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A watch is like a jacket

The cheapest £5 black digital watch is more reliable than a £5,000 Rolex automatic. Sorry to break it to you like this, but watchmaking was revolutionised by the quartz crystal and all those beautifully engineered luxury watches are old technology. Granted this, did you also know that the ETA organisation makes pretty much all of the internal movements found in every brand of luxury watch – TAGHeuer, Breitling, Omega, Panerai etc. Last time I checked only Rolex and Seiko made their own movements. Thus when you buy the brand you’re basically buying the case it comes in and everything under the hood is generic. Lastly, the distribution system for these watches involves huge mark-ups at every level and the watches require bi-annual servicing by official engineers (read “gravy train”) at eye-watering prices in order to maintain the resale value and warranty.

So it’s a dumb idea to buy a luxury watch, right? Nope. I love them.

Just keep in mind that you are not buying (i) status (ii) reliability (iii) investments. You are buying a cool-looking watch that accessorises your personal identity. With that in mind, you won’t have a watch for all occasions, picked for something so primitive as telling the time. You will buy a number of watches to suit different outfits and social settings.

1. Friday Night Lounge Bar

After a hard week’s graft in the office you’ll be headed to the local pub for a quick snifter with your work colleagues and then perhaps across to Soho to rendevous with your best friends for some carousing of the ladies. Chances are you’ve dressed down for Friday’s work but are closer to sunday best than casual. Perhaps dark fashionable jeans and a well-fitted semi-formal shirt. Your outfit is projecting the air of a competent high-status breadwinner ready to throw off the responsibilities of his week. In this case I recommend the Panerai Luminor Marina.

This watch balances a retro military feel with it’s chunky bezel and functional dial, together with a sheen of sophistication and leather-strapped maturity. It’s also the Rambo watch. When Sylvestor Stallone was in Italy during filming of his disaster movie Daylight he stumbled across an old vintage Panerai in a curio shop. He inquired and subsequently bought shares in the ramshackle watch company and then commissioned 50 specially-designed Slytech watches given away to his best buddies in Hollywood. It didn’t take many A-lister parties before people started noticing the watch they were all wearing and overnight Panerai could start charging £5k per item.

2. Daily Activity

It’s Sunday afternoon and you are driving over to a friend’s house for summer barbeque. Perhaps it’s Tuesday evening and you’ve packed your sportsbag before headed over to Muay Thai training. You’re in casual jeans, leather boots, and a t-shirt. A normal physically active guy going through his day with vim and vigour. Take a Hublot Big Bang.

The rubber strap gives it a sporty durable look while the exaggerated chunkiness of the ceramic bezel and brushed-steel mount fondly recall the Tonka Toys you smashed up as a young boy. If James Bond is ever assassinated by a super-spy, his vanquisher will be wearing this watch.

3. Gentleman’s Club

Saturday evening and you are in your reading room with old friends, sipping whiskey and puffing on cuban cigars. Soft jazz plays in the background, leather-bound classics line the woodpanelled walls, and you recline peaceably in a chesterfield sofa. As an older man you enjoy the refined luxuries of life. Naturally your watch musn’t overshadow the situation. I recommend the A Lange Sohne Zeitwerk.

There are few social settings in which a simple indented and worn brown leather strap together with rose gold case would not look ostentatious, but your club is were you are at liberty to feel pompous. To offset such detail I suggest simple clean lines on the face and an unusual and retro feel. This is a watch you can take back into the 1940s.

Naturally I don’t suggest you pay full retail price for these timepieces. Find an online dealer in Chinese replicas and then check the replica watch forums for his reputation. Each of these watches will set you back about $140 for a good quality knock-off. When buying replicas, pay attention to the reputation of the dealer rather than fall in love with a particular watch. I got my last few from Watch Eden.

Exposing the undercover scoundrel

There was once a dilemma among the left-leaning pollyanna hippy crowd on how to square their utopian wishes for a tree-hugging kum-bae-ya Avatar-esque society with the readily observable historical cases of surpremely nasty human behaviour such as the Japanese invasion of Manchuria or the German invasion of Eastern Europe. How are we to run a lentil-eating organic collective society without nasty things such as laws, police, and armies unless people are themselves very kindly natured?

