Using his own training as an opportunity to understand how the sport illuminates basic human impulses, Rosenblatt weaves together cultural history, criticism, biology, and anthropology to understand what happens to the human body and mind when under attack, and to explore why he, a self-described 'cowardly boy from the suburbs,' discovered so much meaning in putting his body, and others’, at risk.
Mr. Rosenblatt knows how to create dramatic tension. He deftly describes the highs and lows of sparring—after a good session he feels like a champ; after a bad one, a chump who ought to stick to rumbling with words. By the middle of the book, the reader wants to flip ahead and see what happens when the pen-pusher enters the cage and comes face-to-face with a younger, better-conditioned combatant determined to do him in with a punch, kick or choke hold ... You cannot learn about combat sports from the inside out unless your ego is invested in winning. That requires the kind of martial baptism that Mr. Rosenblatt puts himself through with the official bout, which he writes about vividly in the final chapter ... He wasn’t just aiming to produce this text—which nevertheless glistens with illuminations about courage and aging. The aim was self-transformation. Win or lose, it was mission accomplished.
... a fascinating story about one mixed-martial-arts fight, the training leading up to it, and what it all means to the author. It's a highly lucid, very personal meditation on selfhood, but it's also replete with a wide array of engaging literary and historical excursions ... If it wasn't for this balance, the book might have easily slipped into either a kind of dude memoir (no thank you) or an overly Romantic abstract argument destined to be tiresome ... Rosenblatt's consistent directness in his writing is laudable, even amidst the author's flights of fighting fancy, where he could have easily faltered into clunking dependent clause deployment and clumsy diction. And yet the most subtly successful aspect of the book might also be its greatest feature: Its steady build-up of momentum toward a mixed-martial-arts fight that should have all the trappings of a Rocky-esque drama and yet, mercifully, doesn't.
In this memoir, [Rosenblatt] uses his training regimen as a stepping-off point to discuss particulars of fighting, such as the development of the jab, a fighter’s best tool but one mastered by very few. He also examines the nature of fear and the sources of pain from a physiological perspective ... A very entertaining and informative chronicle of a quixotic journey of self-examination.