Fight Club: How Gay is MMA?

Mark Simpson attends an epic UFC event and finds him­self turned on to the charms of ‘gay porn for straight men’

(Originally appeared in Out magazine, June 2008)

IMAGINE THE SPACE SHUTTLE tak­ing off with a really fat cus­tom­ized exhaust pipe. Or the Visigoths sack­ing Ancient Rome with kick­ing bass tubes fit­ted to their 4-by-4s. Or 20,000 super­charged male orgasms. Simultaneously. And you have some idea what it sounds and feels like in Montréal’s fam­ous Bell Centre tonight for Ultimate Fighting Championship 83, as a spunky young car­rot red­head in shorts pins an auburn lad on his back with his heels some­where around his ears. I think the tech­nical term for this is a “full mount.” Or maybe it’s “ground and pound.”

Never Back DownAs the chis­elled and blond bad guy with the low-slung shorts (Cam Gigandet) in the recent mixed mar­tial arts (MMA) exploit­a­tion flick Never Back Down says leer­ingly to the doe-eyed bru­net boxer  good guy (Sean Faris) new to MMA, the good news is that in this sport you can choke, kick, punch, pin, and throttle. “The bad news is that it’s gotta end with you look­ing like a bitch in front of everybody.”

Perhaps it was bad news for him — and for the auburn lad in the ring tonight — but cer­tainly not for the 22,000-strong over­whelm­ingly young-male audi­ence for the biggest-ever UFC event.

Over 2,500 miles away in Las Vegas, Brit boxer Joe “slap­per” Calzaghe is tonight defeat­ing light heavy­weight Bernard Hopkins on points. In the long-established world of box­ing, there is rumoured to be an ancient and secret tra­di­tion called the “perk,” or “per­quis­ite” — by which the los­ing man may be required later to lit­er­ally give up what he has lost sym­bol­ic­ally. In other words, the fucked gets… really fucked.

I don’t know how much truth there is to the “perk,” though the breath­less trash talk of modern-day box­ers in the run-up to a fight — “I’m gonna make you my bitch/girlfriend/punk” — cer­tainly doesn’t dis­credit it. But I’m fairly cer­tain that the “perk” doesn’t exist in the “full-contact” brave new world of mixed mar­tial arts (MMA), an omni­vor­ous blend of box­ing, free­style wrest­ling, judo, tae kwon do, kick-boxing, kar­ate, jujitsu, and Thai box­ing that is rap­idly repla­cing bor­ing old tra­di­tional box­ing, espe­cially among young men, as the fight­ing sport. The perk isn’t needed. Because in MMA you get perked in the “ring” in front of every­body. On pay-per-view TV. The “perk” is the whole perking point, man. And UFC, by far the most suc­cess­ful pur­veyor of MMA fights for the cable TV voyeur, looks remark­ably like gay porn for straight men: ulti­mate fuck-fighting.

ufc83_07_danzig_vs_bocek_001In the octa­gonal UFC cage set up over the Bell Centre ice hockey rink — octa­gonal per­haps because it bet­ter affords mul­tiple view­ing angles than a square box­ing ring — Mac Danzig is still on his back; his sweaty, pumped, almost trans­lu­cently white torso is flushed with the auburn heat that auburn skin pro­duces when it is aroused. His pant­ing, fetch­ing head has been pushed up against the cage by red­head Marc Bocek’s ener­getic pound­ing, as if the cage were in fact a head­board. Bocek isn’t mak­ing love, how­ever, or at least not the vanilla kind. He’s ham­mer­ing the liv­ing day­lights out of Danzig, stok­ing the crowd into ever-higher waves of frenzy. Although the Octagon is right in front of me, I’m watch­ing all of this on one of the giant screens over­head: MMA is mostly a hori­zontal sport — one that requires mul­tiple zoom lenses and a big TV to enjoy properly.

Bocek pauses for a moment to grab his partner/adversary by his hips, almost ten­derly, and drag him back­ward while still kneel­ing between his legs, not want­ing to break con­tact and nego­ti­ate that tricky “re-entry.” It isn’t, though, out of con­sid­er­a­tion for his chum’s cricked neck. He’s wor­ried that Danzig will use the cage to get up off the can­vas — and then get him in the “bitch” pos­i­tion. MMA is all about fight­ing for top. (Or maybe for extremely truc­u­lent bottom.)

bocekUnfortunately for Bocek, Danzig suc­ceeds in break­ing away any­way, jumps to his feet, and deftly, imper­son­ally, brings up his knee and smashes it against Bocek’s left eye­brow, which pro­vokes another roar of excite­ment from the crowd and opens up a very nasty lacer­a­tion that spills hot blood every­where, stream­ing into his eye, across his face, down his chin, and splat­ters across his lily-white chest — and all over his oppon­ent. MMA is def­in­itely not safe sex. The ref pauses the fight to exam­ine Bocek’s eye. If the blood is pre­vent­ing him from see­ing, the fight will be declared in Danzig’s favor.

posterTurning to my beau­ti­fully pro­duced glossy fight pro­gram, which includes full-page col­our images of the top­less young fight­ers arranged oppos­ite one another and their vital stat­ist­ics, I learn that Danzig is 5 foot 8 and 155 pounds, 28, and a Cleveland nat­ive. His feisty oppon­ent, Bocek, from Woodbridge, Canada, is 26, and is also 5 foot 8 and 155 pounds. As someone who has a thing for red­heads and short-asses, I’d say they are well matched.

