Review: Total MMA by Jonathan Snowden

February 9, 2009


Total MMA: Inside Ultimate Fighting
by Jonathan Snowden
Publisher: ECW Press
Available on

Total MMA. The title itself comes off with a touch of hubris at first glance. The depth and breath of MMA is held with this book’s 400 odd pages, eh? But shortly into the book, it is clear that author Jonathan Snowden has presented probably the most complete look at the sport offered so far, something that is made even more enjoyable by the infinitely readable way the book is presented. The book gives depth and context to the watershed moments in MMA, but without going to the point of minutiae. While his tome is packed with information, Snowden is able to present his information in a matter of fact but reader friendly narrative that makes the thick-ish book a surprisingly quick read.

Snowden is deft in his handling of various myths associated with MMA. Where needed he deconstructs what is true and reveals its’ context and when needed debunks the myths that lack truth or substance. The tone of the book is one that is matter of fact, with no pretense of punches being pulled. The author doesn’t make friends with his subjects in his writing, but makes fans of the reader with his candor. He sets the tone for the book from the very first couple of pages, where the Gracies are taken to task, denoted for their thuggish ways at times and seen as much salesman as martial artists.

The book is especially strong over the first quarter so, with Snowden doing an excellent job of synthesizing the various roots of MMA. The subject matter spans continents and decades, weaving in and out all the essential characters of note together in a quite good narrative. In lesser hands, the reader could lose the plot, but Snowden breaks up the various bits and pieces into digestible chunks that hang together quite nicely. From the Judo of Japan to Jiu Jitsu in Brazil, from Inoki to Pancrase, and Meyrowitz-era UFC to Rickson vs Takada in early Pride, the author sets the table quite nicely for the rapid explosion of MMA at the beginning of the decade. He chronicles the rise of Pride on the back of Sakuraba as he took on the Gracies, breaks down all of the major items during their apex, and documents the downfall of the organization. Conversely, he gives a level headed look at the Zuffa takeover of the UFC. The Fertitta’s are tracked back to their Galveston roots to their rise with Station Casinos. The rough and tumble pre-TUF days are looked at where all the casino money in the world seemed to have little effect on rising the UFC up out of obscurity. The TUF phenomenon and the subsequent mainstream acceptance as well as the rise of challengers to the throne are all thoroughly detailed.

The book serves as a go-to resource for the figures big and small in the history of MMA, not so much an Encyclopedia Britannica as much as an Encyclopedia Brutallica. The book is excellent as a guide to the overriding themes and storylines of the modern era of mixed martial arts. The depth of reporting by Snowden is daunting, with the multitude of various source building a detailed mosaic of the sport. It is hard to imagine any book in the future matching the detail and definition provided here. I’d encourage all of our readers to pick up a copy, and make it the cornerstone of your MMA library.

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