Nick Gullo is not a household name. In fact, most MMA fans can’t distinguish him from dozens of trainers and media personnel that encircle the Octagon during any given fight. But over the last five years, Dana White’s chipped-tooth childhood friend has been at nearly every pay-per-view event you could only wish to attend. He is the fly on the wall that observes all and says nothing and his camera captured UFC fighters in their most defiant, vulnerable and compassionate moments.
“Into the Cage: The Rise of UFC Nation” is an in-depth look at the people and events that made the UFC into a moneymaking machine.
Gullo admits that he could have been part of the UFC when White, along with Frank and Forenzo Fertitta, took a chance on the struggling franchise. The glorification Royce Gracie brought to UFC 1 was short lived as politicians outlawed the sport across the country and left the company in debt. He believes that White’s drive to succeed is misinterpreted. “Dana’s story isn’t simply one of wealth or fame; it’s the story of a disadvantaged kid who took on the world and won. It’s the story of a fighter,” Gullo said.
Gullo’s central theme is to correlate the journey of the fighter with the journey of the company. He speaks with multiple MMA stars about the role philosophy and relationships plays in their success. Most notably, he analyzes and proclaims Anderson Silva the greatest living fighter.
“In Brazilian culture, ‘Who you train under?’ seeks information regarding your style, social mores, disposition, loyalty, even character,” Gullo said. “But Silva is different. Silva has transcended that query. Trite as it sounds: no longer is he the student, now he is the master.”
He, like White, secedes that women belong in the squared circle. In a touching collage, Gullo photographs little Taylor Ross in a series of fight poses. Ross suffers from cystic fibrosis, a disease that usually affects young adults. Gullo’s epiphany came in speaking with Ross and Ronda Rousey and in seeing over seventy female fighters try out for The Ultimate Fighter 18. Women, Gullo states, sacrifice and suffer just as much as men in reaching their dream.
There are light-hearted moments scattered throughout this coffee table piece, like Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson sending his assistant on a McDonalds run while weight cutting. Or, White explaining to Rousey how Gullo was nicknamed ‘The Tooth.’
“Into the Cage: The Rise of UFC Nation” is a step-by-step photo essay that delves into a fighter’s mind before, during and after a fight. It digs through an athlete’s tough exterior to say what their facial expression cannot. Like Frankie Edgar confessing that he gets the jitters before fighting. “The anxiety is so intense, you wish you could speed it up and walk out right then,” Edgar said.
Nothing in this book will shock or awe. It is meant to tell stories that have either never been told or never been told correctly. In that respect, Gullo’s writing ability matches his sublime photography skills.