It looks like the warriors of the Ultimate Fighting Championship have met some kindred spirits who don’t know the meaning of tapping out – our troops.
And the mixed martial artists hope that they will help servicemen and women severely injured in combat in Fighter: The Fighters of the UFC, a new collection of black and white photographs. A portion of Fighter’s proceeds will go toward the Yellow Ribbon Fund, an organization dedicated to helping injured troops make their transition back into civilian life.
In the book, Reed Krakoff, the president and executive creative director of Coach, reveals a more intimate side of 34 of UFC’s stars. Juxtaposing raw, black and white images of the combatants next to quotes that give insight into their fight philosophy, Krakoff shows a brand new, perhaps unexpected, side of the UFC.
“Reed Krakoff’s portraits are gorgeous and surprising,” said Megan Newman, editor of Fighter. “They’ll appeal to the most avid UFC fan as well as those who are unfamiliar with their events.”
Why would the president and executive creative director of Coach dedicate a book of photos to UFC fighters? He’s admittedly a longtime fan – as are several members of the military.
Mixed martial arts fighters and pro wrestlers are among the most popular attractions when sports figures and entertainers visit the troops overseas. That’s why the UFC seemed like a perfect fit for recovering injured servicemen, according to Yellow Ribbon Fund President Mark Robbins. He saw the happiness in the troops’ eyes – and the respect and admiration from UFC President Dana White and current Light Heavyweight Champion Forrest Griffin – when they visited last April.
“You could see in the guys’ faces that they knew who Forrest was,” said Robbins. “Many of the things the UFC does fly under the radar – Dana White made it clear to me in the beginning that they were here for the soldiers, not themselves. Many of the guys that are here [at Walter Reed National Army Medical Center and Malone House] have just returned from the Middle East. Many are amputees; their wounds are pretty fresh. Some of these guys are just 21-22 years old and amputees. They know their lives have changed. I could tell that Dana and Forrest were really impressed with the heroism and bravery of these soldiers – their real toughness.”
“So, when UFC came to us and said they were putting together this book Fighter and they wanted us to be a part of it, we were excited,” Robbins continued. “We were happy and pleased and honored to be part of the initiative.”
One UFC fighter who couldn’t have been more pleased to be part of Fighter is lightweight contender Kenny Florian. The jiu-jitsu specialist admits that he never envisioned participating in photo spreads and book projects when he first entered the fight game, but he is thrilled at the opportunity to show a different side of mixed martial arts and help the troops any way he can.
“It’s awesome,” Florian said of Fighter’s involvement with Yellow Ribbon Fund. “I’ve always been a huge supporter of the military. Their job is so difficult. To me, they’re the real ultimate fighters. I’m a fan of what they do for us … and anytime I get a chance to visit them and give back and show my appreciation, I do it.”
Florian has showed that appreciation by visiting military bases in Georgia and Alabama as part of a UFC stateside tour. He has also visited Bagram Military Air Force Base in Afghanistan, a trip he says he’ll never forget.
“I got to fly around Bagram Air Force and see what our troops do – the difficulty of what they do and the manner in which they do it,” Florian said. “I got to train some of the military [in mixed martial arts] … I don’t think MMA has a more passionate fan following than our military. It was just an awesome experience that I’ll remember forever.”
In his Fighter pictorial, Florian explains his approach to his matches this way: “Right before I enter the Octagon, I feel almost like I did a bunch of practice paintings and now I have this empty canvas, and I can create this picture in front of everyone and make it beautiful.”
Reed Krakoff has created portrait of UFC fighters that mixes cauliflower ears, scar tissue, Adonis-like physiques and tattoos – in all their grotesque beauty – to show what’s in their hearts. It’s both a unique introduction to mixed martial arts for the non-fan and a wet kiss on the cheek for diehards – like our troops. And it’s just a token of appreciation the UFC wants to show its fellow gladiators, who fight a more dangerous battle every day in a very different war zone, both abroad and sometimes after they’ve come home.