Cage Kings: How an Unlikely Group of Moguls, Champions & Hustlers Transformed the UFC into a $10 Billion Industry (Hardcover)
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A cultural and business history of the UFC, tracing the unlikely rise of mixed martial arts from what was derided in the ‘90s as “human cockfighting”—more violence than sport—to a global pop culture phenomenon.
Senator John McCain once decried mixed martial arts as “human cockfighting,” while the New York Times despaired that the sport offered a “pay-per-view prism” onto the decline of western civilization. But the violent spectacle of cage fighting no longer feels nearly as scandalous as it did when the sport debuted in 1993. Today, it’s spoken of reverentially as a kind of “human chess” played out in real-time between two bodies and the UFC is one of the most valuable franchises in the world, worth more than any team in the NFL, NBA, or MLB and equal to what Disney paid to acquire Marvel Comics. Once banned in thirty-six states and hovering on the edge of bankruptcy, the UFC has evolved into a $10 billion industry. How did cage fighting go so mainstream?
A rollicking behind-the-scenes account of one of the most spectacular upsets in American sports history, Cage Kings follows the desperate fighters, audacious promoters, fanboy bloggers, fatherly trainers, philosophical announcers, hustling sponsors, and three improbable twentysomething corporate titans on a darkly comic odyssey to normalize a new level of brutality in American pop culture—and make a fortune doing so. Stylishly written and poignantly observed, the book offers a provocative look at how the hollowing out of the American dream over the past three decades and the violence endemic to modern capitalism left us ready to embrace a sport like cage fighting.
About the Author
Michael Thomsen writes about sports, video games, technology, and political culture for The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Forbes, Wired, The New Republic, and other outlets. He lives in New York City.
“In this blistering story of an industry where profits are predicated on bodily harm, the sweet science is in Michael Thomsen’s reluctant rhapsodizing about the uniquely American bloodlust behind it all.”
—Sean Howe, New York Times bestselling author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story
“Propelled by pure adrenaline, with a storyline as captivating as two people brawling for survival inside a cage. But this spectacle never loses sight of the bigger picture, which is that UFC fighting is a perfect metaphor for American capitalism today. Michael Thomsen takes the gloves off to tell this story, striking each blow with the precision of an artist.”
—Christopher Leonard, New York Times bestselling author of The Lords of Easy Money
“A deeply reported, compulsively readable account of how a bunch of not exactly conscience-burdened men turned a dubious idea into an outlaw sport that gushes cash as well as human brain matter.”
—Charles Leerhsen, New York Times bestselling author of Down and Out in Paradise
“Propulsive and wildly engrossing, Cage Kings is the story of a uniquely 21st century sport whose most startling acts of aggression are committed not by the fighters in the arena but by the ruthless moguls outside it.”
—Brad Stone, New York Times bestselling author of The Everything Store
“The definitive tale of the wild rise of the UFC and mixed martial arts to global dominance. A must read for fans and the simply curious alike.”
—Matthew Polly, national bestselling author of American Shaolin and Bruce Lee
“Cage Kings examines the remarkable trajectory of the UFC... against the backdrop of American life growing ever more immiserated.... Without implying MAGA causality, Thomsen rhymes the UFC’s popularity with the rise of a twenty-first-century Caucasian chauvinism charged with resentment over nonwhite athletic success.”
“The success story of the UFC, as Thomsen emphasizes, is deeply American…. [Cage Kings] is hopefully the first of many mainstream releases to explore the inner workings of a company that has excelled at resisting scrutiny, reminding us that beneath the bloody spectacle lies a complex, and often ruthless, business machine.”
“An essential American story, animated by a violent grace and populated by characters driven by excess, artifice, and ego. Thomsen—thoughtful and curious, with a keen eye for detail—is the perfect writer to chronicle it.”
—Dan Piepenbring, coauthor of Chaos
“A dogged reporter and captivating writer, Thomsen uncovers a business and subculture that is a parable for contemporary life—one of hope, thrills, profit, and loss. You won’t want to tap out of this book!”
—Elizabeth Greenwood, author of Love Lockdown
“A fascinating look at this brutal, morally complicated industry… [and] a compelling story of passionate athletes and the ambitious businesspeople who manipulate them for profit…. Thomsen’s enthusiasm for the sport shines.”