Beast: Blood, Struggle and Dreams at the Heart of Mixed Martial Arts

“[A] gifted writer, [Merlino’s] got me thinking seriously about the history, culture and business of professional cage fighting.” —The New York Times Book Review

Mixed martial arts is America’s fastest-growing sport–around the country, new gyms open their doors and enthusiastic viewers tune in to UFC matches. Although some dismiss it as brutal combat, its fighters are among the most dedicated athletes in any arena. But MMA also takes a heavy toll on the body, and it’s a rare fighter who can earn a living in the sport’s top ranks.

Beast follows four high-level fighters at one of the sport’s elite gyms, Florida’s American Top Team. Doug Merlino had unprecedented access, training alongside the men for two years, traveling to their matches, and eating in their homes. Mirsad Bektic, a young Bosnian refugee who started in karate as a boy in Nebraska, dreams of stardom. Jeff Monson, a battered veteran at forty-one, is an outspoken, tattooed anarchist enjoying a bizarre burst of celebrity in Russia.

Steve Mocco is a newcomer–a former Olympic wrestler from a close-knit intellectual family. Finally there’s Daniel Straus, who, from a life short on opportunity, fights his way up to title contention. All will experience electrifying highs and career lows, and Merlino takes us along every step of the way while also examining the culture and meaning of professional cage fighting. A book for both the uninitiated and the hard-core fan, Beast offers a fascinating journey into an often misunderstood world.

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“Easily the best book on MMA that I have ever read.” ―Eddie Goldman, No Holds Barred

“An intimate portrayal of the world of Mixed Martial Arts . . . Told in a candid and nicely flowing conversational tone, this story will certainly appeal to MMA followers but may also attract a broader range of sports fans, in the manner of John Feinstein’s similar days-in-the-life accounts. The best of the growing collection of MMA literature.” ―starred review, Booklist

“Merlino is able to get into these fighters’ minds and souls to find out what exactly makes them tick. This is as inside a look at MMA as you’re going to get without actually being there yourself. A must-read for MMA fans.” MMA Manifesto

“An inside look at the industry of MMA and the humanity of its fighters.” Vice

“What makes Beast such a spectacular read, other than the author’s sheer storytelling skill, is that Merlino didn’t simply interview fighters and coaches. He spent two years training alongside them, living with them, and traveling with them to their fights. He met their friends and family. The result is a book that is both profound and, at times, nail-bitingly tense.” Century Martial Arts

“This is more than a tour guide of a violent underworld. It is also a philosophic statement about conflict, understanding it, facing it, owning it, dealing with it. A wonderful dark read.” ―Bill Buford, author of AMONG THE THUGS and HEAT

“Beautifully reported and written with rollicking flair, Beast is every bit as electric as the ferocious sport it chronicles. Doug Merlino’s extraordinary book perfectly captures not only the brutal splendor of mixed martial arts, but also the ways in which so many ambitious young men and women seek salvation through controlled violence. By the time you reach the last page, you will be so emotionally invested in each fighter’s turbulent journey that you’ll yearn for a sequel–or, better yet, a trilogy.” ―Brendan I. Koerner, author of THE SKIES BELONG TO US

“A poignant, intimate look at professional fighters and their lives. Merlino pulls you in as he was pulled in; and in the end, understanding is earned, not given.” ―Sam Sheridan, author of A FIGHTER’S HEART and THE FIGHTER’S MIND

“Doug Merlino takes the reader way down into the grain of fighting lives: the gym, the road, the business, the complexities of desire and fear, the spectacle of fight night. A patiently observed, deeply felt book about the craft and meaning of skilled violence.” ―Carlo Rotella, author of CUT TIME: AN EDUCATION AT THE FIGHTS

“One of the best books written on MMA; readers don’t have to be fans of the sport to appreciate this story.” Library Journal

“Insightful . . . Merlino provides an enhanced picture for anyone who wants to look past the glitz and glamour of the spotlights presented on television and see the grit and sacrifice required from anyone who wants to step into the octagon.” Publishers Weekly

“Merlino consistently captures the grit, determination, and sheer willpower of these hungry warriors . . . Fascinating.” Kirkus Reviews