty of meat to go around!

The book is a who’s who of MMA, with entries on just about every notable figure in the sport (we will come back to that in a second) and is loaded with photos from Peter Lockley. In the middle is a 16-page color spread of various photos from the UFC, Pride FC, IFL and even YAMMA Pit Fighting (which does have its own entry)! The book has a nifty appendix in the back with results from every Pride FC event, DREAM, Sengoku and all major UFC events up to UFC 107. Mixed within those pages are some excellent statistics and points of trivia like fewest days in between fights or most KO’s in a company.

I do have one major nitpick though, and it’s not really a nitpick but a very fair question. Let me just throw this out there and ask why there is an entry on Jushin “Thunder” Lyger, who had one MMA fight, yet nothing on Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker or Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney? Heck, where is Pride FC’s president, Nobuyuki Sakakibara or Elite XC’s Gary Shaw, who has a rich history in boxing before he came to MMA.

On top of that, where are the stats for WEC, Strikeforce, Bellator, Elite XC, IFL, heck, even Bodog or stats from the two Affliction shows? I can understand excluding smaller regional companies but the promotions I just mentioned, despite several of them being dead, had very relevant fights that shaped many of the today’s stars. I won’t even mention the Japanese companies I wanted to see like Hero’s, Pancrase, ZST, DEEP and Jewels. It’s not like he ignored them in the encyclopedia, since there is even a brief entry on Spirit MC from Korea and Superbrawl from Hawaii, and those are pretty obscure compared to the IFL and WEC.

I asked the author directly about this question, which he responded, “I thought the entries on their promotions were sufficient to cover Rebney, Coker, and Sakakibara. Those weren’t specific or purposeful exclusions. Besides Dana White, I don’t think we did an individual entry on any promoter and White is the most successful promoter in MMA history and a dynamic public figure.”

Being the troublemaker I am, I also asked Mr. Snowden about the issue with the statistics. “Some of our decision making regarding the statistics was guided by space considerations. We didn’t think Bellator or Strikeforce, looking at them from a distance, merited the same treatment as the UFC or PRIDE.” Jonathan added, “Where would you then draw the line? Are Bellator results more important in the grand scheme of things than Shooto or Pancrase results? What about Cage Rage? There was a line that had to be drawn. If we update the book going forward and Strikeforce and Bellator have continued success, that might be a possibility.”

I disagree with this selective treatment, since there are entries on smaller companies and fighters, like Joop Kasteel. How many of you readers even know who that is? But I can understand the sizing issue and that this book can’t be as massive as I desired. This is a case not of the authors neglecting to inform us, but really of the publishers not knowing what’s being written about. When you have a scenario like that, you are forced between a rock and a hard place – don’t edit and don’t get published, or make the cuts and take slack from the fans.

What the encyclopedia does, it does well. But is it as complete as it could be? No, but the information presented makes for a good reference and I would definitely say it’s a good starting point for newer fans. However, if you are a hardcore fan, it’s extremely disappointing to note what is missing from it. I can only hope the book is successful enough to warrant a sequel and remedy the problem of what is missing from this book. For casual fans who want to take the next step in their no-holds-barred education, this is a very good choice to whet their appetites and allow them to battle the forum trolls successfully with facts and I definitely recommend it to them.

I absolutely commend the authors for their work and especially their dedication to a project of this magnitude, and I am sure if they had their way, they would have included so much more in this. Sadly for the niche audience that is MMA, this is the best we will get for now. It’s up to us to show publishers that we want more books like this by buying it and hope that it pushes them to be more comprehensive in future editions, which I really do hope this book gets. For the cost of this book, I say go for it. It makes a nice coffee table book, is good for trivia and you will learn some things, but just remember that your education in MMA doesn’t end there. At the end of the day, I like this book and will definitely use it for research, but I want to like it more and that won’t happen until we can convince the publishers that its worth it to print something with that much info. Take it for what it is for now, and let’s show them we want more!

This book has a cover price of $24.95, but you can order “The MMA Encyclopedia” on Amazon.com at a discounted price at this link over here, or head to your local book store, or whatever your favorite place to buy MMA books (if such a magical place exists).

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