In true left-wing fashion the dilemma was buried. Some people came out with the “Germans are different” hypothesis to explain why literally millions of German citizens were able to enthusiastically support, or at least turn a blind eye to, a reign of terror in the East. It’s their Teutonic blood, or their Prussian militarism that leads them to follow orders no matter how foul etc.

The Guardian newspaper stages a rally

To address this question Stanley Milgram conducted his famous experiments on the influence of authority in making normal people commit murderous crimes. He recruited random participants to play the role of teacher in a learning experiment. This was a cover. The real experiment was in how the participants follow clearly immoral orders. An excerpt:

“Teachers” were asked to administer increasingly severe electric shocks to the “learner” when questions were answered incorrectly. In reality, the only electric shocks delivered in the experiment were single 45-volt shock samples given to each teacher…. Shock levels were labeled from 15 to 450 volts….. In response to the supposed jolts, the “learner” (actor) would begin to grunt at 75 volts; complain at 120 volts; ask to be released at 150 volts; plead with increasing vigor, next; and let out agonized screams at 285 volts. Eventually, in desperation, the learner was to yell loudly and complain of heart pain.

At some point the actor would refuse to answer any more questions…. Teachers were instructed to treat silence as an incorrect answer and apply the next shock level to the student.”

What percentage of teachers, if any, do you think went up to the maximum voltage of 450?

“Results from the experiment: Some teachers refused to continue with the shocks early on, despite urging from the experimenter. This is the type of response Milgram expected as the norm. But Milgram was shocked to find those who questioned authority were in the minority. Sixty-five percent (65%) of the teachers were willing to progress to the maximum voltage level.”

Zimbardo carried out a similar experiment in which two groups of participants were randomly assigned roles as “prisoner” and “guard” for a two-week simulation of a prison. The experiment had to be abandoned because the fakr guards quickly became violently abusive to the fake prisoners. The simple takeaway from these experiments is thus:

Despite all the outward signs of normal decent behaviour, a huge proportion of people will rapidly display brutal behaviour when situations either pressure them or make it advantageous to do so.

That next-door neighbour of yours who smiles and nods at you but you don’t quite trust? In 1990s Bosnia he’d be denouncing you to the secret police in order to steal your house. That co-worker who is unhesitatingly polite in meetings but seems to always dodge the unwelcome projects? In 1930s Soviet Union he’d petition the NKVD to send you to the gulag so he can take your job. So how can you spot these snakes in normal stable society? I have a few rules of thumb all of which involve paying close attention to the dropping of the mask.

A russian commissar at heart

1. Observe them in moments of discomfort. Even the most despicable scumbag can maintain his mask of civilisation when comfortably housed, fed and employed. It is when their comfort is disturbed and suddenly a gap opens between the right thing to do and the thing that restores comfort, that’s when you watch. That’s why you learn a man’s character in the boxing ring when you spar him. I’ve had partners bite, scratch, run, and worse show a sadistic gleam in the eye when getting the better of a weaker opponent. These are the concentration camp guards of the future. Watch your friends when you are talking to girls they fancy and those little things they do to try to slit your throat. Watch momentary hesitation as they calculate if they can get away with something selfish.

2. Watch how they treat the little people. Most scoundrels will act with due decorum and politeness when dealing with equals whose responses can affect their quality of life. It’s a rational selfish calculation. Those same scoundrels change when dealing with people who are unable to present them with consequences to their actions. How do they deal with serving staff, or secretaries, or call centre salesmen? How do they talk to a helpdesk employee when they are complaining about a problem in their service? Be very careful of those people who treat the little people as subhuman.

