When Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) began to rise in North America, it was written off by many as a joke. Today we recognize it as one of the most important sports of our timeHistory is a powerful thing. Those who make it history, inspire others to be great. But those who make it, cannot convey it without the historian. Many laugh at those who write, or do photography. But, if it were not for them, humanity would be millions of years behind where we are today
When Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) began to rise in North America, it was written off by many as a joke. Today we recognize it as one of the most important sports of our time. Photographer Kevin Lynch put together what is arguably the best photo book on MMA ever, entitled Octagon. It features amazing shots of BJ Penn, Kenny Florian, George St. Pierre, Jeff Monson, Quinton Jackson, Rich Franklin, Joe Stevenson, Ken Shamrock, Josh Koscheck, Nick Diaz, Michael Bisping, Matt Serra and many others. Octagon captures the courage, heart and soul of the UFC, and the fans who love it. This may be one of the most important books in the history of the art. Kevin Lynch sat down with me to talk about how he captured the art of war to push an underground sport from out of the shadows.
OTM: Tell me about the creation of this book, its awesome.
Kevin Lynch: About five years ago I was doing some commercial work for the UFC. Dana had flown me to Vegas to help design a billboard for their upcoming event, Ken Shamrock Vs. Tito Ortiz. In the process, I saw a great opportunity. I was was unfamiliar with the sport, to be honest with you. But I wanted to show what these fighters really go through. Some of these guys walk in being young and inexperienced. After three rounds, they walk out a man. They go through so many emotions. The way they relate to their opponent.
So, one thing I wanted to do was shoot them right before they went out, and right after they come back. But you also see what they go through. Are they prepared or unprepared? The after shots show more of elation, or the despair of defeat. It gives you a pretty strong portrait of an Ultimate Fighter.
We just had a big show in NY with Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta. Everybody flew in for this event. We also recently took the book to an art fair in London. The whole intent was to show the artistry, and get some good PR for the UFC.
OTM: MMA and BJJ have really exploded in large part because of Dana White’s marketing brilliance. This book represents another jewel in his crown, so to speak. Tell me about some of the stories behind the photos in Octagon. Tell me something you learned while shooting it?
Kevin Lynch: The first thing I can say is respect. They all took the time to have their portrait taken, when they really don’t want to stop. They are nto in the mood to pretend they are somebody else. You are who you are. Thats why these pictures are so honest. You can really tell a lot about who these fighters are. I thik most of it is first of all, the admiration I have for the dedication and sophistication of the sport over the last five years. Thats a huge transformation in itself.
These fighters have become much more refined and the sport has become much more predictable. Which makes it more exciting! Of course the guidance from Dana White and the people in the organization has been instrumental. His heart and soul is in the UFC. So the fighters have to look up to him. Theres a lot of leadership here. Plus, accessibility to the people. Thats another thing these fighters have.
In boxing, they have an entourage of 20 people. You wonder why, because a boxer can defend himself. They are so guarded. In the UFC, the regular people who are actually gettin hurt, a person who’s not a wrestler pretending to fight…He’s a real person, with a lot of intelligence. Thats a sophisticated athlete we’re talking about.
In the beginning Matt Hughes and Pat Milletech thought I Was a nuisance. Today we are good friends. They thought I was taking advantage of them by taking their picture when they were hurt. They thought I was taking it for my own personal gain. When it was really about rewarding the public, by giving them insight to whats really happening behind the scenes. They saw there was a lot of heart and dedication on my part. Now I’ve become friends with most fighters.
So I shoot the befores, I go to the event. I see them right there. Then I’d run back to get the after photo and get the before shot of the next fight. This goes on all night long. As well as other shots I’d take from above the Octagon. It was a four year process. The book took another year to complete and edit. Whats unique about it was having access as one photographer from all these different areas.
OTM: What are your 5 favorite photos and why?
Kevin Lynch: One is a compilation of 400 images put together as one wall. It one image I love. One is a photo of Matt huges with the flag. It shows him as who is is. A young American guy from the mid-west, a farmer. It really reflects his patriotism. The other is the Chuck Liddell victory image. He’s up on the Octagon after he won his first title. An image of the Octagon after 16 events. Its very abstract. The before and after of Chuck, after he fought Randy Cotoure in UFC 43. Chuck was famous, but he was still excited to pose, even though he lost the fight. That gave a lot of other fighters, incentive to work with me in the future events. Another was in Mirimar, after the UFC dedicated a fight to the Marines. I shot a panorama of 3000 Marines standing at attention to the flag. It was a very touching moment for me. One is of Ken Shamrock all by himself in the Octagon. It represents the idea that once the gate shuts, you cant get out, nobody can get in. You are on your own. BJ Penn, I did a trio image with him and you see the artistry of his actions and the passion in his heart. Also, Forrest and Bonnar when they both ave their hands raised after beingt inducted to the TUF finale. Probably the most important moment in UFC history. From that moment, the UFC sort of exploded into a phenomenon.
See more images on Octagon here: http://octagon-book.com/
Adisa Banjoko is the founder of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation.