The Ultimate Fighting Anarchist

Gabriel Thompson

He is, with­out a doubt, the tough­est sub­scriber to In These Times. Stand­ing 59” 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 Mon­tréal. They’re hav­ing an Anar­chist Book Fair, and they invit­ed me to come up and do a work­shop.” The top­ic: self-defense.

Gabriel Thomp­son is a Brook­lyn-based jour­nal­ist. He can be reached at his web site.
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