3. Let them talk about taboo subjects when they think you agree. Don’t stop and disagree with them, just let them talk. Scoundrels will often unleash a torrent of envious negativity and in particular will betray a habit of assigning certain groups to the collective bin of “subhuman” and then propose mistreatment. For example, the Left will often look to classify a rival as “racist” and then strip them of their right to a job, a social life, and their freedom. The vindictiveness of their persecution is something to behold. For evidence, just follow any news story when a public figure utters a non-PC statement. The only thing stopping such scoundrels from sending thought-criminals to the gulags is that we live in 2012 Britain not 1935 Russia. However, don’t mistake this with profiling based on collective factors. It is one thing to point to an observable, defendable fact (e.g. “95% of interracial rape is black men raping white women” or “almost all terrorism against the UK is commited by Islamists or Irish”) but quite another thing entirely to strip blacks, muslims and Irish of individual human freedoms simply because they belong to these identity groups.

4. Link patterns of improbable coincidence. I once met an English guy in Tokyo who had several fistfights with drunken Japanese on the last train home after drinking. I knew the wife of a friend who kept quitting / being fired because every one of her bosses was an arsehole. In each case, consider the wild improbability that these sequences were coincidence. Bad people frequently get into trouble and they can be skilled in rationalising each isolated event as not being their fault. Don’t buy it.

None of these methods are infalliable. People are complex creatures and while someone may be an arsehole at the “retail” level (never buying drinks, spouting hate etc) they may suddenly show strong moral character at the “wholesale” level (when the shit really hits the fan). Nonetheless, don’t be lulled to sleep by the wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Lessons from The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas’ serialised novel The Count of Monte Cristo (Hereafter ‘TCMC’) caused a sensation upon it’s 1844 release. As relayed by Luc Sante:

“The effect of the serials, which held vast audiences enthralled … is unlike any experience of reading we are likely to have known ourselves, maybe something like that of a particularly gripping television series. Day after day, at breakfast or at work or on the street, people talked of little else”

Should you read it’s 875 pages of dense type you’ll see why. Few novels are so able to maintain a fast pace, wide scope, deep characterisations, and also suck you into their period through details. This in itself would be enough but it is also chock full of life lessons. I first heard about the book while watching Dr Paul’s “Deep Inner Game” dvd series. He used the plot as a metaphor for the rites of passage from boy to man. In bare bones:

ze Count

Boys have not yet taken the weight of responsibility upon their shoulders so they are carefree and looked after by their elders. As they advance through puberty they must develop the leadership and direction of manhood. This is not easy so most traditional societies structure the transformation with a symbolic rite of passage. The boy is metaphorically killed and the man rises from those ashes. Note there is no equivalent process for women – simply reaching physical sexual maturity is sufficient for a girl to become a woman. For men, effort and sacrifice is required.

TCMC is a literary rite of passage for the lead character Edmond Dantes as he opens the novel a wide-eyed precocious teenager full of love, trust and naivete. He is promptly betrayed by jealous rivals and locked away in a dungeon for 14 years. During his incarceration he befriends the wizened Abbe Faria who bestows upon him a full renaissance education and faciliates his escape. The now “man” Dantes dedicates his next twenty years to exacting a cunning revenge on his persecutors. Read this way, TCMC is a blueprint for masculine development and this strongly recommend to those of my readers who wish to style themselves renaissance men.

A different theme that intrigued me is that of revenge. There’s no question this is primarily a revenge fantasy and Dantes dedicates fourteen years of incarceration to plotting it then another twenty years exacting it. His net of retribution, although tightly aimed, enmeshes many bystanders who the book takes care not to position as “innocent” but are not among his persecutors. Towards the conclusion Dantes ruminates on whether he was justified in his actions (he ultimately concludes “yes”) particuarly in how he ruins the live of his faithless fiancee and also indirectly causes the death of a small, though wicked, boy.

Rollo Tomassi wrote an interesting juxtaposition advising against the cold flame of vengeance. To paraphrase he suggests the emotional energy and resources directed towards carrying out revenge would be better disposed of in making your life better i.e. living well is the best revenge.

“For so long as you consider revenge, no matter how petty, you’ll still be attached to the emotions of that rejection. Accept the rejection, move on, rejection is better than regret… beware the ‘Well-lived’ life spent in pursuit of revenge. Revenge should never be the motivation for success. Even the time and mental effort needed to consider some appropriate way of making her aware of how she made you feel are resources better spent on meeting new prospective women who will reciprocate your interest. The root of confidence is developing, recognizing and acknowledging as many personal options as possible. Any effort you’d expend on revenge is a wasted opportunity to better yourself. Indifference to detractors and personal success are a far better revenge than any one sided injury you could inflict on them in return.”

