Fighting Against The Odds, a new memoir by U.K. journalist Fiaz Rafiq, brings fight fans up close and personal as the man who’s been covering the scene for about two decades.
Weighing in at 334 pages and released officially on May 3, Rafiq takes readers inside his own story, one where a love of martial arts and a career in journalism became inextricably intertwined.
The stories come in simple and direct prose, delivered in a voice that sounds like Rafiq is speaking as the anecdotes unfold. He begins with a challenging childhood – growing up in the 1980s as a bit of an oddball whose life was forever changed when he saw the martial artistry of Bruce Lee.
As much as he adored Lee and all he represented, he wasn’t fond of reading, books or school work. However, his newfound love for fighting and bodybuilding led him to the library, where he found books and magazines to satisfy his growing passion. He gradually came to realize that Lee was not only a Kung Fu master, but an intellectual with a strong philosophical bent.
Rafiq hid his interest from his parents, who he assumed wouldn’t approve, and his South Asian community where Chinese and Japanese martial arts were unheard of. Naturally, it led to hitting the gym himself, even as he took his first steps in martial arts. It was an important move for a small-boned kid with asthma.
After reading about the sport voraciously, Rafiq set upon becoming a writer himself, and enrolled in a home study course with the last of his savings while still in high school. After graduating high school, however, he decided not to further his studies, and, after a string of dead-end jobs, started up a mail order business selling martial arts related books and products.
Rafiq’s first attempt at pitching an article led to rejection in 1993, but that wouldn’t be the norm throughout his career. In 1996, at the age of 20, he left England for the United States – Los Angeles, specifically, to train with a former student of Bruce Lee’s. Eventually, it led him to Gracie’s, the gym owned by early UFC star Royce Gracie. In the ensuing years, he got to know the fighter, who let him in on some of the ins and outs of the biz as MMA first hit the mainstream. It was a three-month trip that would further cement his lifestyle in martial arts.
Back home, a day job financed Rafiq’s martial arts mail-order business until it began to pay real dividends, and involve criss-crossing the Atlantic to set up deals, not all of which went his way. But, after persevering for a few years, one of his first big breaks came via securing the contract to publish MMA star Randy Couture’s best-selling autobiography through one of his companies, along with a follow-up book. In 2002, he was offered a steady gig writing for U.K.-based Martial Arts Illustrated and his career in journalism got a kick start in turn.
As his career developed, Rafiq reveals lessons learned from his exposure to the big leagues of the fight world, like the idea that real strength can involve admitting your vulnerabilities openly. The book is peppered with quotes from the greats of the industry, including everyone from Sugar Ray Leonard to Jean-Claude Van Damme to Georges St. Pierre and more, with stories about some of the key figures.
There was that time JCVD dished out a lightning-fast kick to fend off a real life street fighter, or when a prince from Dubai approached Randy Couture out of the blue at an event. He chronicles the development of My Brother, Muhammad Ali: The Definitive Biography, the book he co-authored with Ali’s brother Rahaman Ali.
Like many writers, Rafiq’s career took many twists and turns, from sports into action movie reporting, and books. He’s refreshingly candid about the lows as well as the highs of a jet-setting career covering the UFC and more, including the interviews that went awry, and the deals not made. Along the way, his journey also chronicles the rise of MMA itself from a fringe sport to the mainstream.
It’s a fascinating read that offers insights into the world of martial arts and a productive career in journalism. Rafiq’s other book titles include Muhammad Ali: The Life of a Legend, Bruce Lee: The Life of a Legend, and Arnold Schwarzenegger: The Life of a Legend.
Crossfire Rating: Out of 4