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(en) US, Media, The Ultimate Fighting Anarchist

Date Sat, 22 Apr 2006 00:26:18 +0300


He is, without a doubt, the toughest subscriber to In These Times.
Standing 5' 9" tall, weighing 240 pounds and sporting a shaved head,
Jeff "The Snowman" Monson looks like a cartoon ready to pop, a
compressed giant of crazy shoulders, massive biceps and meaty forearms.
When he sneers, people shudder. When he sweats, they turn
away. When he's angry, your best bet is to run.
He's angry right now, even though his combat career in the
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) -- an often-bloody
tournament that combines martial arts disciplines like
Brazilian Jujitsu and Muay Thai Kickboxing -- is taking off.

In February's pay-per-view event, Monson easily beat his
opponent with a chokehold in the first round. If things keep
going this way, he could have a title shot in the
heavyweight division, against the explosive Andrei "The Pit
Bull" Arlovski. So no, it's not his future career prospects
that have him pissed. It's the state of the world.

"I'm not some sort of conspiracy theorist," Monson says of
his political leanings. "I'm not talking about how the
government is trying to hide UFOs. I just want to do away
with hierarchy. I'm saying that our economic system,
capitalism, is structured so that it only benefits a small
percentage of very wealthy people. When I was traveling in
Brazil, they had us staying at a really posh hotel. Outside
the hotel there was a mom sleeping on the sidewalk with her
two kids. That's when reality hits you. What did that woman
ever do? Who did she ever hurt?"

Monson wears his politics on his sleeve, as well as the rest
of his body. An anarcho-syndicalist star is tattooed on his
chest, an anarchy sign on his back and another "A" on his
leg. While he loves his sport, he also feels a
responsibility to use whatever exposure he receives for a
larger purpose. "I don't think I'm more important than
anyone else, but since some people are paying attention,
then I'm going to use this as a vehicle to express myself,"
he says. Some fans have labeled him anti-American, but he
shrugs off such criticism. He was slightly taken aback,
however, when three Secret Service agents showed up at his
gym in Olympia, Wash., last fall.

A t-shirt prompted the visit. While Monson was preparing for
a fight in Portland, a film crew came to the gym and
recorded his outfit that day, which included a tank top that
read "Assassinate Bush." When he entered Portland's Rose
Garden for the fight, a video clip of him training in the
shirt was played on the Jumbotron, and after he finished off
his opponent in the first round, he was more interested in
speaking to the post-match media about the devastation of
Hurricane Katrina than his fight career. He mentioned his
anger that the Bush administration had diverted $76 million
from the Army Corps of Engineers for the levies, and that
the National Guard were in Iraq instead of Louisiana and
Mississippi. "I was making a political statement, trying to
open people's eyes," says Monson of his t-shirt and
post-fight comments.

Not long after, he had three sets of open eyes walking
through the doors of his gym. "The Secret Service told me
that they wanted to search my gym and my house. They said
that if I refused, they would have a warrant within an
hour." They poked around the gym and then headed over to
Monson's house. "I told them that they could go to my house
if they wanted, but that I was going to stay here and finish
my workout," Monson says, not sounding the least bit
intimidated. "They haven't bothered me since."

The UFC fighting style is called Mixed Martial Arts, but at
times it looks more like a barroom brawl, especially to
non-practitioners who miss the technique and strategy. It's
easy to poke fun at the event: heavily muscled and tattooed
men wearing skimpy skin-tight trunks, celebrity models in
the stands beside drunk frat boys wearing wife beaters with
their caps on backwards. Its popularity has skyrocketed,
thanks in part to the self-styled "first cable network for
men," Spike TV, which has a UFC-based reality show. Tickets
can go for nearly $1,000, and sell out quickly.

But the sport is more than mere show. Monson works hard to
maintain his gargantuan body. When preparing for a match,
he'll train six days a week -- lifting weights, running,
boxing, grappling -- and though a veteran at 33, he feels
like he's just now reaching his prime in what he believes is
the hardest sport in the world. "I would describe it as the
evolution of unarmed combat," Monson says. "You have to know
kickboxing, jujitsu, wrestling. If you don't know how to do
even one of them, you'll be beaten bad."

Despite his build, Monson is more technician than brawler,
and in 1999 and 2005 he won the Abu Dhabi World Submission
Championship, held annually in that tiny country recently
making headlines, the United Arab Emirates. He takes each
UFC fight very seriously. "You can use any technique, and
you have to be in great physical shape. You're facing a guy
that's trying to knock you out or submit you, so it's no joke."

Monson sees no contradiction between his radical beliefs and
his full-time occupation. "What I do is completely different
than war, because everyone wants to be there, and it's a
competition. There's no victim. We're all entertainers," he
explains. "If there is any contradiction, it's that we're
part of the capitalist machine, and I'm really just a wage
slave. You know, we don't make any money without fighting,
and if I win I get more; if I lose I get less. But it's
simply a sport. Sure, it's somewhat like a gladiator sport,
but it's voluntary."

Monson grew up middle class in Minnesota. His mother still
works as a nurse, and his late father worked at a
penitentiary. He graduated from the University of Illinois
at Urbana-Champaign, where he wrestled, and then received
his Masters in Psychology from the University of Minnesota.
During his graduate work, Monson had his political awakening
-- a course entitled Community Psychology.

"Oh man, that class really opened my eyes," he says. "Just
looking at the way the world is run, the way that the people
that might be disabled or have mental issues are left
behind. How education and general welfare are not a
priority, and how the elite run everything for their own
benefit. Then I started reading a bunch of stuff -- Animal
Farm, the International Socialist Review, Chomsky -- and I
started thinking in a different way." Monson the Ultimate
Fighter uses Plato's allegory of the cave to describe the
experience.

After graduating from Minnesota, he moved to Washington
State, where from 1997 to 2001 he counseled the mentally ill
for Lewis County; his primary responsibility was to
determine whether an individual needed to be
institutionalized. "I started right when they were pushing
through welfare reform, and so we had all of these huge cuts
in money for mental health and welfare. It's the same basic
idea with No Child Left Behind. The government tells you
that you have to cut your programs, cut your money for
books, cut the money for teachers, but then you are expected
to somehow do better. It's a brilliant strategy, really,
from their perspective."

Despite being a world-class competitor, Monson finds time to
remain politically engaged. In 2003, he marched against the
Iraq War in Seattle, and protested the Free Trade Area of
the Americas in Miami (where the notoriously aggressive cops
wisely left Monson alone). He is also a member of the
Industrial Workers of the World, and despite the controversy
that surrounds him, continues to engage people within the
fighting community about politics.

So what lies ahead for "The Snowman"? At the moment his
focus is on his next big fight. On April 15, he'll be back
in the Octagon -- the distinctive eight-sided ring of the
UFC -- hoping to make quick work of Marcio "Pe de Pano
(Sugarfoot)" Cruz. Then, if all goes well, a title shot.

"But this is not my whole life," Monson says of fighting.
"I've got children and a girlfriend, and I like to be with
my family. I try to remain involved in political events.
After my next fight, I'll be taking my son to Montreal.
They're having an Anarchist Book Fair, and they invited me
to come up and do a workshop." The topic: self-defense.

In These Times
April 21, 2006
The Ultimate Fighting Anarchist
By Gabriel Thompson
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