The ref con­tin­ues the match — and why not? Blood looks good on TV. There are only a few seconds left of the third and final round (UFC fights only go to a max­imum three rounds at five minutes each — about the aver­age length of a porn scene). Bocek, des­pite the turned tables and his past­ing and what must be deathly tired­ness, is still put­ting up an aston­ish­ing fight. Danzig scores a take-down almost imme­di­ately and moves, as they say in MMA, “dir­ectly to the mount.” Bocek “gives up his back” to try to save his ruined face from fur­ther pun­ish­ment but is then caught in a “rear-naked choke” by Danzig’s power­ful, fatally invit­ing arms. He “taps out” (sub­mits) at 3 minutes, 48 seconds.

I don’t know about Bocek, but these were some of the longest 3 minutes, 48 seconds of my life. I’m aroused and inspired and exhausted and con­fused. For my money, Bocek won that fight — mor­ally speak­ing. Which of course means that he lost very badly. His face is roadkill. He is really fucked. But he dis­played that qual­ity you hear people talk about rev­er­ently in MMA: heart.

Despite the gore, MMA is gen­er­ally safer than box­ing — there are fewer fatal­it­ies and brain-damage is less com­mon. Because the fight is “full-contact,” the head doesn’t take all the viol­ence. When it does, though, it’s pretty grue­some. Yet amid all the may­hem, there is a touch­ing ten­der­ness to MMA. Not because it looks to my twis­ted, queer eye like very rough sex — but because of that “heart” busi­ness. After a bout is over, most fight­ers hug each other in a pseudo-post-coital embrace that re-enacts the war­like hug earlier, only this time it’s a hug of warm brotherhood.

Another huge, manly Gallic roar. The arena’s giant screen is now tuned to the locker room; a rangy young blond skin­head fighter has peeled his shirt off, reveal­ing a well-oiled fleshly fight­ing machine. The light behind him and his pier­cing blue eyes gaz­ing into the cam­era, not to men­tion the low pos­i­tion of the locker-room cam, give him the cast of a demi­god. It’s Georges “Rush” St-Pierre, the hand­some, styl­ish 26-year-old local Montréal boy who tonight is hop­ing to seize back his UFC Welterweight belt from Matt “the Terror” Serra, 33, the no-nonsense Long Island mas­ter of Brazilian jujitsu who dis­pos­sessed him of it last year with what some people said was a lucky punch.

We’ve only been watch­ing the hors d’œuvre. All this blood has just been so much fore­play.

***

MacDanzigMarkBocek-1

STOP LOOKING LADIES!” some funny guy in the audi­ence shouts. It’s the weigh-in, a day earlier. Ed “Short Fuse” Herman, another 20-something boy-next-door red-headed fighter, from Vancouver, Wash., is naked on the stage under the spot­light, a towel held up by two lieu­ten­ants to shield his “short fuse.” Funnily enough, it’s mostly men rather than ladies doing the look­ing here in this packed aud­it­or­ium. Though some are per­haps doing more look­ing than oth­ers: From where I’m seated at the side, I man­age to catch a glimpse of Ed’s white butt as he bends over to slip off his briefs (a day later he will fight in shorts cheekily advert­ising ‘CONDOM DEPOT’ – across his butt).

Several guys have had to take their under­pants off — to cheers. I can’t help but won­der whether the UFC offi­cials, for showbiz’s sake, pre­tend some of these guys are closer to the weight limit than they are.

UFC knows all about show­biz. According to Forbes magazine, its pay-per-view shows have drawn well over 2 mil­lion view­ers, most of them male and ages 18 to 49. Formidably shrewd, motor-mouthed former box­ing pro­moter Dana White hosts The Ultimate Fighter, UFC’s hit PPV series on Spike (a men-only Big Brother with grap­pling gloves), which has taken MMA, essen­tially a semi-organized bar­room brawl in the ’90s, cleaned it up, intro­duced some rules — includ­ing no stomp­ing, no spit­ting, no throat strikes, no punches to the back of the head, and “no groin attacks of any kind” — and made it into a hot, mul­tiangle, high-impact PPV commodity.

Described mem­or­ably by John McCain in 1998 as “human cock­fight­ing,” and under threat of a total ban, MMA has become a dif­fer­ent, more sale­able, less relent­lessly viol­ent kind of “cock­fight­ing” in the nur­tur­ing hands of the UFC — so much so that McCain him­self recently relen­ted: “The sport has grown up.” As a meas­ure of just how grown up, UFC — for which casino own­ers the Fertitta broth­ers paid $2 mil­lion in 2001 — is today val­ued at roughly $1 bil­lion. Cultural respect­ab­il­ity has arrived too in the form of a recently pub­lished $2,500 MMA art book titled Octagon with a fore­word by man-loving straight play­wright David Mamet, who wrote and dir­ec­ted the MMA-themed movie Redbelt. MMA is also com­ing to major-network TV: CBS recently announced plans to air four MMA fights (non-UFC) annu­ally — des­pite the dis­ap­proval of CBS chair­man Sumner Redstone. “I’m a lover, not a fighter,” he said, per­haps miss­ing the way UFC brings lov­ing and fight­ing spec­tac­u­larly together.

There is a lot of pas­sion­ate hero wor­ship in the world of MMA, not so much homo­erotic as hero-erotic — or herotic. Straight male fans and fight­ers them­selves will enthuse with shin­ing eyes about “my idol”, in a way that in most other con­texts would be con­sidered much too ‘gay’ to keep a straight face.  But per­haps that’s not so sur­pris­ing, since MMA owes a lot to those notori­ous war­rior homos, the ancient Greeks. Although today’s MMA came to us via Brazilian jujitsu (alas, not con­duc­ted in Speedos, as the name may sug­gest), many con­sider it the mod­ern ver­sion of pankra­tion, a com­bin­a­tion of box­ing and wrest­ling that was the basis of com­bat train­ing for Greek sol­diers and an ori­ginal Olympic sport. With lethal pur­ity, pankra­tion had two primary rules: no eye-gouging or bit­ing. Fingers were often snapped off. Sometimes death or uncon­scious­ness was the only form of sub­mis­sion (rather like this year’s Democratic primaries).

