For the most part, the world of mixed martial arts comes to life in five-minute chunks; the remaining rounds—those filed in the gym without any screaming crowds nor payday at the end—are hidden from the public view, which means countless stories of these modern-day warriors go unnoticed. Duane Finley, in a style only he could deliver, set forth on a coast-to-coast journey to shed light on many of MMA’s unheralded heroes. Along the way, readers also unearth the sacrifice and obstacles Finley faced when traveling into the unknown, transforming tremendous tales of elite prizefighters into black and white.
The skyline of Indianapolis wasn’t more than five miles in the rear view before the feeling that this entire endeavor had been a mistake began to set in. (p. 1)
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In a digital landfill of the same “breaking” story running its course through the day’s news cycle, Finley found a passion in mining deeper, excavating what made each fighter tick. The entire endeavor—a trek involving thousands of miles across the United States, a relapse triggered, and an infinite number of moments was groundbreaking in the realm of MMA media, and In the Cold Distnace invites one-and-all to witness how it all played out.
I had accomplished this incredible journey with a scope never been seen in my field. I had taken a wild idea and executed it at such a degree that it carved out my place in the MMA universe and exposed my writing to an entirely different segment of the sport. Despite what happened with my back and the pills, what I achieved was something that wouldn’t be lessened because of my shortcomings, and that was one huge positive I took into the next week. (p. 393)
Finley’s tone throughout In the Cold Distance is conversational, and as a master wordsmith, he artfully submits those with his book from their favorite reading corner into the passenger seat of his 2005 Nissan as it pinballs to various gyms across the country.
Of course, the laid back approach executed by Finley isn’t considered standard practice in journalism, yet the narratives shared with the MMA community were impossible to create otherwise.
It’s a strange thing working on the media side of things to make friends or acquaintances with the athletes you cover, but my niche existed in a far different area than most of my peers. (p. 166)
While Finley continually placed the fighter, from retired legends to contenders on the cusp of championships, the plots pulse never strayed too far from the author’s perspective, however, he’d sometimes require reminders of his tremendous efforts from loved ones.
Renee was right. I should feel proud. I had set these crazy lofty expectations for myself and pushed the envelope far beyond the point of where I thought I was capable of going. I proved to the sport I love I was far beyond driven to do the work to find the stories no one was telling and do the very best job I could at getting those stories out in a way that connected to MMA’s passionate fan base. (p. 240)
When a mixed martial artist wraps their hands in four-ounce gloves, chomps down on their mouthpiece, and locks themselves in a cage for others to gawk at as a spectacle, they, more often than not, enter the sport with visions of greatness at the end of the tunnel. No matter how many odds are stacked unfavorably or obstacles impede a direct path, Finley made several correlations to the work he was doing on blank white canvases and a word processesor as those dodging strikes under the bright lights.
He was chasing a dream, and them coming to know the same ambition runs through them is something that makes the ends…both tattered and clean…meet at a place where everything becomes worthwhile. (p. 92)
Regardless of a reader’s desire to drag a pen across paper or pummel a person of equivalent mass for stacks of cash, In the Cold Distance nudges everyone to pursue whatever they’re passionate about.
If writing about fighters and getting a glimpse at their lives had taught me anything, it was that nothing has the right to keep you from being the person you want to be. And while my personal struggle didn’t involve going toe-to-toe with another human being inside of a chain-linked cage, it certainly involved a fight. (p. 394)
For injecting the young sport of MMA with the age-old delight of engaging, fine prose, In the Cold Distance deserves the warmest rating possible—five out of five stars—for bringing readers closer to the sport.
My journey wasn’t going to encourage a generation of readers to hit the open road, nor would I become a counterculture icon, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that change was one of my underlying motives behind the trip. The sport of MMA moves at such a rapid pace that often times the fighters and their individual stories get left behind. It seems crazy since they are a critical part of the sport itself, but that doesn’t make the notion any less true. (p. 312)