Readers who’ve seen FIGHT! contributor and Strikeforce middleweight Jason “Mayhem” Miller enter an arena may find themselves confused by how half-dressed women, blaring music, and exploding pyrotechnics can help you prepare for a fight. These and other brazen expressions of self-aggrandizement might irk the Matt Hughes fan, but Miller is simply offering the newest version of combat entrances tethered together by expressions historically aimed at pre-fight reassurance.
To deal with the psychological pressure of fighting for cash in front of thousands of fans, many fighters resort to repetitive, ritualized behavior. Premier among them:their introduction to fans. For Mayhem, it’s being ensconced in the glow of fireworks and mobbed by Hello Kitty models, while for Royce Gracie, it was the Gracie Train, something he’s said gave him the “strength of all my family.”
Family is a large part of recent fighters’ entrances. For the Gracies, and many others in the combat arts, family consists of sparring partners, coaches, and trainers—not just blood relatives. According to professor Dr. Suzanne Lease, who specializes in the study of masculinity in culture, the mixture of influences among closest advisors (wrestling, striking, and grappling coaches) helps explain why clearly delineated entrances like the Gracie Train have morphed into a conflation of cultures and ideals, some in direct conflict with one another.
“There are more Eastern rituals of bowing to the crowd and opponents, and more Western ideals of hugging and kissing among men with a certain bond,” says Dr. Lease. “Some traditions emphasize restraint, others toughness and status.”
The East/West hybrid of influences and ideals is now as mixed as the martial arts it represents. A ring entrance by Kenny Florian can contain several effusive displays of emotion toward friends and teammates (traditionally Western), but end with a bow of respect (traditionally Eastern)—just like the hybrid of him using a Muay Thai clinch to set up dirty English boxing.
The individualization of a fighter’s entrances will continue to vary greatly depending on his influences. Fighters are charged with finding the unique potion—models, music, entourage—capable of providing them the confidence to be locked in a cage with a man paid to make him bleed.