The Fighting Life of Gary “Big Daddy” Goodridge
Gary Goodridge and Mark Dorsey
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
The world of Mixed Martial Arts autobiographies is not a large one. The number of notable fighters who have penned their life stories will continue to grow as the sport establishes itself, and while there have been some impressive books on charismatic names, there has yet to be that one book to set the stage: the groundbreaking, genre-establishing, eye-opening presentation that will set the ground rules for all others.
Gatekeeper may be that book.
While it is under 200 pages, the life of Gary Goodridge – as presented by Goodridge and Mark Dorsey – covers all the bases and provides a depth of the man who established himself as one of the most enduring names of the MMA industry.
Most importantly, Goodridge never shies away from his life. While so many autobiographies and biographical attempts tend towards avoidance and side-stepping, or outright disseminations, there’s no sense of that with Goodridge. He knows where he went, what he did, and what he could have done better.
And for a memoir, his level of brutal honesty is equal to the brutality of his battles – in a ring or in a cage or in the realities of the various stages of his life.
Beyond the fighting, Gary Goodrige makes it known what shaped his adulthood. His childhood was not easy, and his failed relationships are explored with a resignation and an understanding of where he went wrong. And the poignant relationship between himself and his father, what can be considered the root cause and painful influence on his many life choices, is definitely a place where the book paints a striking portrait.
What also impressed me was the writing about fighting.
Goodridge may not provide a blow-by-blow accounting of all his fights, but he does explore tactics and strategy, his mindset in many of his biggest fights, and his attitudes before, during and after those fights. His wars with Mark Coleman, Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira are made vastly more interesting by his insights, and this approach should set the standards for all future MMA reflections.
This same approach made me greatly appreciative of his attempts to get into boxing and then his arm-wrestling career. In boxing, Goodridge learned quickly that the sport is all about “head trauma” and a brutal one-sided battle with David Bostice showed him that he was in the wrong sport. In arm-wrestling, Goodridge provides insight into his biggest competitors (Cleve Dean, John Brzenk), how he approached his matches and how the fame in that sport helped to launch his UFC appearances.
Which, unfortunately, never seemed to end well.
But the fighting spirit of Gary Goodridge, plus success in Vale Tudo, helped him gain a spot in PRIDE, and to the Japanese crowds, he was always more than just a journeyman fighter, and he eventually established himself in the slot of being the man to beat to earn entrance into PRIDE.
Fans of the UFC these days may not appreciate that position, since UFC is all about weight classes, and PRIDE and the top Japanese MMA promotions were far more interested in putting together big names, celebrities and expectations of big fights and never seemed to have a sense of structure.
In that environment, Gary Goodridge was a big (Trinidadian/Tobagonian by way of Canada) fighter who was known to have knockout power, enough submissions skills and that most important element – the fighting spirit – to put on entertaining battles.
And battle he did, taking on the biggest names in the business, losing and winning almost equally, but losing in spectacular fashion at times.
While he never reached an acclaim in the United States that he earned in Japan, Goodridge definitely deserves the attention of a fighter who saw wars in the early, formative years of MMA, and saw the evolution of the sport, fighting guys like Alistair Overeem and Gegard Mousasi in 2010. Along the way, he was challenged by the best and almost every named fighter in the business during the run that PRIDE had, and he’s fought in likely every MMA promotion in the world.
“Gatekeeper” is truly a well earned moniker for the man, and his wars with Don Frye, among others, made his mark on the sport. Goodridge has a record of nearly fifty fights, and a better that .500 record in his career. He became the measuring stick for fighters wanting to earn their keep in Japan, and made his name across the world – first in arm-wrestling and then with MMA.
But the battles and trouble he faced in ‘real life’ were of similar interest. Even when causing his own issues, notably in his womanizing and following the footsteps of his father, Goodridge presents his side of the story, pulls no punches, and analyzes his life with the same approach he does his fighting career.
Delving into personal issues isn’t in the cards of this review, but those are in the book, and it is an open book of personal failings, personal demons and most importantly, recognizing the good and the bad of his actions and how they affected his loved ones. The stories he shares, of his father, of his lovers, of his daughter, are as impressive as the insight and analysis of his fights.
The matter-of-fact style of the writing is what makes the book shine: from his childhood and his ongoing family relationships, to his learning to deal with his aggression and his avenues of channeling his talent into professional careers, to his current situation. Goodridge is now struggling with having his brain rocked by too many punches, realizing that the impact of what brought him fame has now left him with damages and tragically, not enough of what he earned.
Gatekeeper is a deeply personal account of the life of one of MMA’s most interesting fighters. For fight fans looking for more insight into the MMA industry, for fans of Gary Goodridge and for those looking for a fascinating life story – told by a man who owns up to his decisions – it is a book that I cannot recommend enough.