Dante’s revenge is not a buffer against rejection but rather is a settling of accounts against men who have deliberately wronged him. Also, the pain suffered by Dantes is several orders of magnitude higher than the type Rollo considers. Initially it is difficult to see why Dantes didn’t merely declare the vendetta and assassinate his persecutors at the earliest opportunity, sticking a knife in their ribs in some dark alley rather than the laborious public ruination that he actually inflicts. The reason is Providence. Dantes comes to believe he is chosen by God to punish the wicked (due to the sheer improbability of how he is furnished with the means to exact revenge) but it must be accomplished slowly to give the wicked ample opportunity to repent and thus be spared. Because of his mission he does not consider his efforts in exacting revenge to be wasted.

Personally, I’d have just murdered my enemies and then moved on to other things. A man should not allow others to take what is his. When jackals transgress the rule of law and hurt you, you are required to exact revenge in order to maintain your boundaries. Allowing the cold streak of cowardice into your heart will hobble you for life. This does, of course, assume you were significantly wronged. Having your pint spilled in a pub doesn’t count.

A fleeting encounter in Chiang Mai

I’ve been in Chiang Mai for almost two weeks, bunking down in a private apartment near the university district and heading to the muay thai gym four times a week. Training in 30C+ heat after a long jog under the blazing mid-afternoon sun can give one a rude awakening about one’s fitness. Determined as I am to improve my conditioning and drop some weight, I have to gather all my mental resources when my legs alternate between jelly and lead. Yet every evening as I lie on the massage mat and get rubbed down after training, I feel great.

We chose Chiang Mai due to it’s far less seedy atmosphere than the likes of Bangkok or Phuket. My fledging thai language study doesn’t allow us to properly integrate with the locals but we do at least see how normal thais live. We find a farang-friendly riverside bar near the Old Town and take a well-earned break to watch live music.

lively

This whole country has an hormone imbalance in the current generation. For the most part the women are cute and feminine but there is an absolute abundance of lesbians. Little frumpy girls with short quiffed hair and serious expressions. There’s probably ten times as many as would naturally occur. The men are a joke. Except for those small oasis of muay thai gyms, there is barely a milligram of testosterone in the whole country, of the younger generation at least. The men are all skinny, weak, mincing push-overs supplicating desperately to the women. Ugh.

Brutus and I get a drink and install ourselves against a pillar to watch the band as they run through a set of Greenday and Republica covers. There’s a din of light-hearted chat and the pub is bathed in a warm glow. We already stand out from everyone else. Apart from their obvious physical differences, the thai men are determined to wreck their intrigue and vibe by shamelessly pandering to the girls and then jumping up and down to the music in the vain hope they score by being “fun”. The few farang are seriously creepy. One such low-life is blatantly angling to touch-up and probably date-rape a wasted-drunk local girl. Others are breaking out into short solo dances then value-scanning the bar to see if any girls noticed.

Reconstructed with actors

We ignore them all. Just watch the band and talk to ourselves.

I see a smoking hot local girl with exactly the balance between beautiful and sexy. A swishy polka-dotted summer dress flows from her figure, her long tresses of black hair are softly pulled back into a ponytail, and she has on big fat black geek spectacles. Her whole aura exudes elegance. My blood bubbles. This is the girl for me. Within a few minutes she walks past with her plain friend so I turn and stop them. It’s loud, the English is strained so after a minute I say thank you and turn back to the music. But it’s long enough to make a favourable impression. She returns to her group on the veranda by the river.

Ten minutes later she manoeuvres near to us on one side, then the other. I feign inattention. Another ten minutes and she’s back again so this time I say hello and offer her a spot in front of me. She begins a pleasing gyrating dance that is the right side of slutty. She’s showing me how sexy she is without slippy over into attention whoring. Again I feign indifferences. She stops, confused. She restarts the dance, and so on. Ten minutes of me gazing over her to attend to the band and I finally talk to her. She jumps at it. I confirm not only does she fancy me but she’s not just trying to tool me. I like her more at this juncture. She’s the most suitable girl I’ve met since my arrival.

