With the 2008 Presidential elections drawing nearer with each day that passes, we take a look back at a few of forefathers who once led this great nation. Pioneers who were rough-and-tumble and full of true grit; almost guaranteed to be die-hard fans of MMA (if not being full-blown fi ghters themselves), had the inception of this exciting sport come at an earlier time in our nation’s history.
Should it be any wonder to American MMA fans that this country was fi rst led by such a badass? Not only did this fi rst President survive bouts of tuberculosis and smallpox as a child, thus proving his initial sturdiness, but he was also a champion competitor in what was called a “collar and elbow” style of wrestling. This type of wrestling was named such for the position that the two wrestlers started in, which involved one hand being cupped at the competitor’s elbow and the other one around the back of his neck. And whereas all MMA fans applaud the likes of Randy Couture for being so athletically active in his mid-forties, perhaps they would be shocked to know that at age 47, George Washington was rumored to have taken on, and defeated, seven competitors in a row in an unorganized Revolutionary War Era wrestling tournament!
Certainly, if Washington were alive today, we could expect to see him in the ring or cage, ready to throw down. Having suffered severe dental problems throughout his life, leaving him with a rumored one tooth left immediately prior to his Presidency, we could expect that this man would not be faced with the fear of being punched in the face and getting his grill ruined (and for the record, his false teeth were not made of wood). Given that many of the alleged happenings in Washington’s life are widely regarded as possibly legendary, we could undoubtedly expect this mysteriousness to transcend into his fi ghting life as well. Certainly his nickname would be “The Hatchet,” or something similar, with the insinuation being that he would chop down his opponents with vicious leg kicks as if their limbs were comprised of cherry wood!
Next on our list is a man whose toughness is not nearly as regarded as the denomination of currency that his mug is printed on (it’s a twenty dollar bill, by the way). Andrew Jackson is the epitome of fearlessness and coarseness, as evidenced by the fact that he not only survived smallpox like his Presidential predecessor George Washington, but also decided to push the envelope by engaging in, and surviving, more than a dozen one-on-one duels in his lifetime. And by duels we mean the ones that involve pistols and death! It kind of makes one wonder who played the role of Big John McCarthy in that type of fi ght scene. Jackson (who also wrestled as a youngster) was known to have had many bullets lodged in his body until the day he died, sometimes coughing up blood because of it.
Seeing that Jackson remained so bold in the face of fear gives credence to the idea that “Old Hickory” would thrive in a MMA environment. As many fi ghters can attest, much of the MMA game is mental. And an iron mentality is exactly what Jackson had. Once, he had to be restrained by his own staff after chasing down his would-be assassin and beating him with his cane after the pistols that were to be used on the President misfi red. Today, that cane would certainly be made of old hickory wood and would become one of Jackson’s trademarks as he would wield it while walking confi dently all the way up to the cage door.
Of all the Presidents who led lifestyles full of fun and roughhousing prior to the Presidency, perhaps the most famous is Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was known for his ability to excel in wrestling and feats of physical strength, but then again, you had better be strong and good at manhandling people when you grew up tall, thin, not too attractive and sported a name like “Abraham.” Kids can be cruel, but life in the wilds of early America can be crueler. In fact, it was Lincoln’s working-class upbringing that can be credited for the legendary strength hidden within his wiry frame. Chopping wood and working in the fi eld can bring about the best in the man, a la Matt Hughes.
Whereas Presidents Washington and Jackson favored more traditional styles of folk wrestling, Lincoln excelled in catch wrestling, which basically means, “beat your opponent in any way you can,” including by way of submission holds. Perhaps the most famous of Lincoln’s wrestling matches involved local tough guy Jack Armstrong. Although the details are sketchy, one version of the story claims our then-future President slammed a frustrated and foul-playing Armstrong into the ground, where he then lay unconscious. As Armstrong’s gang cornered Lincoln against a wall, Lincoln calmly offered to take them all on, one at a time. Talk about guts! The melee never went down, apparently because Jack Armstrong awoke and stopped the standoff. From that point on, Lincoln and Armstrong remained friends for life.
After reading just a brief portion of Lincoln’s history, it should be a no-brainer that this late and great leader would’ve loved to fi ght in MMA. Combine his strength and technical excellence, and we’d have ourselves a great fi ghter.
Perhaps the President most likely to have scrapped in the cage was Theodore Roosevelt. Besides being a great and adventurous President who was responsible for things such as the completion of the Panama Canal and being the fi rst American to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Roosevelt had all the tools to be as ruthless as he wanted to be to any man without fear of consequence. As a youngster, having been bothered by neighborhood bullies, Theodore began learning how to fi ght through boxing lessons. Somewhere along the line Roosevelt added wrestling to his arsenal. T.R. continued to employ wrestling-type workouts throughout his term as Governor of New York. Boxing, however, remained his longtime love and was something he continued into his Presidency, even taking time to spar in the White House on occasion. It has even been documented that Roosevelt lost sight in one of his eyes from taking a particularly hard, retina-detaching shot from one of his sparring partners!
Teddy’s tolerance for pain is legendary. On October 14, 1912, Theodore Roosevelt was shot in the chest by a would-be assassin. Luckily, when the bullet struck it was slowed down by his steel glasses case and a folded speech that was in his breast pocket. Regardless, the bullet pierced the President’s fl esh and settled three inches into his chest. Being the tough SOB that he was, Roosevelt declined going to the hospital (since he wasn’t coughing up blood) and instead stayed on task and delivered his scheduled speech! The bullet was never removed from his body, due to the proximity to his heart and the danger involved in a potential operation.
Despite all of this, the most exciting thing for MMA fans is that Roosevelt was made aware of, and became profi cient in Jiu-Jitsu at the turn of the twentieth century. Of course, this wasn’t the Brazilian art that was made famous by the Gracie family in the 1990’s, but many of the principles and techniques were very similar to the Japanese art that Roosevelt learned. Through published letters to his children, it appears evident that he easily recognized the benefi ts of learning the art. By having such well-rounded skills in his equally rounded fi gure, perhaps Teddy “Ted-Ro” Roosevelt would be at the top of the heavyweight division food chain today.