April 4, 2008

Having watched his copter cab ascend into the night, Brian Pain swiveled towards the seven or eight steps that led to James Jones’ apartment block. He was reminded of a favourite story; someday the rulers of the world would walk up through the terraces on Mount Carmel to pay homage to the Báb. No doubt that would be the day when the Faith would rule the world through the loving leadership of the Universal House of Justice… allowing Heaven to be brought forth on Earth.

Regularly, Brian fantasized about a situation where he headed that regal procession up the mountain to their dome. Today, he’d climb these few steps and talk to the House of Justice via the Stream. Tomorrow, who knows, the mountain might be in play. The higher-ups were beginning to take notice of him at last. He was certain he was destined for greatness.

The thirty eight year old Baha’i convert is an enormous man; well over two metres tall and as compact as concrete. At 140kg, Brian is the very convincing, you’d-think-twice pack leader of the Baha’i Defenders. The ‘Beadies’ form an unofficial cadre that keeps the Baha’i Stream forums safe from the agitating Apostinals. More on the Apostinals and the Edinburgh Crew later, first though, some background on Brian and his chain to Layla.

Brian believes in the significance of coincidences. Understandably so. They have played a big part in his life. How fortuitous was it that he should get a job working on the Layla repository just when the House needed to know about it? Tell me that. Brian would tell you that there was no luck involved; it was meant to be. Brian could easily fill an hour recounting his coincidences but, rather than listen to him to do that, be assured that the following two and a half examples are sufficient.

One – Pain was his birth name and pain was his game.

Brian is a real life warrior and is still only 15kg above his fighting weight. From his mid twenties to his early thirties, he was heavily involved in the Mixed Martial Arts scene at an elite level. He was a very talented fighter with excellent standup and ground games. He specialized, however, in submission holds. Many of his victories came by way of a rear naked choke, his opponents struggling to tap out before they passed out.

He was often on the card of major fight nights and became quite the international celebrity. At one point, he fought for the heavyweight championship of one of the larger MMA brands. Although he lost on points he often said, quite correctly, that he’d gone all the way with the toughest and meanest in the business.

Two – Just when he needed something spiritual in his life, some greater purpose in his life, it arrived.

As his prospects in the ring declined he began to teach more. He opened a Mixed Martial Arts gym just off Tyra Banks Street in Inglewood, Los Angeles. It was here that he trained two Baha’i kids who invited him to the nearby Baha’i centre for a holy day celebration. Brian was warmly received there and lapped up the attention. Later, exiting happily through the centre’s revolving door, he had a bag of Baha’i literature in tow.

That night and three nights, over a few beers, he read a book called ‘God Passes By’. He loved it, especially the ‘bawby’ battles scenes. It cast him back to his glory days in the cage; the pre-fight entrance; the adulation of the fans, the pounding music, the bloody and bone cracking battle; the ecstasy of victory. Those people, the Baha’is, they had looked up to him so much. They needed a hero like him. On the last night, “I am God” he thought, and went to sleep.

Although never a religious man, he visited the Baha’i centre quite regularly over the next few months. There was great food, friendly people and the two-times divorcee was quite taken with some of the ladies. One night, an out-of-town couple gave a lecture about progressive revelation. They told of how the prophet-founder Bahá’u’lláh was a direct descendent of King David and that his forerunner, the Báb, was a direct descendent of Mohammed thereby fulfilling both Biblical and Islamic prophesy. Neat. That clicked, Brian was in. With his eyes wide open he wondered why he hadn’t been told such important information before.

Two and a Half – Brian felt attracted to God’s latest messenger but revulsion for Layla.

Brian would be incensed at the very God forbid of it, but without Layla he would not wake up each morning with such rose-smelling certitude.

He would never have adventured with his new holy family, Laleh and the two boys, across the oceans to the Holy Land.

And there’s no way he could have spent a night alone inside the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, sobbing and slumbering in the kind of cold. It was a surreal and trembling experience for Brian – to be so close to the omnipotent God when all the world was elsewhere. No, he couldn’t have been tossed the keys to let himself in. The experience left an indelible mark on him which sometimes came out inappropriately. As he’d said to a particularly snotty nosed Apostinal “When you fuck with Baha’u’llah, you fuck with me”. Oww.

Layla had rejected the Baha’i Faith. It was incomprehensible to Brian how anyone, given this spiritual knowledge on a platter, could turn away from it. The more miracles Layla appeared to perform, the more Brian was reassured that she was the evil. The letters from the House had been loving yet clearly cautionary. She was an impediment to the Cause. A distortion. Brian couldn’t see the connection between Layla and those two Baha’i kids that trained with him because he hated her so much. She had humiliated and disrespected the sport he loved.

Her place is empty.

In 2009, near the end of her ‘wayward’ years, Layla had actually taken on the reigning middleweight MMA champion, Boris Demidov, and beat him convincingly. For sure, it was a red letter day for the Persian diaspora but the Baha’is amongst them – oh they were self-esteeming. Wherever Iranian exiles gathered for their tea and sugar, some Baha’i orator would animatedly demonstrate where Layla sat in his extended family. The old gag ‘anywhere she wanted’ was often the skeptics retort. The speaker would shake his head and, after regaining full attention, sorrowfully sigh ‘her place is empty’.