MMA’s younger fans are not likely to acknow­ledge their sport’s homo­erotic her­it­age. For most of these young men, many of them blue-collar and swoon­ingly in love with mas­culin­ity, gay means unmanly and pass­ive and emas­cu­lated - and there­fore major turn-off. MMA is gay porn for straight men because its viol­ence not only jus­ti­fies the intim­ate, pro­trac­ted, eye-popping phys­ic­al­ity of the sport but also pre­serves its vir­il­ity — the very thing that gets many of its fans hot. These fight­ers can’t be fags — look how fuck­ing tough they are, dude! It’s a bit like how in gay porn “real” tops never bot­tom — for the sake of the bot­toms watching.

Sometimes the MMA fighter really is homo — like pro­fes­sional MMA fighter Shad Smith, who was recently pro­filed in The New York Times. From a tough blue-collar back­ground, Smith was des­per­ate to hide his sexu­al­ity at first. “I was pet­ri­fied because I didn’t want any­one to find out,” he told the Times. “And I would try to be the toughest per­son around. That way no one would sus­pect. No one would ever say it. No one would think it.” Doubtless there are quite a few Shad Smiths who became very good, very determ­ined, very motiv­ated scrap­pers because they weren’t escap­ing to col­lege or open­ing a hairdress­ing salon.

Georges St.-PierreThe tough-guy image is some­thing of an illu­sion — if an entran­cing and con­vin­cing one. Surprisingly often, fight­ers turn out to be sens­it­ive, intro­spect­ive loners — “fags” who aren’t actu­ally fags — such as Mac Danzig, the beefy auburn-haired killer who is in fact a vegan and whose main pas­time, when he isn’t turn­ing another lad’s face into ten­der­loin, is nature pho­to­graphy. That’s also the story of Georges St-Pierre, a bul­lied slight boy at school who turned to MMA for sal­va­tion, who with his tight, wiry body, immacu­lately groomed present­a­tion and designer clothes looks rather metro. As one observer put it: “He’s the kind of flash Europunk you might think you could wipe the floor with if you came across him in a bar, but you’d be very, very wrong.”

Likewise you might expect a fight between Serra and St-Pierre to be billed as good ol’ USA versus Frenchy “fag,” but you’d be wrong. Because GSP — to give St-Pierre his brand name — is gen­er­ally con­sidered to be an excep­tional fighter, genu­inely excel­lent in sev­eral dis­cip­lines, or maybe because this is such a visual medium, he has begun to look like the David Beckham of UFC, albeit one who actu­ally reads books and is, heaven for­fend!, inter­ested in philo­sophy (that’s the French for you). His pho­to­genic face and body and his workouts have been splashed across count­less health and fit­ness magazines.

His oppon­ent, Matt Serra, may be breez­ily unpre­ten­tious and resemble an unpainted fire hydrant, but he is def­in­itely no idiot: “I think they look at Georges as the Crest poster boy with the sparkle in his teeth, the looks, the physique, the body and the athleticism…the real ver­sion of what Van Damme was doing,” he’s said. “And then comes me — the Joe Pesci–style ‘Heyooo!’ But it’s cool, man. I’m down with it. I fit in those shoes real well. I’m just look­ing for­ward to hav­ing another good fight.”

When he turns up for his weigh-in, a relent­less tidal wave of boos greets him. An Italian-American pocket battle­ship at 5 foot 6, Serra weighs in at 169.5 pounds; he appears indif­fer­ent to the roil­ing sea of hatred around him. The boo­ing doesn’t stop when the host offers him the micro­phone, and whatever he says is com­pletely drowned out. So he offers the crowd two fin­gers, mean­ing “two times” and V for vic­tory – and, per­haps, “fuck you.”

Ecstatic cheers greet his chal­lenger St-Pierre, who’s taller by four inches but in stature by sev­eral feet. St.-Pierre flu­idly strips down to his taste­ful and tastily filled-out black under­wear and also weighs in at 169.5 pounds. Offered the mike, he gra­ciously tells the crowd they shouldn’t hate Serra and that “I don’t fight with angerrr — I fight with my ‘eart.” The two men pose for the cam­eras in a fight­ing stance and then they hug, GSP kiss­ing Serra’s huge neck.

There was no trash talk in the quieter sur­round­ings of the press con­fer­ence the day before. The fight­ers had been polite, respect­ful, even friendly. “C’mon, I’ve got noth­ing against the French,” pro­tested Serra when the journ­al­ists dug up some “Frenchy” quotes from the past. St.-Pierre, for his part, was touch­ingly open. “I am nervous and scared to fail but that’s nor­mal,” he admit­ted. “I ‘ave but­ter­flies. but I ‘ave to make the but­ter­flies fly in formation.”

***

AAAYYYYYYYYAYYYYEAAAAAAA-AAHHAAAARGH!!!

The Bell Centre out­does itself as Georges St.-Pierre, sur­roun­ded by his lieu­ten­ants, makes his way to the stage in a natty red jujitsu jacket. Climbing into the Octagon, he peels off his silky, tight black T-shirt, and then his baggy trousers come off, reveal­ing tight black trunks with just a white fleur-de-lis on the side of his firm right but­tock. It matches the arty tat­too on the back of his steely calf.

