Not that anyone else should care, but it really isn't a good time to be a writer interested in the long-form. Publishers are cutting people, magazines are cutting people, and people of my age, who came in dreaming of Gay Talese, are falling down. I got laid-off from TIME two years ago, and from what I hear these days, I was lucky. Forgive the melodrama, it's just what I love. And often enough to keep me going, I'm reminded why.
Here is David Samuels lovely, lovely piece on UFC fighter Rampage Jackson. Most profiles are quasi-surveys, broad maps of a persons life. They proceed rather boringly from lede to nut graff to kicker. You get to see the person do something meaningless, like pick up their kids from school. You get the writer waxing endlessly about the subject's sex appeal--like you needed someone to tell you that Joy Bryant is hot. And then you get some associate telling you how much the person has been underestimated.
There's a lot of bad magazine writing out there, to which I have contribuited my plodding share. But this piece, actually unfolds before your eyes. It is a narrative in the truest sense, powered by a great writer:
A fighter's dressing room before a fight is a study in controlled anxiety. Some men pace, others hide. Inside Rampage's windowless dressing room, Ibarra is pacing around on the beige industrial carpet. Rampage's championship belts are laid out on the couch.
In the center of the room, Rampage is being stretched by three men. The hood of his sweatshirt is pulled up over his head as the men quietly work him over. "Push on my leg," Jackson demands. The men push down his butt and massage his shoulders, slowly and deeply, in preparation for the beating he will take. Jackson grunts softly. After a while, the stillness of the scene, and the occasional muffled sounds from the black-clad figure, take on the feel of a solemn ritual passage from one state of being to another, like the male equivalent of giving birth...
Ibarra looks at his watch. "Champ, can I have a word with you please?" he says, drawing the fighter into the bathroom for a quick conference. Rampage emerges 30 seconds later and clasps hands with each of the men who have helped him prepare for the fight. "I just want to thank all of you guys," he says, the emotion in his voice fighting with the imperative to save every last drop of his energy for the ring.
"Can I have a sip of water?" he asks Ibarra. As the fighter holds a disposable plastic cup of water between his gloves, Ibarra smears Vaseline on the outside of his wristband to apply to the fighter's face between rounds. The room falls silent again. The only sound is Rampage's slow, deep breathing.
"Do you hear that rhythm?" Ibarra asks me. "That's his rhythm." The fighter takes off his hood to reveal a shaved head, and practices another clinch with Chris. He howls like a wolf, and then breathes deeply. "I need some more water," he says. The fighter looks over at me and gives me a long stare.
Ibarra gathers everyone together in the center of the room.
"Let's pray, fellows," he says, before asking for "no injuries, and victory in Jesus' name." The commission man raises up his head to speak.
"You got about two minutes before that walk," he says. "Two minutes before that walk."
Zach, Ibarra's assistant, takes Rampage's chain and wraps it around his neck. At the last minute, Ibarra grabs a scissors and cuts open the cuffs of Rampage's sweatshirt so he will be able to lift it over his head when he enters the ring, and then everyone goes out the door and into the cement-block corridor that leads to the ring. His hood is off as he readies himself for the plunge through the black curtain and into the sold-out arena filled with more than 11,000 screaming fans. Ibarra stops him. "Hey, Burt, he's the champion, he doesn't go in first," he calls out to the man in charge of logistics. "The champ goes in second."
Rampage puts his hood back over his head and waits, a hulking, solitary figure breathing in and out in the fluorescent light...
Sorry for the lengthy quote. Read the piece. And then subscribe to the magazine. It's a beautiful thing these guys do.
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