The walkout song is a time-honored tradition in MMA. It's also a delicate balancing act. The perfect song has to pump a fighter up while settling his/her nerves, appeal to the crowd without appearing to pander. "My Walkout Song" is where we ask MMA fans who also happen to be famous musicians what makes for great pre-fight music and what song they would choose to accompany their walk to the cage.
If you want to start trying to talk, to anyone who still gives a rat's ass about music subcultures these days, about punk as a general point of interest, what they think in 2013 is very different from what it meant back when old punks will say, "It meant something." Hardcore's been codified as a type of playing/being that has a direct antecedent to what was played in 1982 (like what was played in 1982 had some connection to what hit in 1977). And over the mists of time and through an inevitable softening, some stuff remains, almost recognizable as what it once was.
So, so it goes with hardcore and punk, with few exceptions. But those exceptions are notable and those have everything to do with those parts that were just too unrepentant to soften well. Specifically here we're talking about Oi!. The anglophile-angled working class music favored initially by skinheads and derived from early rock steady and ska: all words that recall nothing of DC hardcore in 1982.
Unless you knew anything at all about Iron Cross. Formed by the 6'4" Sab Grey with Wendell Blow, first seen in Henry Rollins' first band SOA, Iron Cross was unrepentantly what it was: fighting music made by guys who looked like they could actually fight. And unlike some present-day comeback wonders, old scene guys who need to pay property tax bills and so make another run at it, Grey's stayed knuckle deep – touring (like right now), authoring books, doing spoken-word shows, and for good measure? Boxing, with his first competitive match coming in about a month.
No such thing as going gentle into the night, baby.
So we had to ask the man: Best walkout anthem ever?
Fightland: So you box. Has this carried you into being interested in MMA at all?
Sab Grey: Yes I am, and I just want to say I’m a fan of all the fighting arts. I think the squabbling about "which art is better” is a complete waste of time. Fighting is fighting and each art has its advantages, skill sets, and limitations. But I've been a fan as long as it's been on TV!
Well you'd probably have a better chance of competing sooner in MMA, though. But why in the face of so many other arts did you choose boxing?
Well that’s the million-dollar question, and to be honest I don’t know, but why do some people fall in love with playing acoustic guitars over electric guitars? I enjoy the other combat arts--my brother-in-law does BJJ and we go watch him fight, and it's very cool, but it doesn’t speak to my heart. I can tell you the million-and-one things I love about boxing but I can't tell you why I fell in love with boxing. It must be all of those million-and-one things combined.
But, going off on a tangent, perhaps it’s the limitations of boxing that appeal to me. Football (soccer) being my other favorite sport, well, since you can't use your hands you have to find another way to move the ball and score. Boxing only has six punches so it gets really scientific on how to optimize your attack. It's kind of like the blues, here’s the musical form (usually AAB); now let’s see what you can do with it.
And coming from music, what'd you find the number one misconception was about combat training when you started doing it?
How intelligent the people are that are involved in the sport. These guys aren’t knuckle-dragging cave dwellers! I’m not saying everyone is a pugilistic Voltaire or Cincinnatus, but there's definitely a philosophy of peace and well-being involved. And I don’t think anyone understands the relationship between mind and body or mental strength better than fighters.
The training is ridiculous. I mean on the surface boxing is just two guys punching each other, like playing the flute is blowing air in one end and wiggling your fingers around, if you get my meaning. But the amount of conditioning that goes into this sport is unbelievable! This “cross-fit” thing that’s all the rage with the yuppies? Fighters have been doing that for over a hundred years! We have guys at my gym who train in scuba suits and gas masks! It’s nuts!
Guilty as charged, sir. I'd like to think the gas mask, slow suffocation, is helping but I'm not sure …(laughs)
Well, I know you know what I’m talking about then: It's by no means unheard of to hear conversations about Bukowski or the Seven Years' War or some such thing amongst the sweat and thumping. And at my gym at least, everyone is very kind and everyone makes an effort to help one another out. Now don’t get me wrong, when you ask someone to throw punches at you to work on your bob and weave or something, they will throw a punch at you, and it will come at you real fast and hard, but the intent is not to hurt you but to instruct you.
OK. The reason we're all here: Best MMA walkout anthem?
It would have to be something meaty and punk and heavy. But bear in mind I fuckin’ hate heavy metal! It’s not heavy; it's stupid. Fuck your swords and dwarves shit! (laughs) But it has to be something that makes me want to punch things. Kind of obvious, I know, but I’ve found when training and I’m hitting the bag and I got my headphones on, there’s definitely some songs that just light that little extra under you. So here’s a couple to think of:
"La Rage" by Keny Arkana
I love this French anarchist rap singer. I think she’s brilliant and I this is one of the best songs I’ve heard in years. It’s got it all: great hook, great melody line, and the lyrics are all about riots and throwing things at cops!
"I Got a Right!" by Iggy Pop
What can I say? It just is!
"Pretty Vacant" by Sex Pistols
I’m thinking there should be some ironic justice here, so how about some Sex Pistols? Since they were the band that changed my view of music and life, maybe it would be cool to come out and beat someone to my soundtrack!
Can I also mention I would love to come out in a plain old dressing gown and slippers? Maybe with a newspaper under my arm and a pipe?
No Oi!? Or has the skinhead scene eaten itself? And would this be just for you or is this an objective take on walkout anthems?
Well, it's an extremely personal choice, or I would hope it would be. I mean, it's conceivable a fighter could sell his "air time" to a song, but let's stay away from that train of thought. No, I would say it's personal and it doesn’t have to be aggressive at all. Look at Javier Molina; he comes out to Vincente Fernandez "No Me Se Rajar" and it’s a great song, but it's not aggressive at all. But it must speak to him or why would you bother? Especially given the circumstances of what you are about to do--get in the ring--which is no fucking joke at all!
But nowadays there is very much a scene and it's pretty damn good. It seems the Nazi douches have all gone away. I guess they’re all at Tea Party rallies these days. Skinhead’s gone back to its Jamaican roots in a big way and it's multicultural as hell. We get to travel all over the place, like Europe and Mexico, and have a really good time, and about the worst of it is at the end of the night some people are so drunk they’re speaking in vowels at you. Not a bad way to spend one’s middle years at all!
And you're coming out west now right? Anything else?
Well, I’m getting ready to head out to the West Coast for four shows. A little mini-tour: LA, San Diego, Pomona, and San Jose. Then later this year we head back in the studio for a new record. I just got the okay from the record company, Skinflint Records. And I’m working on a new, third book, but I confess I have been a lazy bugger on that front and need to step up on the writing. You can buy the other two books, as well as our records, at skinflintmusic.com. I'm also spending four to five days a week at the gym and I’m a carpenter. Plus, I’m very happily married to my brilliant wife, Ashley. And her favorite fighter is Anderson Silva!
Check out these earlier installments of our "My Walkout Song" series:
The Mixed Martial Arts of Victorian London
Before BJJ, there was Bartitsu.
Jonathan Maicelo: The Last Inca
Peru's up-and-coming boxing star.
Kron Gracie on Jiu-Jitsu, Skateboarding, Older Brothers, and Famous Fathers
The ties that bind are strong.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.