Cheers turn to boos. Matt Serra has arrived in a baggy black T-shirt with big white let­ter­ing: BUY GUNS SELL GUNSGUNSAMERICA.COM. The stats on the big screen make dif­fi­cult read­ing for Serra: GSP is taller and younger and has a longer reach. Worse, he is more pop­u­lar and better-looking and has nicer pants. He’s the favour­ite in every way.

The bell rings, and they touch gloves. In a flash St.-Pierre has Serra on the can­vas. All that frus­tra­tion, regret, resolve, train­ing — and heart — have exploded. All over Serra. To tire him out, St.-Pierre lets him get up, keep­ing him within range of his own fists but out of Serra’s. Then he takes him down again. St.-Pierre’s pur­pose­ful, omin­ous shoulders rise up like medi­eval armour, like Joan of Arc ser­i­ously narked.

End of round 1. Serra’s eye is swell­ing up badly. He looks beaten already.

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Round 2. Plucky Serra tries a kick.  St.-Pierre catches it and takes Serra down. After Serra stands up again, St.-Pierre lets fly a bar­rage of punches. Serra is too groggy to parry them. St.-Pierre — part pan­ther, part lethal bal­let dan­cer — comes in for the kill, eas­ily tak­ing his oppon­ent down again. Serra offers his back, and St.-Pierre knees him repeatedly, ath­let­ic­ally in the ribs in a man­ner which some­how man­ages to be as pas­sion­ate as it is impersonal.

The ref stops the match, and it’s all over: tech­nical knock­out. Canada has won. Montréal has beaten Long Island. The but­ter­flies flew in form­a­tion. Terrifying form­a­tion. And judging by the noise from the crowd, the entire world and its dad have just climaxed.

A grin­ning St.-Pierre executes a win­ning somer­sault. The crowd chants, “FUCK YOU, SERRA! FUCK YOU, SERRA!” He has been fucked. He was fucked. He is fucked. He is without any doubt what­so­ever the fuckee. But he exhib­its no resent­ment. The war­ri­ors embrace warmly, another kiss from GSP to that huge, now sweaty neck. Serra holds St.-Pierre’s arm up for the crowd, then hoists him on his shoulder, car­ry­ing him for a few stag­ger­ing steps.

If MMA is gay porn for straight men, then tonight a part of me won­ders whether, for all its spilled blood and mashed faces, it isn’t the bet­ter kind.

After all, no one could ser­i­ously accuse gay porn of hav­ing “heart.”

Copyright Mark Simpson 2009

This essay is col­lec­ted in ‘Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story’.

We Loved You Really, Ronaldo

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By Mark Simpson (col­lec­ted in Metrosexy)

Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the best foot­ballers ever to play in this coun­try — and one of the best look­ing — brought out the worst in the English.

He prickled you see, our ugly, mean-minded, spite­ful, spit­ting jeal­ousy. We were jeal­ous of his tal­ent, his looks, his body, his youth, his money and most of all of his total lack of interest in what the English media and ter­race cul­ture thought of him and his dress sense and the way they kept shout­ing ‘winker!’, ‘poof!’, ‘twink­le­toes!!’ to try and get his attention.

It just made us even more fren­zied and pas­sion­ate and help­less that the way we obsessed over everything about him from the dark­ness of his tan to the size of his beach shorts meant noth­ing to him. He ignored our stalker­ish beha­viour, and our play­ground bul­ly­ing, and just kept on being Cristiano. He didn’t need us. He didn’t even bloody notice us. He was hot. He knew he was hot. And worst of all, there was noth­ing we could do about it. No won­der we hated him.

And now it seems he’s leav­ing us behind for good – and will prob­ably for­get about us before he even lands in Madrid. The bas­tard!

Our most pop­u­lar tabloid The Sun has run a par­tic­u­larly bitchy cam­paign against him for years. Most recently, they devoted pages of phoney out­rage to the fact that he wore a pink base­ball cap on hol­i­day in LA, and had the effrontery to wear a flower in his ear. Apparently he’s also per­son­ally to blame for turn­ing today’s pro foot­ballers into met­ro­sexu­als and is the evil ‘queen’ behind what they like to call ‘The Campions League’.

In short, Ronaldo has been on the receiv­ing end of abuse that would be deemed ‘homo­phobic’ in a trice if it were dir­ec­ted at someone actu­ally gay. But this isn’t just homo­pho­bia in the form of met­ro­pho­bia, this is good old English hypo­crisy at work: The Sun exploits the way young foot­ballers look today to sell papers, filling their pages almost daily with pic­tures of them being tarty – and then of course damns them for mak­ing us look at them.

Ronaldo united the English in ways that few other things do these days. The editor of snooty Esquire for instance, a magazine that likes to see itself as being the oppos­ite end of the media and social spec­trum to The Sun, recently joined in the national gang bang of Ronaldo, tak­ing aim at his pretty pout­ing face in a piece sniff­ing at the vul­gar­ity of English foot­ballers, and the way they ‘pile on the designer labels with gay aban­don (Ronaldo), accessor­ise with far too many sparkly things (Ronaldo) and haven’t yet dis­covered that logos a go-go have gone out of fash­ion (Ronaldo).’

Yes dear, but Ronaldo has more nat­ural beauty, sex­i­ness and vital­ity in his left foot than a hun­dred back issues of Esquire – a magazine that would bene­fit enorm­ously from a little vul­gar­ity: I mean, it might be mis­taken for some­thing actu­ally alive. It’s prob­ably Ronaldo’s ‘gay aban­don’ which is the most won­der­ful and insuf­fer­able thing about him to the English. After all, it’s the sign that someone is genu­inely free – they genu­inely don’t care what the neighbours/bloke down the pub/The Sun/Esquire think, and they do and wear what they like, damn them.

