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A “propulsive and wildly engrossing” (Brad Stone, author of The Everything Store) account of how the UFC turned mixed martial arts into a multibillion-dollar business and global pop culture phenomenon.
Decried as “human cockfighting” by Senator John McCain and dismissed by the New York Times as a “pay-per-view prism” onto the decline of Western civilization, the UFC seemed by 2000 to be bleeding out. The cage fighting promotion had been banned in thirty-six states and was struggling to cover production costs for its next event.
But three buddies in Las Vegas—an ambitious personal trainer and two young casino heirs—saw something else in the UFC: a vision of the future. Over the next two decades, the trio would transform the company into one of the most valuable sports properties in the world, worth more than the Beatles catalog or the New York Yankees. And along the way, they would also transform the lives of some of the sport’s biggest stars, both for better and worse.
A “captivating” (Christopher Leonard, author of The Lords of Easy Money) behind-the-scenes account of a once-reviled subculture’s strange path to pop legitimacy, Cage Kings embeds you in a world of 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. For in an era of generational poverty, eroding labor rights, radical media transformations, simmering political grievances, and an obsession with winning at any cost, the spectacle of two people fighting in a cage for another few months’ wages suddenly seemed to make sense.
Stylishly written and poignantly observed, this “must-read for fans and the simply curious alike” (Matthew Polly, author of American Shaolin) offers a provocative look at how the hollowing out of the American dream and the violence of 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
“For a primer on the UFC… you won’t do better than Michael Thomsen’s new book, Cage Kings…. A fine writer and a very good reporter, Thomsen tracks in detail the journey from the primal chaos of the promotion’s first event… to the streamlined pay-per-view mercilessness of today’s UFC.”
“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