By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Macias was born and raised in Oklahoma, and fought in his home state for his first UFC appearance in UFC IV. He has been named both American and world champion in Muay Thai. His fighting record is 38-4--with 28 won by knockout.
Macias looks like a fighter. He's a lean 205 pounds on a 5-foot-10 frame. His head, with its closely cropped hair, is pockmarked and angular.
Macias came up the hard way. He says his mother gravitated toward "terrible" men who would beat her or Anthony's two older sisters. Macias says he tried a number of times to defend his family, but "didn't do too well."
"I just had a line of abusive father figures," he says. "I've always fought. I am going to be around violence one way or the other. I'd rather get paid for it than be in prison."
There is a deep contrast, however, between Macias, the fighter, and Macias, the man. Though he says fighting is like breathing or walking--an extension of his being--he considers himself a nonviolent person with a high regard for life and living things. He appears to treat his wife, Lisa, a petite, delicate woman who weighs less than 100 pounds, with the utmost care and gentleness.
For an interview, Macias changed into a suit after a hard practice earlier this month. Lisa wears an elegant long black velvet skirt with a ruffled white shirt. They look as if they are going out on the town.
"Anthony likes to make sure that he makes a good impression," Lisa explains. "He doesn't want people to think that he is a thug."
Macias is also a practicing Christian. His sensei back in Oklahoma was also his pastor. When he fights, his wife and family set aside a certain time for prayer to give him strength. They pray no matter where he is. He sees no incongruity between what he does and being a Christian. What matters is what is in your heart, he says.
"I've always been able to turn it off," Macias says. "When I leave the hotel room [for a match], I become Mad Dog rather than Anthony Macias."
To Tra Telligman, 30, fighting is a sport, but not a way of life. His life, so far, has been his contracting business and his work with the Polytechnic Main Street, a volunteer organization that does repairs to low-income housing. Fighting is his secret life. "Most of my friends don't know I'm doing this," he says.
Telligman is a native Texan. Tall, with long blond hair ("which gets cut off this week," he says), he looks more like a gentleman rancher than a fighter. He has practiced flowing circles-style jujitsu for 10 years, and the martial arts in general for 20. He fought in a UFC-style tourney in Russia, where he won by knocking out his opponent.
Telligman has been training for the last month or so on the slim chance that he will get a berth among the eight contestants for the Puerto Rico UFC in February.
"It's hard to explain," he says. "It's...it's a big deal. It's a chance to prove that you are better than they are, and you are matched with some of the finest fighters in the world."
To critics, someone like Tank Abbott, the bare-knuckle bruiser of UFC VI, epitomizes the UFC. He's ruthless. He gloats over the fallen bodies of opponents with a ghoulish glee. He has no front teeth. He likes to pound his opponents into submission or unconsciousness.
But if you ask the fighters, Abbott is the decided minority.
"Ohhh, that guy," says Mezger, rolling his eyes. "He gives the sport a bad name."
Macias agrees, saying that 98 percent of UFC fighters are "great guys. But Tank, he is the 2 percent who are not."
McLaren, who remained mum on the subject of Abbott, says people would be surprised at how calm and positively businesslike the typical UFC fighter is. "Fighting is what they do. They are focused and relaxed," he says.
So how does one get to be a UFC contender? It is a tedious process.
McLaren says he receives anywhere from 300 to 1,000 applications from men wanting one of the eight berths in a UFC tournament. (Women are not permitted to fight in the Octagon.) From there, SEG winnows out the real contenders.
Every fighter must be recognized by a national or international martial-arts body as a champion in his field. Contestants must be at least 21 years old, and a fighter must have full-contact experience and go through a medical evaluation.
Once a fighter meets those criteria, the selection becomes subjective. McLaren says he tries to mix it up, bringing in fighters from a variety of disciplines to face each other in the ring. He looks for exotic styles. He also looks at the sorts of recommendations a fighter gets.
Having an agent helps. Buddy Albin of Denton has become promoter extraordinaire for the UFC. Albin started his career as a professional wrestling and kickboxing promoter 15 years ago. He saw a good thing in the UFC, and latched onto the infant sport soon after it was organized. Since then, he's supplied the UFC with some of its better-known fighters, including Taktarov and Macias.