This is also prob­ably the reason why he was hated so much for his on-pitch naugh­ti­ness – not so much the cheat­ing itself, but the brazen­ness of it. The flam­boy­ance of it! Ronaldo was hated and envied because he broke the rules in plain view. And could behave like a spoilt child. The English you see can never for­give someone for doing pub­licly what they have to spend so much time and energy hiding.

As Ronaldo said, matter-of-factly, in response to the English media’s frenzy over the pink hat with the flower: ‘I don’t see what is wrong with that if you are com­fort­able with your sexu­al­ity.’ But the English aren’t com­fort­able, Ronaldo. In any sense. Don’t remind us of it!.

David Beckham man­aged, more or less, to get away with sarongs and nail pol­ish and worse. But that was partly because Beckham wasn’t as tal­en­ted a foot­baller as Ronaldo, wasn’t as pretty, or as young – and, unlike Ronaldo, was very, very con­cerned with hand­ling the English press and his pub­lic image: he really cared about us and what we thought, and so was gen­er­ally regarded as ‘nice’. Most import­antly, in the end Becks was English. He may have been a tart, but he was our tart (though at the moment he appears to be Mr Armani’s.)

The prob­lem with Portuguese Ronaldo, and the reason ulti­mately why he was so resen­ted and the tar­get of such pas­sion­ate ambi­val­ence, was that he wasn’t ours. He was always only on loan – which is why whenever rumours of a move abroad sur­faced the hate cam­paign in the press would reach new, trem­u­lous heights.

But now he’s really going. And we’re really going to miss him. But being English, the way we’ll express that is by say­ing: ‘Good rid­dance, you WINKER!!’

Copyright Mark Simpson 2009

Sporno on Steroids

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Now that’s what I call push­ing back.

Taking the sporno trend to parts it hasn’t yet reached — and what parts! — while spread­ing the fam­ous French ‘pro’ tarti­ness of the Dieux du Stade cal­en­dars to these shores, the latest ad cam­paign for Powerade’s ‘InnerGear’ iso­tonic sports drink fea­tures sev­eral UK pro rug­ger bug­gers in the buff snapped by the pho­to­grapher Alan Clarke. Including, most spec­tac­u­larly, most spher­ic­ally, England Rugby Union Captain Steve Borthwick (above), keep­ing his spor­no­graphic end up for the Queen.  And nicely stuck out.

Once again, it seems that it isn’t just me who is undress­ing ath­letes with my eyes and giv­ing them filthy dir­ec­tions. Advertising is doing it too. But unlike me, advert­ising can actu­ally afford them.

But I’m not bit­ter. Honestly. I’m sure that Borthwick was rewar­ded hand­somely by Coca Cola (who own Powerade) for his bare-faced cheek, but nev­er­the­less he also deserves, as Julian Clary would put it, a warm hand on his entrance for his bravery. Apparently his mates have been roger­ing him — sorry -  rib­bing him. ‘It is one of the most dar­ing shoots I’ve been involved in,’ he told the ladies and gen­tle­men of the press,  ‘but it has been loads of fun, even it it has given my team mates plenty of ammuni­tion for chan­ging room banter.’

I can’t help think­ing though that the shoot would have been even more dar­ing and fun if Borthwick had been por­trayed, along with his ban­ter­ing team mates, in an actual naked scrum instead of doing a mus­cu­lar Marcel Marceau. For the pur­poses of real­ism, of course.

The InnerGear for an ath­lete — how we train, what we eat and drink — is as import­ant as what we wear,’ says Borthwick, clearly read­ing here from Coca Cola’s script. ‘And it’s great that this cam­paign brings it to life’.

Gear’ of course is also the street name given to ster­oids, that hot com­mod­ity more and more rugby play­ers these days often look as if they’re tak­ing, man­dat­ory drug-testing or no. According to vari­ous reports, epi­demic num­bers of young men who aren’t ath­letes but who, like today’s sports­men, also want to look like porn stars are down­ing them like, well, soft drinks.

I’m sure Coca Cola chose the name ‘InnerGear’ for entirely inno­cent and pure reas­ons, and that none of their mod­els would ever use banned sub­stances, but if young men think that by drink­ing an over­priced sugary-salty drink inves­ted with magical, virile prop­er­ties by advert­ising they’ll get buff instead of fat, and look as desir­able as these pro ath­letes, that can surely only help sales.

Below, England International Paul Sackey and Welsh International Shane Williams who also fea­ture in the InnerGear cam­paign, prove that really fit bubble-butts can fly. Williams, who looks a little like a Welsh statue of Eros with a rugby ball let loose instead of an arrow, also proves that really fit bubble-butts can arch and look over their shoulder at the same time.

It’s true that this pub­lic cam­paign, unlike the DDS cal­en­dars (which are for private con­sump­tion, after all), avoids frontal nud­ity, but then Freud thought that in dreams fly­ing had a phal­lic symbolism.

So with InnerGear’s fly­ing rugby but­tocks you really can have both.

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Why The Sun Can’t Leave Ronaldo’s Legs Alone

Ere, Ron, The Sun’s just texted me. They want to know if you’ve got any smal­ler shorts.”

Britain’s best-selling news­pa­per The Sun has been work­ing itself into a con­fused lather about our met­ro­sexual foot­ballers, again. Like me, it just can’t leave them alone.

In a long, hand-wringing — and graph­ic­ally illus­trated — art­icle spread over the centre pages last Friday head­lined ‘Preen Team’ they ask ‘What the hell is going on with our footballers?’

Led by the Premier League’s arch-metrosexual Cristiano Ronaldo, foot­ball has this sum­mer gone camper than a row of tents.