Ok, you've convinced me

She has to rejoin her group of three friends and an old Korean guy who seems to be some kind of esteemed guest that they are showing around. As the night winds down I decide I’ll have her but I’m certain it won’t be tonight. Too much social pressure and her vibe wasn’t “fuck me” it was “I like you”. Brutus and I decamp to the veranda and for the next quarter hour the girl keeps stealing glances at me and smiling. Surrepticiously she lets me break her off from her group for long enough to exchange details. For the first time in a month I’m having a strong physiological response. My heart is beating faster when I look at her and I’m absorbed in her manner and beauty. That does not usually happen.

Fate has put this onto the backburner. She texts me the next day to say she’s in the airport on her way back to Bangkok. Still, it’s always enlivening to share romantic moments with a real woman.

Le Mans

I’m sitting in our cinema room with Dante as we dig in to a steak and veg meal I rustled up. He opens a bottle of good red wine to wash it down with. We feel like putting on an old Steve McQueen movie. I have Le Mans.

What a movie! It’s like a fly-on-the-wall documentary of the 1971 contest between Porsche and Ferrari. Barely a word is spoken until thirty minutes in as we are instead immersed in the atmosphere and spectacle of the world’s coolest race. There’s large trucks carrying sleek race cars into the circuit, pit crews busying around with last-minute preparations, race-goers from far flung countries converging on the campsites that encircle the track. I could almost smell the petrol and oil.

Interesting is the depiction of the drivers and their world. It’s a treehouse with no girls allowed. These are driven men, all over thirty, all conducting themselves with poise, class and self-belief. There’s some great exchanges where the modesty of the words belies the surpreme confidence with which they are uttered. A journalist asks Steve McQueen’s rival if he expects the race to be between them. He smiles and answers “He’s fast. I’m fast.” A few elegant women orbit around the racers without ever succumbing to the vulgarity of groupie-hood. Real elegant young women with grace and character. One such is the widow of a racer McQueen’s character had a crash with the prior year. After many deeply emotional but outwardly reticent scenes, including a tense shared coffee during a driver changeover, she asks him:

Lisa Belgetti: When people risk their lives, shouldn’t it be for something very important?

Michael Delaney: Well, it better be.

Lisa Belgetti: But what is so important about driving faster than anyone else?

Michael Delaney: Lotta people go through life doing things badly. Racing’s important to men who do it well. When you’re racing, it’s life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting.

I turn to Dante and comment “What must it feel like to be a woman in this environment?Even a 10 brings nothing to the table better than what the men already have.” This is life as it should be. All the men were the best side of thirty, living interesting lives, comfortable in their world and it just came across so natural that these beautiful young women would not only seek them out but willingly place themselves below the men.

There's also a classic watch

That’s it. Decided. This June we shall attend Le Mans. Steve-o has sold us on it. Why aren’t we touring Europe for all the big events. Paris-Dakar rally? Monaco GP? There must be some horseracing somewhere too. It’s not enough to be sitting in a Turkish bazaar sipping coffee while I haggle over rugs, nor enough to dabble in tapas at a Seville bar, nor even a pai-au-chocolat outside the Paris opera house. It’s not enough to see the world. I want to see the world’s events.

A man must fight

Gene Tunney, arguably the best heavyweight champion in history and himself a renaissance man, titled his autobiography “A Man Must Fight”. Boxing fans know him principally for his dethroning of the beloved Jack Dempsey by shutout decision and then the allegedly controversial “long count” rematch. He also shares with Rocky Marciano and Lennox Lewis the distinction of being the only heavyweight champs to retire having beaten every man he faced. Impressive.

