Brazilian Gabi Garcia stands six feet one inch tall. She weighs 210 pounds and is 31-years-old. She has an MMA record of 4-0 and she is one of the most decorated female Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioners in the world. Megumi Yabushita, meanwhile, is a 45-year-old journeywoman who weighs 134 pounds, stands five feet two inches, has a kickboxing record of 1-10-1, and has lost her last seven MMA fights. Earlier today these two women fought each other in Japan.
The remarkable thing is not that these two garishly mismatched women fought—Japan is MMA's ancestral home of circus fights, after all, and finding an opponent for a woman as large and athletically accomplished as Garcia is nearly impossible: just ask Garcia's last opponent, Yumiko Hotta, a professional wrestler who was 50-years-old and gave up 40 pounds to Garcia when they fought last December. Nor was it surprising that Garcia dominated, all things being equal in a fight, size becomes destiny, and things weren't even remotely equal between these women. Not only was it nearly impossible for tiny Yabushita to get close enough to land blows on Garcia, those blows were anatomically incapable of hurting the Brazilian. Every kick Garcia threw, on the other hand, no matter how technically suspect, devastated Yabushita's small frame. Every slow body kick doubled her over, every lumbering leg kick nearly spun her around, every head kick was potentially murderous.
No, every second of Garcia and Yabushita's fight unfolded with the predictability and inevitability of death. Garcia may as well have been fighting a child for all she was troubled; Yabushita may as well have been trying to take down a compact car. This wasn't an athletic event so much as it was a demonstration of physical laws.
What is also predictable is the blend of shame and curiosity with which MMA fans have approached and responded to the fight (and all of Garcia's fights thus far). Japanese combat sports are the thing we can't look away from, despite our sense of repulsion. Japanese MMA is the dark secret of the devoted MMA fan, the shameful addiction, the occasional clarion call announcing that thing we would most like to forget: that the sport we love most, the entertainment we admire most passionately, the hobby that most defines our private lives is—even in its most beautiful, artistic, athletic, elegant, mainstream moments—a thing of gore and terror and shame. Fights like Garcia vs. Yabushita are unapologetic and unalloyed proclamations of the dark truth of MMA: that it's at its root brutal and animalistic and awful. And as ridiculous as such circus fights are, as much as we wish, for example, 12-year-old kids weren't being sanctioned to fight adults in Japan, as much as we'd like to believe that our love of MMA has matured with the sport itself and grown into a purely aesthetic admiration—such fights are reminders of who we are and what this sport is all about. Like love and life, fighting holds within it enormous contradictions and demands we stomach them all.
And so, in the end, it didn't even matter that this morning's fight was declared a no contest after Garcia illegally kicked Yabushita in the head as the smaller woman was lying helpless on the canvas. It didn't matter at all that with all the advantages in the world, Garcia still relied on an illegal technique to do her opponent in. No, this was Japan. And in Japan a headkick from a woman who weighs 100 pounds more than her opponent is just part of the show. As was the big, loving hug Garcia wrapped Yabushita in after the fight was called off. As was the inevitable polite applause from the crowd, as respectful as a golf match or a tea ceremony. As always a Japanese combat sports event provided the perfect blend of cruelty, decency, and absurdity. The circus of contradictions didn't disappoint. And once again we were ashamed to call it ours. And we couldn't look away.