This week Ronaldo con­tin­ued his hol­i­day tour by hanging out in a pair of tight sil­ver shorts in LA — and had the world’s gay men com­ing over all funny.

Er no, it had The Sun com­ing over all funny. For much of the sum­mer, The Sun has been stalk­ing Portuguese Ronaldo, the best foot­baller in the UK and also one of the best look­ing, who is cur­rently con­vales­cing after an injury (hence the unflat­ter­ing blue foot­wear), try­ing to exploit his cur­rent unpop­ular­ity — the res­ult of his plans to leave Manchester United for Real Madrid, and his fail­ure to keep them, like his hot oiled bod, under wraps.

Like a jeal­ous, spurned suitor, The Sun (along with most of the Brit tabloids) has been bitch­ing and beat­ing him up over his dark (Portuguese) tan, his shorts, his good looks — and his lack of apo­logy for them. And try­ing to imply he is girly and, what is the same thing in their book, homo.

And who can blame him for want­ing to leave the UK, where the biggest paper behaves like a school-ground bully with sexual iden­tity issues? They’ve even pub­lished pic­tures of him smil­ing at a mate (who appears to be his brother), telling us that he’s cruis­ing him. And I thought I had bum­sex on the brain.

In a famil­iar trick, they’ve given space to the editor of ‘Britain’s best-selling gay magazine’ to gush about what a ‘gay idol’ Ronaldo is. Otherwise known as guilt by asso­ci­ation. At the same time as prov­ing they’re ‘not homo­phobic’ because they let the king of poofs have his say.

Friday’s art­icle goes one step fur­ther and seems to blame Ronaldo for mak­ing an entire gen­er­a­tion of foot­ballers gay. I know he has nice legs, but I doubt even those pins have that kind of power.

But a perfectly-waxed chest and budgie smug­gling shorts are just the tip of the iceberg.

A sun invest­ig­a­tion has found the man­bag and groom­ing obses­sion is rife among our highly-paid stars.

As you may have sus­pec­ted, it turns out that this ‘invest­ig­a­tion’ is just another excuse for lots of pics of young foot­ballers without much on. An excuse even smal­ler than Ron’s sil­ver shorts.

Though I can’t help but poke fun at The Sun’s hissy list of the met­ro­sexual offences of our footie aces:

Chelsea ace Frank Lampard refused to go any­where this sum­mer without his sal­mon pink vest and match­ing shorts.

(Which we’ve Photoshopped to make look even pinker and gayer, just as we’ve done with Ronaldo’s tan to make him look even darker and even more of a girly dago.)

He has also been lug­ging around wife Elen Rives’ fuch­sia handbag.

I think it suits Fabulous Frankie and he should nick it off her.

Italian World Cup win­ner Fabio Cannavaro actu­ally SHAVED his mate’s chest and armpits on the deck of their hol­i­day yacht this week in a show of shame­less male bonding.

Actually SHAVED his mate’s chest and armpits? No! Well, I never! The shame­less­ness of it!

And Liverpool and Spain striker Fernando Torres spent most of last month by the pool with an Alice band in his hair while leaf­ing through life­style magazines.

You can bet he wasn’t read­ing The Sun.

Ah, for the days of foot­ball when men were men and soap was never scen­ted — or dropped. Right on cue The Sun wheels out 1970s foot­baller Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris, to whinge about how in his day he got paid ten bob a week, cut his own hair with garden shears, ate gravel, and beat up poofs on sight (or so you’d be for­given for think­ing). Interesting that The Sun didn’t ask retired ‘hard­man’ Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock back to play this role, after he failed to deliver the poof-baiting goods in a recent pre­vi­ous Sun art­icle bemoan­ing the gay­ness of today’s foot­ball.

How The Sun loves to keep com­ing back to this theme of metro V retro, pre­tend­ing of course to be on the side of ret­ro­sexu­al­ity against, well, homo­sexu­al­ity. Partly this is because it ima­gines that ret­ro­sexu­al­ity is syn­onym­ous with ‘work­ing class’ — tra­di­tion­ally the major­ity of this tab’s read­er­ship — because The Sun is now edited by expens­ively edu­cated types who are fak­ing it.

By pos­ing as cham­pi­ons of ‘Chopper’ Harris they present them­selves as con­nec­ted to that stoic pro­let­arian tra­di­tion they actu­ally have noth­ing to do with, and today’s con­sumer­ist, sen­sual, closet­ted metro Sun is a mil­lion fake-tanned miles from.

I sus­pect read­ers under the age of 30 that they know they des­per­ately need to attract if they are to have any future at all, let alone con­tinue to sell mil­lions every day, are mostly turned off by this con­fused and con­flic­ted met­ro­phobic bul­ly­ing, how­ever jokey it’s presen­ted as being. Especially those from a work­ing class back­ground. Why? Because they will prob­ably see it as dir­ec­ted against them.

When repeatedly adopt­ing this kind of cor, strewth, look at the poof­tahs foot­ballers are today! tone, The Sun just sounds like their night­mare fat dad.

Or me.

Intentionally or not, this time the space given to the editor of Attitude to twit­ter about fash­ion and male free­dom and foot­ballers show­ing the way makes that gay mag sound much more in tune with younger Sun read­ers than The Sun itself.

Tip: Dave Harley

Naked Rugger Buggers Buggering About

The New Zeeland and South African Rugby teams made the news this week with their nude rugby match on St Kilda beach.

(UPDATE: In fact, the NY Daily News story cited here appears to have got a little over­ex­cited: the play­ers were NOT from the All Blacks and the Boks but local ama­teur play­ers tak­ing part in a mid-winter naked rugby tra­di­tion that has gone on for years — see Uroskin’s com­ment below and on his blog.)