Moments before a fight of legendary savagery

I hold an affection for Tunney because not only was he a well-rounded, cerebal man as comfortable in the social circles of the heiress he married as he was in the prize ring, but he was also a dedicated humble man with incredible courage and determination as exemplified by his first bout with my all-time favourite fighter Harry Greb. Witness his own description from his book:

In the first exchange of the fight, I sustained a double fracture of the nose which bled continually until the finish. Toward the end of the first round, my left eyebrow was laid open four inches… In the third round another cut over the right eye left me looking through a red film. For the better part of twelve rounds, I saw this red phantom-like form dancing before me.

It is impossible to describe the bloodiness of this fight. My seconds were unable to stop either the bleeding from the cut over my left eye, which involved a severed artery, or the bleeding consequent to the nose fractures…..

… The bell rang for the thirteenth round; the seconds pushed me from my chair. I actually saw two red opponents. How I ever survived the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth rounds is still a mystery to me. At any rate, the only consciousness I had was to keep trying. I knew if I ever relaxed, I should either collapse or the referee would stop the brutality. After the gong sounded, ending the fifteenth round, I shook hands with Greb and mumbled through my smashed and swollen lips, “Well, Harry, you were the better man, to-night!” and I meant that literally. Harry missed the subtlety of the remark, for he said, “Won the championship,” and was dragged from me by one of his seconds, who placed a kiss on his unmarked countenance.

A man must fight. There are rituals in all societies marking a boy’s ascent to manhood. The English rural artistocrats would blood their sons on hunting day, for example. Fighting is integral to a fully actualised man’s demeanor. Like saying, “he’s a lover not a fighter. But he’s also a fighter so don’t get any ideas.” You can see the difference in body language and presence between a man who has fought and acquitted himself to his own satisfaction and the lilly-livered pussy who still fears physical confrontation. “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?” ask’s Fight Club’s Tyler Durden. This doesn’t count as a fight…..

My first fight came in Japan in an amateur kickboxing show. I’d signed up on a whim, having read Kurt Angle‘s biography while on holiday in Thailand and then returned to Tokyo with a drive to put myself into the ring and see what I’m made of. Before then I’d been practicing a sophisticated ego-driven avoidance by training martial arts but finding excuses not to fight. So I sign up and train hard for six weeks with roadwork, good diet, and frequent sparring. By the final week my body is at it’s lifetime peak of fitness. I wake every morning feeling like I’ve won the genetic lottery. I’m full of pep and spring for whatever the day throws at me. It’s a feeling of almost indescribable physical bliss. But I’m ill-prepared for the effects of adrenalin.

A week before the fight a tiny kernal of stress balls itself up in the pit of my stomach and begins growing relentlessly. I get increasingly distracted from my daily tasks as my mind wanders to my opponent and fight night. I struggle to get good sleep and my appetite wanes. The closest analogy I can find is the week before an important exam. I understand now why trainers say most fights are lost in the dressing room. It’s a struggle to master the adrenalin and the emotions it brings. But as fight day arrives I feel good.

The fight itself is a blur. I forget all my higher skills, forced to get by on muscle memory and determination. I take far more punches than in the gym and I can hear my girlfriend shouting “Don’t hit my boyfriend!” But I perserve until the fight finishes with my chasing my opponent around the ring because I hit much harder than he. He gets a well-earned decision based on his good start. We shake hands and as my seconds remove my gloves my girl can’t keep her hands off me. The power of testosterone! I retire to the best shower of my life and for a week afterwards I’m walking on air. I’m blooded. I know more about myself. In the early-going I was battered from pillar-to-post and never gave up.

artist's impression

So as I write I’m sitting in my Thai apartment the morning after watching a gym-mate headline a small hall muay thai show. He’s a 45-yr old former fighter (not high level, just avid martial artist) who wanted one last chance to experience the thrill of the ring. In truth it was a poor fight. He’s shot. I’d only met him that night, as it was my first day in Thailand, but simply watching him perform the pre-fight Wai Kru ritual I knew he was done. His body was too stiff, too ringworn, I knew he wouldn’t even be able to turn his kicks over at the hip. It was exciting while it lasted but eventually he retired on his stool at the end of the fourth with a broken rib and right hand.

Disappointed? You wouldn’t know to look at him. He’d been in the ring with the buzz of adrenalin, the din of a cheering crowd, and the look of satisfaction of having been hit hard but give it back as best as he could. Needless to say the women mobbed him.

