Author

By In fiction

Jong Il, from Yang Pyeong

“Heo Jong Il was from Yang Pyeong, a fact as easy to discern as the brownness of his shorts and blueness of his tank. He clutched the elongated bamboo pole of his net tightly as the bus shook along its way. The net was made with layers of spider web, perfect for catching bugs, but easily broken when struck against something solid. Jong Il’s father told him not to bring it to Seoul. It was old and dirty, with crunchy, half-picked leaves scattered across it. He brought it with him anyway. Only when he held it could he remember the melody of “Red Dragonfly” by Cho Yong Pil, hummed to him throughout the hazy blur of his early childhood. Jong Il wanted to make sure he continued to remember.

This was the first time his father had allowed him to take the bus by himself since they moved, and he was determined to catch dragonflies and butterflies in the waning summer heat. His worn, orange backpack clanged with each step from the glass jars inside of it, each of them poked with a tiny air-hole in the lid.

The rumbling ride to the park was not unlike the bus ride from Yang Pyeong to Seoul. Though shorter, it still vibrated with anticipation and excitement and a hint of something else that made him feel like there was a hole in his pockets. He shoved his left hand into his brown left pocket and pulled it out again, looking at his empty palm before tossing his net from his right hand to his left so he could inspect the right pocket as well. No holes, which was a relief since Jong Il could now refocus on the adventure that lay ahead of him instead of whatever else wasn’t there…”

 

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

Fairytale Championships

“In the aftermath of UFC 196, you can’t help but feel good to see the increased exposure of Nate Diaz. The Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran of nearly a decade has been a fan favorite since his days on “The Ultimate Fighter,” and while he has never exactly been graceful on the microphone, he has always been honest and interesting.

This was no less true when, earlier this week, the Stockton Slap specialist made an appearance on “UFC Tonight.” Sitting alongside fellow “Ultimate Fighter” alums Kenny Florian and Michael Bisping, Diaz detailed his comfort with being a moneyweight fighter simply looking for the biggest possible fights. When asked whether those fights would be for a title, Diaz brushed it off in a vintage soundbyte: “I think that title thing’s a fairytale, man.”

First off, you have to love the fact that Diaz said that to Florian, who had three failed attempts to win a UFC title, and Bisping, who has always knocked at the championship door but has never been invited inside to try his hand. Yet Diaz knows what he’s talking about; once upon a time he, too, had a title shot, and he was handily defeated by Benson Henderson. Diaz made $50,000 for that fight, half of what he made in his next four fights combined. Against Conor McGregor, he earned more than four times the amount of those five fights put together. There was no title or title shot on the line…”

 

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

Whose Stoppage is it Anyway?

“It was perhaps the first advertising slogan for competitive combat, and it came to define the gladiatorial games during and long after their existence: munera sine missione, “no mercy shown.” No phrase, Latin or otherwise, better captures the soul of machismo that is both the allure and allergen of violent spectacle.

For all its efforts to distance itself from the barbaric analogue of the coliseums, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has employed this tried-and-true appeal to masculinity time and time again. Back when events carried names beyond the headliner or type of fight, titles like UFC 2 “No Way Out” or UFC 37.5 “As Real as it Gets” were clear tips of the hat to the same simulation of death that the Romans exploited to fill seats.

Of course MMA, and especially MMA today, is nowhere near the barbarism and brutishness of the Roman games; we have rules and referees. Hence the catharsis of watching violence can be achieved without the moral compromise of watching people kill each other. We even have our stats about how MMA is safer than football or boxing, since submissions and shorter competitions reduce exposure to blunt force head trauma.

Then a fight like Hector Lombard-Neil Magny happens, and none of that makes it easier to helplessly watch a fighter get pummeled into the mat with a referee obliviously standing by…”

 

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

The Slippery Nature of MMA Greatness

“Greatness in mixed martial arts is an oft-discussed and ill-defined phenomenon.

There are moments of greatness, when a single move is so spectacular and dynamic that it transcends its own context: Think the “Showtime Kick,” the “Randleplex” or simply YouTube an Anderson Silva highlight video. Then there are great fights: gutsy, never-back-down brawls, come-from-behind wins, shocking upsets and the like. If you’re spending your Monday reading MMA opinion articles, you probably don’t need too many examples; watch this sport long enough and you’ll develop a shortlist of great fights without conscious effort in the same way you involuntarily breathe in your sleep.

Yet what is probably the most hotly debated and feverishly coveted claim to greatness is consideration as a great fighter. This usually requires a long-term aggregate of both of the former criterion, a rare feat that is slowly developed, hastily misapplied and readily dismissed. The shallow history of the sport magnifies our short memory, but even though we are often too quick to anoint the latest fighter on a hot streak as the next “Great,” we are just as quick to recant when he or she slips up or stumbles. Great fighters require time to fully appreciate, as well as a detached appraisal that those of us who thirst for the instant gratification of knockouts and submissions often lack the patience to distill…”

 

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By In basketball, essay

Away Games

“I’m not from a place where cold things happen without consent, but I live in one now. I am lucky, for that reason and others, to know Jay—that’s the Englishified version of Jong Il (yes, like Kim Jong Il)—and that Jay is sympathetic to the plight of a warm-weather waygook (foreigner) living in a blustery Asian city. I’m luckier still that he’s a basketball fan, and that he was willing to scoop me up from work to watch the showdown between Anyang KGC and the SK Knights in the Korean Basketball League. I hadn’t seen a live basketball game of any sort since college, but it is winter and Seoul is cold.

Inside the arena, starting small forward Yang Hee Jong stared at me from a phalanx of shiny pillars that greeted us, the faces and names of Anyang KGC players plastered across them in a Mercator distortion. I stared back at him, feeling a strange and sudden urge to bow. I was less sure how to engage with the pillar of foreign import Mario Little; the reflection of the bright lights in the room made it look like he was dribbling between his legs somewhere across the cosmos. For all I knew, that’s what it feels like for a former Kansas Jayhawk playing halfway across the world.

Up an escalator and outside the snack stand and gift shop, beside the gymnasium doors, was the pillar of Lee Jung Hyun. “He’s the ace,” Jay told me as we stopped to admire. Unlike the rest of the team, Lee Jung Hyun’s picture was all upper body, and his hand was propped up under his chin like a model. I bought myself a Lee jersey, because why wouldn’t you, and some fried chicken, because that always seems like the right thing to do. We went inside and found our seats. The game was about to begin…”

Read more at The Classical

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