Held before their offi­cial match, and sponsored by ‘Bottom Bus’ (a local tour agency, allegedly), it looks at first glance like a real­isa­tion of the spor­no­graphic fantasy of those Dieux Du Stade cal­en­dars and those ‘Paris: City of Love posters’ with snog­ging rugby play­ers advert­ising the Rugby World Cup last year. And per­haps in a way it is.

But the naughty slo­gans scrawled on their bod­ies and the gen­eral may­hem seems to have more of the trade­mark, old-style rug­ger bug­ger haz­ing humour. Porn and DDS (and UFC) by con­trast, are a very ser­i­ous business.

This seems more like a genu­ine, beery, blokey laugh.

Nice arses, though.

Ultimate Pillowbiting — How Gay is MMA?

This month’s Out magazine includes a fea­ture by yours truly on my visit to Montréal in April to see the biggest, bad­dest, ball­si­est Ultimate Fighting Championship event ever. UFC, for those who aren’t in the know, or unac­count­ably unin­ter­ested in see­ing fit, near-naked men grap­pling and grunt­ing, is the cage-fighting craze that is rap­idly becom­ing the most pop­u­lar sport with young men in North America.

Out tell me my take has pro­voked some threats against my pretty face from out­raged MMA fans. It seems my crime was enjoy­ing it too much. Other less shall we say clenched fol­low­ers of this man-mounting sport have how­ever wel­comed my interest — even if I breathe too heavily.

Here’s how the piece begins:

Imagine the space shuttle tak­ing off with a really fat cus­tom­ized exhaust pipe or the Visigoths sack­ing Ancient Rome with kick­ing bass tubes fit­ted to their 4-by-4s. Or 20,000 super­charged male orgasms. Simultaneously. And you have some idea what it sounds and feels like in Montréal’s fam­ous Bell Centre tonight for Ultimate Fighting Championship 83, as a spunky young car­rot red­head in shorts pins an auburn lad on his back with his heels some­where around his ears. I think the tech­nical term for this is a “full mount.” Or maybe it’s “ground and pound.”

As the chiseled and blond bad guy with the low-slung shorts (Cam Gigandet) in the recent mixed mar­tial arts (MMA) exploit­a­tion flick Never Back Down says leer­ingly to the doe-eyed bru­net boxer good guy (Sean Faris) new to MMA, the good news is that in this sport you can choke, kick, punch, pin, and throttle; “the bad news is that it’s gotta end with you look­ing like a bitch in front of every­body.” Perhaps it was bad news for him — and for the auburn lad in the ring tonight — but cer­tainly not for the 22,000-strong over­whelm­ingly young-male audi­ence for the biggest-ever UFC event.

Over 2,500 miles away in Las Vegas, “slap­per” Brit boxer Joe Calzaghe is tonight defeat­ing light heavy­weight Bernard Hopkins on points. In the long-established world of box­ing, there is rumored to be an ancient and secret tra­di­tion called the “perk,” or “per­quis­ite” — by which the los­ing man may be required later to lit­er­ally give up what he has lost sym­bol­ic­ally. In other words, the fucked gets…really fucked.

I don’t know how much truth there is to the “perk,” though the breath­less trash talk of modern-day box­ers in the run-up to a fight — “I’m gonna make you my bitch/girlfriend/punk” — cer­tainly doesn’t dis­credit it. But I’m fairly cer­tain that the “perk” doesn’t exist in the “full-contact” brave new world of mixed mar­tial arts, an omni­vor­ous blend of box­ing, free­style wrest­ling, judo, tae kwon do, kick­box­ing, kar­ate, jujitsu, and Thai box­ing that is rap­idly repla­cing bor­ing old tra­di­tional box­ing, espe­cially among young men, as the fight­ing sport. The perk isn’t needed. Because in MMA you get fucked in the “ring” in front of every­body. On pay-per-view TV. The “perk” is the whole, er, perking point, man. And UFC, by far the most suc­cess­ful pur­veyor of MMA fights for the cable TV voyeur, looks remark­ably like gay porn for straight men: Ultimate Fuck-Fighting.

Read the art­icle in full here.

Fluffy Ideology: The Cold War With Cuddly Toys

Mark Simpson on the Cold War with Cuddly Toys

(Arena Hommes Plus, Spring 2008)

The titanic Superpower con­front­a­tion of the early 1980s between the Soviet Union and the United States saw the deploy­ment of sev­eral new and ter­ri­fy­ing stra­tegic weapons sys­tems, includ­ing Cruise Missiles, Pershings, SS-20s, B1 Bombers, and SDI/Star Wars.

But undoubtedly the most power­ful, most feared and most soph­ist­ic­ated of these weapons sys­tems was a smi­ley cuddly toy called Misha.

Unleashed at the height of the Cold War, at the Moscow Olympics of 1980, boy­cot­ted by the US and her allies because of the Soviet inva­sion of Afghanistan, Misha the bear cub, or to give him his full, chilling title, Mikhail Potapych Toptygin, left the West com­pletely defence­less. A tri­umph of art, mar­ket­ing, pro­pa­ganda, and plush toys, Misha appeared on hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent badges, in plastic, por­cel­ain, rub­ber and wood. He was the most com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful and thor­oughly exploited Olympic mas­cot ever. It took Communists to real­ise the mer­chand­ising poten­tial and polit­ical power of fluffiness.

To under­stand the scale of the Soviet tri­umph that was Misha you have to look at (gingerly, through your fin­gers) what went before: 1968 Grenoble’s Winter Olympics ‘Schuss’ or ‘ski­ing sperm’ as it came to be known, Munich 1972’s radio­act­ive Wiener dog, and Montréal 1976’s black beaver Amik, a turd taste­fully tied-off with a chocolate-box ribbon.