Igor Vovchanchyn: King of bare-knuckle fighting

There was a time when Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) was called No Holds Barred (NHB) and it really was. No gloves, no time limits, no referee standups, no Affliction t-shirts. This was before MMA become dominated by West Coast cookie-cutter douchebags with questionable facial hair, tribal tattoos and sloppy kickboxing. Back in the old NHB days (circa 1993-1998) promotions held one-night 8-man tournaments stacked with genuinely interesting fighters with contrasting styles.

IVC in Brazil

The sport was more intriguing in it’s infancy. It was spectacle but it was also psychologically different to it’s modern sanitised incarnation. Murillo Bustamante, himself a great bare-knucle fighter, put it best in an interview with the old Full Contact Fighter newspaper:

Imagine two similar scenarios, that differ in only one detail. A guy flies you by helicopter 100 miles into the desert and leaves you next to a big rock. The sun is high in the sky. He gets back into the helicopter and says “I’ll be back for you tomorrow.” Now imagine the same scenario but his parting words are simply “good luck.” It’s a massive difference. In the first case you hunker down till the time expires. In the latter case you have to start walking.

That’s what time limits and busybody athletic commissions did to ruin NHB. Just compare the vibe and rawness of these two different fights. Don’t get me wrong, the modern fighters are highly skilled athletes and under the modern rule set they’d beat the old timers. But feel the difference between a fight and a sport. NHB is nature red in tooth and claw.

The annals of NHB greatness are stacked with the names of great men: Jose Pele Landi Jons, Mikhail Avetsyan, Dan Henderson, Vanderlei Silva, Kareem Barkalev, Amar Suloev…. but one name stands above all others. The man who won the most 8-man tournaments in history, who put together an unprecedented undefeated streak (his wiki is incomplete), the first kickboxer to regularly beat BJJ players and wrestlers, a short tubby light-heavyweight who consistently fought and beat the best heavyweights on the planet. Gentlemen, I present Igor Vovchanchyn. The greatest bareknuckle fighter who ever lived.

My favourite Igor moments:

  • He fights a one-night tournament in Israel (Absolute Fighting Championship 3) with a ten minute win over, then comes back for a titantic struggle to edge past Mihkail Avetsyan (himself a great fighter), and with only ten minutes break takes on a fresh Nick Nutter. He’s beaten on for half an hour until his face runs out of blood to bleed from and then he starts headbutting Nutter from the bottom until he breaks his nose and Nutter taps out from the top.
  • In the rematch in Recife, Brazil he meets Nutter in the final of the 8-man tournment. Nutter dives for a double-leg and takes a full-on knee to the face. The fight is over in 10 seconds.
  • Mark Kerr is the next big thing in American NHB. He’s won two UFC tournaments, an 8-man tournament in Brazil, and is looking unstoppable. He’s a herculean figure. Igor meets him in Japan for Pride in 1999. Kerr takes him down, dominates position but just cannot hurt the man. Igor grinds him down with rabbit punches from the bottom, kicks himself free, and finishes the fight with knees to the head. Due a recent rule change the fight is declared a no-contest (though everyone knew who got beat up and who did the beating). In a rematch a year later Kerr fights very scared and lays’n’prays for the distance to hand Igor an official decision win.

I love his attitude, his gameness, his heart, his will to win. And that sneaky way of teasing the left hand to draw opponents onto his money right hand. Igor, we salute you!

The beauty of Cuban cigars

There’s something manly about leaning back in a chair, legs sprawled infront, and a big fat Cuban cigar in your mouth. The greatest dictators of history smoked them. Can you imagine Saddam Hussein or Fidel Castro with a skinny little Lambert & Butler between their teeth as they issue dictats ruining the lives of millions? No you can’t. If you are even able to bring up such a visual image without shuddering then get off my internet now. Cigars are manly.

