The name of Brian J. D’Souza should sound familiar to serious fight fans. A writer based out of Canada, Brian has written for ESPN.com, FoxSports.com, FIGHT! Magazine, Sportsnet Magazine and CagePotato.com to name a few of the places where you have read his work. Recently, Brian has had his first book released, “Pound for Pound: The Modern Gladiators of Mixed Martial Arts” which discusses the history of five of the greatest MMA fighters in the sport – GSP, BJ Penn, Anderson Silva, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, and Fedor Emelianenko.
Along the way of learning about these five particular fighters, we also get the history of the sport itself and some of the other legends that have battled in this sport. Meticulous research with tons of new interviews to debunk old myths, “Pound for Pound” is a book for real MMA fans who are ready to re-learn the history of the sport seen through unbiased eyes via the men who made it happen.
I had the opportunity to speak with the Brian about this endeavor, and our talk was just as enlightening as the book itself.
The Fight Nerd: You write for many different sites and magazines, so what got you to hunker down and work on your own book?
Brian: I was always a serious writer, first and foremost. The publishing industry is a labyrinth with no easy passage through. Major publishers were interested in my first book (never published), but it wasn’t commercial enough for them to roll the dice. I worked in journalism to raise my profile, achieve name recognition and get my work out there for people to see.
Market forces dictate everything when it comes to what books get published. Mixed martial arts has been popular for several years. I had the connections and hook-ups to prominent fighters, so writing the book became an easy decision.
The Fight Nerd: How did you decide which fighters you would focus on, and why are they the ones you consider the “pound-for-pound” best?
Brian: Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva and Fedor Emelianenko–there should be no contest that these three guys are the best of the best of all time at 170, 185 and heavyweight. BJ Penn was usually mentioned in the same sentence as GSP, Silva and Fedor back in 2009 or 2010. Penn is certainly the best lightweight of all time.
MaurÃcio Rua achieved great things, winning the toughest 205 lb tournament in the history of the sport back in 2005 when he was in PRIDE and winning the UFC 205 lb belt in 2010.
There’s always going to be subjectivity when making rankings–“Was Muhammad Ali the greatest
boxer of all time, or was it Sugar Ray Robinson?”–but the selection here gives readers the best
exposition of PRIDE, the UFC and Strikeforce; different countries; the five major weight classes and the career trajectories themselves, which are all unique.
The Fight Nerd: This book was clearly a labor of love for you, what was the process to put this book together?
Brian: The hardest part of writing an MMA book is to have a clear thesis. Once that’s done, it takes tremendous stamina, concentration and focus to write a book-length manuscript. The baristas at all the local Starbucks know me on sight–I put in three hour shifts behind my laptop; sometimes 5-6 evenings a week. Most of that time was spent watching 80s music videos on YouTube, but I always got myself motivated enough to write after the first hour of “time-wasting” was done.
The Fight Nerd: How did you go about doing research for such an extensive book?
Brian: Once I settled on the five fighters, I had to arrange interviews, take trips, attend fights and seek out other sources for information. I was lucky that so many Brazilians transplanted to work as coaches in Toronto (Wagnney Fabiano, Sergio Cunha, Andre “Dida” Amado, etc).
Some stories published as fact in the MMA media were disproved through my research, such as
the idea that the articles published in ShÅ«kan Gendai magazine led to the fall of PRIDE or the story about Shogun and Wanderlei sparring to the KO over a pit-bull puppy.
The result of my effort speaks for itself: veteran MMA writers who have seen it all, read every
interview and even written all kinds of articles and books who say they never heard many of these stories before.
The Fight Nerd: Fedor has his own section in the book, what was it like talking about his rise and fall, especially since it seems like these days, we rarely even hear his name anymore, yet a year ago he was still in our news every day?
Brian: Most reviewers and readers consider the Fedor section of the book the piÃ¨ce de rÃ©sistance. I told both sides of the story–Fedor’s phenomenal talent, impressive victories and humble persona coupled with the gross mismanagement of his career, the cans he fought and his decline as a top fighter.
Fedor’s story also ties into the fall of PRIDE, since he was the sought-after commodity (or property) that the DSE brass and yakuza were willing to go to extreme lengths to maintain control over–by any means necessary.
The Fight Nerd: Do you consider this book a way to preserve the legacy of these fighters and the sport, or a way to educate casual fans into hardcore ones?
Brian: Everyone knows that there’s a revisionist history being floated around because it benefits the current 900-pound gorilla in the room–Zuffa. Say or do the wrong thing, and you could be joining Frank Shamrock in being omitted from the UFC Hall of Fame, DVD’s or just have your contribution to MMA history minimized in the UFC Encyclopedia.
Whoever reads this book, be it casual or hardcore fans, I think they’ll appreciate the material as a way to take them beyond the experience of watching fights.
The Fight Nerd: Were any of the fighters having trouble in opening up to you?
Brian: Georges St-Pierre rarely opens up to anyone these days, but that’s where research and sources come into play. He was also much more available in his early years, so I found reporters who spoke to him during that era and discovered a wealth of unpublished information.
MaurÃcio Rua did not like me asking him about his retirement plans in 2008 (the time when people questioned whether he was finished). Fighters are sensitive, and they know the public always doubts their abilities.
The Fight Nerd: In the interviews that you conducted, what was the most vulnerable and surprising thing a fighter told you?
Brian: Not the answer to your question, but the most surprising thing I discovered during the research was that someone had the guts to actually stand up for something, a cause, themselves: Fedor’s then- promoter (and later agent) Miro Mijatovic. Not everyone can step into the cage, but you can show courage outside of it.
The Fight Nerd: Was there another fighter that you wish you could have included in this?
Brian: In addition to the five major fighters? I considered former WEC champions Miguel Torres and Urijah Faber for the longevity that they had at 135 and 145 pounds, respectively.
I would have enjoyed including more about boxer Roy Jones Jr. Just hearing his thoughts on a
boxing, kickboxing or MMA match with Anderson Silva would have been interesting. Did the UFC
make him a legit offer? Were there fears that he could beat Anderson Silva in boxing, and thus
damage Anderson’s earning potential as a UFC fighter?
The Fight Nerd: Any plans for a second book in the near future?
Brian: I’ve been approached with a number of proposals related to mixed martial arts. I don’t want to say that I’ll never return to this sport, but I have other projects that are very promising. I am excited, and looking forward to surpassing the past.
To use a quote from Michelangelo that Georges St-Pierre is fond of repeating, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”
“Pound for Pound: The Modern Gladiators of Mixed Martial Arts” is available now from Amazon.com for $18, and comes highly recommended by this nerd, and you will surely love it too!