Misha, who became the smi­ley, irres­ist­ibly furry shape of Brezhnevism, was a labour of love. Famous children’s illus­trator Viktor Chizikov took six months to per­fect him, draw­ing over one hun­dred vari­ations. His big dark wide eyes, trust­ing smile and irres­ist­ible cud­dli­ness inver­ted the Western view of the USSR and Russia as a scary, slav­er­ing, lum­ber­ing beast. Misha’s humane, friendly face fore­told the arrival five years later of that other cuddly Mikhail, the one with that ador­able birth­mark on his forehead.

The US, under­stand­ably pan­icked by Red Misha, com­mis­sioned their ideo­lo­gical depart­ment, bet­ter known as Disney, to come up with a response to this stra­tegic threat. Sam, a bald eagle, the national sym­bol of the US (and also of the USMC, which the pre­vi­ous year had invaded Grenada), wear­ing a natty stars and stripes (Capitalist?) top hat and bow tie, was rolled out as the offi­cial mas­cot for the 1984 LA Games.

Although bet­ter than most mas­cots, Sam was rather less lov­able and much crasser than Misha, and in this Cold War of cuddly toys it was gen­er­ally agreed that the USSR had won.

The end of the Cold War proper shortly after­wards, and the non-ideological nature of the Games that fol­lowed, meant that mas­cots once again rever­ted to their pre-Misha harm­less­ness — and tack­i­ness. 1988 Seoul’s ‘Hodori’ looked like Tony the Tiger with tas­sels. OK, but not Grrrrreat.

Better than most, 1992 Barcelona’s snig­ger­ing sur­real dog ‘Cobi’ was unloved at first but won many over in the end.

The Sydney Olympics in 2000 fea­tured a Platypus, an Echidna and a Kookaburra that appeared to be a rejec­ted Aussie kid’s TV line-up (and were in fact rejec­ted by the Australians).

Athens in 2004 deployed Athena and Phevos, gods of wis­dom and light, who might have been for­mid­able if they hadn’t been rendered in Playdough by an angry two year old.

The undoubted nadir though was Izzy (from ‘Whatizit?’) in Atlanta 1996. An ‘amorph­ous abstract fantasy fig­ure’ Izzy was an aes­thetic tizzy who only sym­bol­ised how the post-ideological world had no place for icon­o­graphy or, for that mat­ter, human­ism. The End of History meant not only dreary Olympics, but a wider cul­ture lack­ing a sense of import­ance or pur­pose. Worst of all, it meant really daggy mascots.

But now, eight­een years on from Moscow, another Communist giant is host­ing the Games, determ­ined to exploit them for every last scrap of pro­pa­ganda. Consequently they threaten to be the most spec­tac­u­lar yet. The Soviet Union may have been con­signed to the dust­bin of his­tory, but the coun­try it taught how to organ­ise a proper flag-waving parade, the People’s Republic of China, goes from strength to strength, dividend to dividend — and wants the world to know about it. Everything, from the Stadium to the stick­ers, is going to be a huge, flut­ter­ing statement.

The Games might offi­cially hark back to the freedom-loving ideals of Ancient Greece, cradle of demo­cracy, but it takes a good old-fashioned total­it­arian state to show us what they really mean: Ideology and icon­o­graphy plus cho­reo­graphy.

And all these things come together in… fluffy toys. Undoubtedly, China’s ‘Fuwa’ mas­cots for 2008, imp­ish ener­getic car­toons based on pop­u­lar Chinese anim­als, have been given more thought than all the ones since Misha put together. That there are also five of them, the most ever, is a reminder of China’s pop­u­lous­ness, its dynam­ism, and its new-found Capitalist wili­ness: five mas­cots = five times as many sales opportunities.

And you can be sure these mas­cots, like everything else theses days, are made in China. (They will also be offi­cial: China, the home of cheap knock-offs is crack­ing down hard on Olympic cloning.)

Apparently Beibei the fish sym­bol­ises water, prosper­ity and swim­ming. Jinjing the Panda: metal, hap­pi­ness, weight­lift­ing and judo. HuanHuan the (Red!) Olympic Flame: fire, pas­sion and ball sports. Yingying the Tibetan ante­lope: earth, health, track and field events. Nini the swal­low: wood, good Fortune and gymnastics.

A col­li­sion of Chinese astro­logy, Communist ideo­logy and Sino hege­mony, per­haps these mas­cots — with their ‘super­powers’ — sym­bol­ise a little too much. Their names also spell out ‘Beijing wel­comes you’. Or is it ‘Welcome to a Chinese 21st Century’? The ele­mental nature of the Fuwa mas­cots also looks like an augury of the future: given its recent phe­nom­enal growth China may one day mono­pol­ise these resources.

The flame of the fluffy mar­ket­ing and ideo­lo­gical tri­umph of the Moscow Olympics has been passed on to Chinese Communism — which, unlike the USSR, is still around today only because it effect­ively went Misha back in the 1980s, now doing Capitalism and con­sumer­ism bet­ter than the West. Being very, very care­ful, of course, not to allow the emer­gence of a Misha Gorbachov: instead at Tiananmen Square the lead­er­ship crushed its own people like they were… toys. Rather than grant­ing its people human rights, China set about mak­ing everything the rest of the world wanted — and at a snip.

So I pre­dict the Fuwa, or Chinese Spice Girls, will be a great suc­cess with kids and adults around the world, and cause China to open a couple of dozen more power-stations, as well as pay­ing for at least another air­craft carrier.

Especially Jingjing the giant panda — Misha with Chinese characteristics.

Special thanks to Jo-Ann Furniss