A requirement for leadership status

So I find myself in a Havana with a couple of friends. We’ve been to Hemingway’s favourite haunt Floridita where I smoked a big fat Cohiba Robusto while knocking back a daiquiri and listened to the beautiful voice of their resident singer. My eyes idly roamed the room and I mentally patted myself on the back. This is living well. In life we get moments that live forever, mental images, smells, sounds that forever recall a feeling of gratification and satisfaction. This was one such moment. The cigar was integral.

I know little about cigars, being pretty new to the experienced (I’m a lifetime non-smoker, since my one and only cigarette was forced onto me by my best friend’s sister when I was seven years old). It all began when Kurtz and Dantes helped me design a Gentleman’s room in our house. It’s a place to be pompous, refined, elitist and manly. Green leather chesterfield sofas, brown velvet drapes, low wattage hidden lighting, jazz music…….. and cigars.

None of us knew the first thing about cigars other than we must begin smoking them. A trip to the local shop brought back Hamlets. Ugh. We upgraded to Henry Wintermans, the best we could find without trekking to a specialist cigar shop. Ugh. So finally I head down Soho and walk into an official Cuban cigar retailer. I explain my trainee-smoker cigar status and the guy recommends some Nicaraguan double maduros for £4 each. Let it be known there is a monumental difference between a well-chosen £4 imported cigar and a £2 supermarket abortion. Monumental. We were on track.

I digress.

$30 should you be interested

Kurtz lets us get picked up by two jineteras outside Hotel Ingleterra, the old colonial watering hole we use to get the only decent sit-down toilet stop in Havana. The girls start their scam at an overpriced bar (we don’t buy them drinks) then we are informed of a special “cooperative” cigar scheme where cigar workers have one day to legally sell top cigars at a fraction of the retail price…. and that day is today. Sure. Right-ho. Not suspicious at all. We check them out and are quoted $120 for 25 Cohiba Esplendidos. We pass but have at least filled in some price information.

A few days later we are in Vinales, a beautiful Northern village that appears to be a magnet for female sex tourists. Never in my life have I seen so many good-looking, suave, salsa-dancing men spend so much effort validating homely ageing Western women far beneath their class. Good luck to them. The day before leaving the older son of the house offers cigars at $70 a box. The negotiation begins.

I walk away with a presentation box of Esplendidos, a cube full of Robustos, and Montecristo No.4s. It’s not till I get back to Mexico (and the internet) I discover the former retail for £35 a piece while the latter are £15. Still, I’ve been reading the Count of Monte Cristo so I just had to have ’em. Money be damned. It costs me £75 for 75 cigars then the guy has a spare box of Romeo Y Julieta Milles Fleurs. He eyes my watch and wonders if I have anything to swap for the box. The irony of the situation is not lost on me: I swap a Chinese imitation Panerai Luminor Marina for what are either imitation or stolen Cuban cigars. When he finds out it’s the watch Stallone wore in the last Rambo movie he’s enthused. It may be the coolest watch in Cuba. Or at least Vinales.

Would sir care for a cigar?

Back in London I need a crash course in cigar husbandry. Ebay furnishes a pleasant Spanish cedar humidor. Dantes will be back from Poland tonight so we intend to retire to the Suite and take a long satisfying smoke.

What does a fully developed man look like?

Vibe – How do you feel when you are around a man? He is fun, relaxed, happy in his skin and with his superiority over those around him. He needs nothing but freely gives of himself. He is the warm end of the pool.

Presence – What is the initial impression that strikes you as you meet for the first time? When you size him up in those first moments how does he make you take note and think “this guy has something about him?” It’s a combination of physical competence, grooming, dress, body language, facial expression.

Mastery – A man is master of his world. He has seen it, done it, become extremely good at it. Whether he’s observing the world with clarity, advising a protege, or playing chess he is able and focused.

Intrigue – He leads a lifestyle of experience and magnitude. He travels, he fights, he loves, he drinks. When sitting at a dinner party with a fully developed man he weaves story upon story into a early hours as everyone sits fascinated.

Male development visualised

The Mission

Here I outline what I’m doing and why. The aim is to fully develop as a man and lead a lifestyle of epic coolness for my own gratification. Over time I’ll figure out teachable theories and maybe write a book. For now, it’s just a journey.