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Saturday, January 28, 2017

No Holds Barred: John Perretti on Meryl Streep, MMA, and Art 

On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman once again spoke with lifelong martial artist, former UFC and Battlecade Extreme Fighting matchmaker, TV commentator, and our senior correspondent, John Perretti.

Mixed martial arts was drawn into a recent controversy involving Meryl Streep, who John Perretti regards as "the best living actress we have." On January 8, 2017, Streep was presented the Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement during the Golden Globes awards TV show. During her acceptance speech, she strongly denounced the racist, xenophobic, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant program of Donald Trump and defended the arts. She said, "Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners, and if you kick us all out, you'll have nothing to watch except for football and mixed martial arts, which are not arts."

It was her statement that sports like American football and MMA "are not arts" that elicited many negative responses from people in the MMA community, and not only from Trump backers.

There is perhaps no one better suited than John Perretti to discuss this controversy because of his background. Besides being a pioneer in MMA who developed the name "mixed martial arts" and the basic structure of weight classes and rounds which is still used today, he was a football coach, is a painter and sculptor, and was for a decade a professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York. In addition, he has extensive film and TV experience, both as an actor, stuntman, and stunt coordinator. He is presently finishing work on his memoirs.

To discuss this, we spoke with John Perretti, who is now in Japan, by phone Wednesday Japan time/Tuesday New York time.

While at one time he believed that the martial arts were an "art form", he said, "I had no intention of mixed martial arts, including Extreme Fighting ... to ever be more than a great sport. I never thought of it as art at all because I come from a different world. I'm a Martist, in a sense, because I come from a very different place."

He continued, "Not all those things that congeal into a sport like it is today, which is different than when I was involved in it, could be said to be artsy."

A key difference is the centrality of violence, both for sport and film.

"It's hard to separate out mixed martial arts as an art form if it's all about violence," he said.

We discussed the devolution of MMA in recent years, especially in the U.S., and the growth of the emphasis on a brawling style of fighting which some have called "professional toughman".

Yet even a violent sport can have many artistic elements. For boxing, he said, "The rules make it artistic."

We discussed a lot more on these topics, including how to interpet what Meryl Streep might have and might not have meant, kickboxing and leg kicks, art and sports in general including baseball and cricket, and much more.

We also open with a commentary on the issue of art and sport, in light of the contributions made by C. L. R. James in what many regard as one of the best if not the best sports book ever written, Beyond A Boundary.

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