“Like a lot of people, I grew up loving boxing,” says Krakoff. “When I was a kid, everyone knew who Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Joe Louis were. But [boxing has become] very complicated and too much about the promoters. So I became interested in the martial arts.”
To that end, Krakoff has published a new photography book, “Fighter: The Fighters of the UFC,” out Oct. 16 from Viking Studio. Barneys New York will fete Krakoff and the book with a party tonight.
Ultimate fighting is a blend of jujitsu, judo, karate, boxing, kickboxing and wrestling in which fighters compete bare-handed in a caged “Octagon.” Though it appears barbaric, there are rules — 31 to be precise — which include no eye gouging, no fish hooking and no groin attacks of any kind. Krakoff contends the matches are as contrived and sophisticated as a waltz.
“People have the wrong idea of what it’s about,” he says. “It’s a very technical sport where conditioning is second to none.…I do think football is much more violent and people die every year in boxing. There haven’t been any serious injuries in ultimate fighting.”
Krakoff, who in the last several years has shot Coach’s ad campaigns as well as editorial work when his calendar permits, photographed 33 fighters ranging from light-heavyweight Chuck Liddell to welterweight Georges St.-Pierre. Inspired by Richard Avedon’s “In the American West” portfolio of coal miners and drifters, Krakoff snapped the athletes prefight in front of a seamless white backdrop. The tattooed muscle men’s moods range from pensive to jovial, conflicted to serene.
“I didn’t want traditional fight shots,” Krakoff says of the portraits. “I didn’t want a book of menacing guys pretending that they’re fighting. It’s a cross section of humanity. There were guys that were really outgoing or really quiet. There was no stereotype.”
Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, noted that 85 percent of UFC fighters have college degrees and that they, by and large, aren’t clichéd knuckleheads. “We have a couple of knuckleheads, but for the most part they respect each other, talk to each other before and after the fight and get along really well,” White says. “Not only that, but you get the feeling that when you go to the event, you’re not there for violence and blood.…Boxing has gone downhill in every way shape and form. This is refreshing to a lot of people.”
White estimates the eight-year-old UFC, which holds matches in 170 countries including the Philippines, Australia and several European countries, brings in nearly $1 billion to $2 billion annually. “It’s the fastest-growing sport in the world,” he contends.
Krakoff’s photos will be exhibited at Staley-Wise Gallery in New York from Oct. 28 through Nov. 1. And though the executive has yet to venture into the Octagon himself, he does dabble in the martial arts. “As far as fashion designers go,” Krakoff says, “I’m a pretty good kickboxer.”