Iowa has a long history in the sport of wrestling. At the international level, Iowa has produced Olympic gold-medal winners. At the collegiate level, the University of Iowa and Iowa State University have won national championships. At the high school level and younger, wrestling approaches football and basketball for prestige among the athletes. Wrestling is a way of life in Iowa. It’s part of who we are.
The sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) came into the national spotlight in 2006 with the pay-per-view fight between Chuck Liddell and former champion Tito Ortiz. Iowa was already a natural location for its development of talent and passion because of the state’s long history with wrestling, which is one of the key fighting disciplines used. But following the Liddell/Ortiz fight, MMA’s popularity in Iowa exploded.
In April 2009, I began exploring the MMA world in central Iowa. Almost immediately, I found that the fights were only part of the story. The fighters were just as interesting. They have created a world for themselves as they train, compete, and dream of glory in the cage.
Fight Night is a photography book that explores small-time MMA fighting in Iowa. Culminated over three years, this book captures some of the most intimate moments as fighters explore the highs of victory and the devastation of defeat. It also chronicles the journey leading to the ring, from training and life outside the ring to impromptu amateur fights in bars and professional fights in front of thousands of fans. The goal of the book is to envelope the audience in the same experience that fighters and millions of fans enjoy. The images give the reader the feeling that they are ringside and hearing the roars of the crowd, the cracks of the punches and kicks, and the sight of gladiators fighting to have their hand raised in victory.
Some of the fighters featured in Fight Night have dreams to make it to the big stage: The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Others fight to make a name for themselves and enjoy the local celebrity and rock-star status, albeit on a limited scale. Some even fight to help support their families with a modest income from payments and corporate sponsorships. Whatever their reason for fighting, the thing they all have in common is succumbing to the lure of the ring–the thrill of the fight, the cheer of the crowds, or the need to test the boundaries of their body and mind.
Since I started photographing MMA and interviewing the fighters, I have been amazed at the sheer will required to succeed; the willingness to go beyond what the others will do to prepare, or the punishment you will take. Although that will is not enough to get the victory, the lack can guarantee defeat.
Unlike other MMA books, Fight Night entirely uses black and white images, a decision that came early in the shooting process. I do not want to have the viewer only see the blood. I want them to pay attention to the shapes, facial expressions and the moods of the images. Fight Night photos have been compared to famed street photographer Weegee and Henri Cartier-Bresson. The great National Geographic photographer, David Alan Harvey, has described them as “fantastic.”