It’s rare that high-quality documentary content is just given away for free on the internet, and for this reason, Fighting in the Age of Loneliness — a nearly two-hour history of mixed martial arts — feels like a gift.
Created by Jon Bois and Felix Biederman, FITAOL serves as a genealogy of modern combat sports that follows MMA from the invention of Jiu-Jitsu in feudal Japan up to the disastrous bout between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov at the Ultimate Fighting Championship 229 in Oct. 6, 2018. It serves as a history of athletic exceptionalism, rivalry and triumph in MMA, but it also looks at the economic and social conditions that led to the strange success of the sport.
Bois has built a cult following at SB Nation through his unconventional documentaries that combine sports, maps and statistics to create compelling stories through graphical representations of data.
Biederman was an insightful sports and culture reporter long before he accidentally became one of the pre-eminent voices of the new American left through his work on the Chapo Trap House podcast. With this documentary, Biederman gets back to his MMA roots and Bois comes out of a year-long filmmaking hiatus to handle the visuals and
The political analysis in the film is sharp, and Biederman has some takes on the UFC that will most likely anger anyone who has no memory of the league before nepotism cases like McGregor came in and turned it into an unending reality show that thrives on exploited talent.
For those that take their cultural criticism as seriously as they take their bloodsports, FITAOL is going to resonate in a way that few other pieces of media will. Every aspect of the sport is explored from the early competitive hegemony of the Gracie family to the rise and fall of the Yakuza-backed Pride Fighting Championships, but the current state of the UFC is the main focus.
Biederman and Bois look at how greed and the quest for mass acceptance will eventually erode not just the sport of MMA but everything else we love as well. MMA is a sport that thrives because athletes who don’t fit in anywhere else continue to make the sport great in the face of bureaucracy and mismanagement.
FITAOL shows us that, no matter how isolated we feel or how atomized society becomes, the spectacle of combat sports can help us transcend our collective political imagination. Biederman makes a compelling argument that we need the battles of the octagon to remind us of the hope that we wish was reflected in our own everyday struggles.
All five episodes of Fighting in the Age of Loneliness are available for free on SB Nation’s Youtube channel.
Cole Chretien / Culture Editor
Graphic: Jaymie Stachyruk / Graphics Editor