I’m not much of a fighter. During my school years I kicked a kid in the shin once while playing handball—I was so angry. I’m not proud of it. But it’s probably the only blow I’ve ever landed in anger. My “fights,” if you can call them that, were usually one-sided. You could even call them no-sided. I remember at primary school some boys were baiting me—laughing at me and teasing me something chronic. So I chased them. If I had caught them, there would have been violence. But they all ran away and I couldn’t catch them.
Not a very inspired history of fighting then. And, unlike others I know, it’s not particularly something I enjoy watching either. Boxing, wrestling, MMA—all fighting sports in general are not really my thing.
So while I’m not into fighting sports in general, I love AFL, NRL, basketball and cricket and can always be pulled in by a good sporting story.
Boxing has provided some great stories over the years; real-life, blood-smeared fairytales that have become great books and movies. Underdogs overcoming the odds; the tireless fight for vindication or justice—Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Muhammad Ali, Cinderella Man.
Sporting stories can be powerful allegories for life. At their worst they’re cliché-filled and obvious, but at their best they make us feel inspired, hopeful and human.
The Pact in some ways fits this mould—the “underdog striving for greatness” archetype. Set in the brutal, modern gladiator pit—the Ultimate Fighting Championship or UFC—Cody Garbrandt’s autobiography has all the essential ingredients of the ultimate fighting story. He’s a young kid from Urichsville, Ohio—a working class run-down town where he has to fight to survive. Literally. In fact, from Garbrandt’s description, fighting wasn’t just survival there; it was relished. He describes fighting as a way of life and his own fights with his older brother Zach were deadly serious. One even ended in concussion.
With a father in jail and a family with a bad reputation in town, it seemed Garbrandt wouldn’t amount to anything. Yet he channelled his frustration and fighting—first into wrestling, then into boxing and finally into mixed martial arts. Garbrandt’s biggest fight however, was against himself. His party lifestyle and undisciplined brawls were at odds with his vision of being world champion and the professionalism of his training. “I was clearly a person who did things full on,” he says about himself.
Garbrandt was on the road to self-destruction, but his story takes a positive turn because of two surprising encounters—with God and with a young cancer patient named Maddux.
Through the dramatic ups and downs of Garbrandt’s life, he never doubted God’s existence and presence, thanks in a large part to a father figure, his uncle who took him to church, taught him the technicalities of boxing and provided a constant, stable influence. And then there was Maddux, a five-year-old boy fighting cancer who, Garbrandt believes, God led him to (with a little help from Zach).
That is when Garbrandt’s life was finally anchored, his purpose was found and he started living—and fighting—for someone else. The two form a deep bond and make a pact: Maddux will fight his illness and Garbrandt will fight his way to the top, and have Maddux there beside him when he makes it.
“If Maddux got up and decided he didn’t want to take his medicine then he would die. If I got up and didn’t take my medicine—if I didn’t do the hard things, the uneasy things, the uncomfortable things, the necessary things—I would die too. It didn’t matter if it made me sick. It didn’t matter if it made me tired. If I wanted to reach the goal, if I wanted to live up to my side of our pact, then I had to pay the price and do it.”
The Pact is not a soppy tear-jerker, although you will be moved. This is a life and death struggle, where one cage fighter goes out and puts everything on the line for his little mate. It’s a story of the process of becoming a man: learning both discipline and tenderness. It’s a story of the life-changing power of living for others and living for a purpose.
While I’m not a huge fighting fan, this is one fight I’m glad I witnessed.