Brian didn’t understand the enormous influence that Layla had on a large section of the Baha’i rank-and-file. Although she was officially frowned upon, the Baha’i Administration could not suppress this low-born enthusiasm. Once a Baha’i child found out that the astonishing Layla was born a Persian Baha’i at the World Centre with all those famous people doting on her – well it took a lot to dull those embers. (Although some joke that a year or two of service on a Baha’i local council usually gets rid of the brighter sparks.)

Following her spectacular victory, Mixed Martial Arts became quite fashionable in Baha’i youth circles, especially among those with traces of a Persian heritage. Over the years, looking to the controversial Layla Parkin as a role model became more than a furtive indulgence for many Baha’is. Despite being forbidden to engage in politics, many found the confidence to create and join the very politically active Global Citizen groups. There, they could express themselves on issues as diverse as poverty, the environment and human rights independently of the views expressed by the Baha’i organisation. Rather than enforce the ‘no politics’ ruling on tens of thousands, the Baha’i authorities redefined political involvement such that the Global Citizen groups were okay. They then merely cautioned the faithful to be careful in their allegiances – and not to forget their responsibility to quench the ever thirsty Baha’i funds.

The Bout

You must have heard about it. No news program was complete without mention and analysis of that upcoming fight. With good reason.

One of the silly things Layla chose to participate in during ‘those’ years was a weight-lifting competition. She won, of course, and in the process set a new world-record for the clean-and-jerk of 300kg. This probably doesn’t surprise you. Afterwards, and a bit tipsy, she publicly boasted about her ‘supernatural ability’ and how she would take on anyone, anytime, in any sport. “Courage MMA” was touring Australia at the time and desperate to increase ticket sales. This was gold for them. They called her on it and she ended up as the main event at an upgraded venue – the massive MCG in Melbourne. She’d been a bit unwilling to participate at first. However, she decided, God bless her, that she’d like to run out onto the MCG at least once in her life.

When the fight was announced, there was a huge explosion of outrage, concern and disbelief. So much frothing that the MCG was sold out and the broadcast rights sold sky-high. Seriously, how could anyone not want to see it? A brutal and titillating contest between a man and a woman. She might die. Or better still… anyway it went ahead.

It didn’t go all Layla’s way.

From the bell in round 1 Layla used her speed and agility to embarrass and toy with the champion Demidov. He would punch and kick and lurch and she would evade then push him away. After two minutes of this showboating, Layla got sloppy and was caught with a big knee to her nose. It broke and blood gushed.

It was clear Layla was in shock. She knelt slowly down to one knee, her hands tenderly touching her face and her mind oblivious to Demidov’s presence. It was a shock for the viewers too; such an awful feeling to see this beautiful girl in such told-you-so distress. And, wearing an expression of aggravated innocence, poor Demidov stopped as well. What was he to do? Kick her in the face again? The referee instinctively wanted to jump between the pair to stop the fight but fought against it; it wouldn’t be right, not yet anyway, you don’t stop a fight for a broken nose.

After a brief spell of surreal inactivity, it dawned on the referee that he should urge the fight to continue. He waved Demidov on and the champion responded by throwing a few haymakers. By this time Layla’s look had gone from shock to sheepish; it was her turn to be embarrassed. However, she had recovered enough to defend herself against this ungainly assault and pushed Demidov away to a distance. They squared up again. As Demidov lunged forward on his next offensive, Layla pulled him down on top of her and caught him in a guillotine choke. Breathless, the astounded world looked on as the seconds passed by. When Demidov went limp, the packed MCG crowd bellowed, howled and snarled.

There was a humourous post-fight media conference. Layla was asked why she hadn’t tried to land any kicks or punches. She said she didn’t want to cause any damage. This was way too arrogant for Buddy Gomes, the light heavyweight champion and Gunter Koch, the heavyweight champion. They both stood up and challenged her go the distance with either of them. She declined saying that a lady never liked to consider herself a heavyweight, and calling oneself a light heavyweight seemed the very definition of denial.

Although the event had been a financial winner for Courage MMA there were ongoing downsides which affected profitability. Their fighters were ridiculed. Demidov retired. Some elements suggested that the fight had been rigged like the old wrestling events and pointed to Demidov’s unwillingness to finish the fight when the opportunity was available. It smacked more than a bloodied nose for the very proud MMA community. Yep, they took it hard.

Brian’s Take

Early in his career, our Brian had trained and fought out of the Demidov gym; run by old man Boris and his three sons. No one spake of it but Brian clearly saw that the Layla incident had cast its shadow over Boris’s soul. When Layla news came on the public Stream, Boris would sneak off to his office to watch it in private. Once, during the “Red Sea Parkin” affair, Brian had followed him and saw him weeping. “I broke her nose Brian” an unmanly Boris had spluttered. Brian had concluded that something underhand must have happened. Layla’s refusal to follow up her great victory was especially suspicious to him. His opinion, which was shared by many, was that Layla had hypnotized Boris and … continued to do so. This was stone cold cheating, which was manifestly unfair and unjust. It enraged Brian that she had got away with it.

Brian’s Layla memories buzzed briefly as he skipped up the steps and hit the communicate to announce his arrival. He waited. “Whatever”, thought Brian shuffling, and mimicking Marlowe, “It was in another country and besides, the bitch is probably dead.”

James Jones, recognizing the big man on his small screen, released the lock on the door. “Allah’u’abhá, Brian. Come on up.” With an inordinate amount of nervous energy, Brian shimmied down the hall, shoulders and arms swaying, on guard to phantom enemies. It should be a good one tonight – local boy.

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