When UFC middleweight Josh Samman talks about his first book, “The Housekeeper: Love, Death & Prizefighting,” he first wants to make it clear what it’s not.
“It’s not an autobiography,” he said. “It’s not something chronicling my whole life from beginning to end. It’s a memoir. It’s to connect with folks that are going through similar life experiences.”
He’s right. It’s not an autobiography. To add to that, it’s not even a mixed martial arts book. Samman’s fighting career is an obvious thread throughout, given that it’s his day job, but it’s not a blow by blow account of every fight, training session and event.
That’s a good thing. MMA books have a checkered past, and rightfully so if you’ve read some of them. Yet when you take that past and add in Samman’s desire to self-publish “The Housekeeper,” it was a recipe for disaster.
But only if you didn’t know just how good a writer he is. UFC.com readers will be familiar with his work, and the Florida native took it up several notches for this book. Then again, with a story like his, it may have been impossible to not make it a compelling read.
But it’s not just his story. In fact, it would be fair to describe this as a dual life story of Samman and his longtime girlfriend, who he refers to as “Isabel” to protect some sensitive aspects of her life. As UFC fans are likely aware, Isabel died tragically in a 2013 car accident, with Samman’s subsequent win over Eddie Gordon on her birthday in 2014 being the touchstones for most familiar with the fighter’s story.
But there is so much more there, as readers of “The Housekeeper” will find out. At its heart, it’s a love story, one with all the twists and turns you would expect, but also with a bond that was destined to stand the test of time and force Samman to make some tough decisions that he would ultimately look back at as not as tough as he thought they would be. The tragedy that ended that story takes on even more gravity when you consider what it took to reach that point. To live through it is bad enough. To write about it, words are hard to find when defining that struggle.
“These were things that I never wanted to rehash or think about again, but it was necessary,” he said. “I couldn’t leave that stuff out. While I consider it a big, sappy love story, I still had to have some of the stories of my early life and why it was very atypical and unconventional at those times as well.”
That meant opening new wounds that didn’t just hit home to Samman, but to family and friends, and especially his mother.
“She said it was haunting,” Samman said. “She loved it and was very proud, but the end is very heavy. Part of my grieving process and closure is holding my hands over the fire and I try to become callous to it. And no matter how many times I did that, there were chapters in this book that I read seven, eight, nine times just to edit, and I cried every time. And I was the one who wrote it.”
Reading it will provoke similar feelings, but when it’s over, you feel like Samman hasn’t produced a work designed to sell a million books or hit the bestseller list, though it’s deserving of both honors. Instead, he paid tribute to his lady and their relationship in the most honest way possible. Professional prizefighting just happened to be along for the ride. And even though there were dark days, the light at the end of the tunnel is that he finished the book. For her and no one else. We’re just lucky enough to have been allowed in the door.
“When I look at life, it’s binary to me,” he said. “You either keep the light switch on or off. It’s either a 1 or a 0. You either give up or you don’t. With talent, there’s a whole spectrum of levels, and I’d much rather accept that I made it through and I pushed the fear to the side and there was something better coming from it in the form of a piece of art. It’s not enough for me to just say I made it; my objective is to say I made it and I made it because I had to create this thing. I’d much rather be known for talented writing than for not giving up, not blowing my brains out, or whatever the case may be.
“Had I known that it would have taken almost three years to write, I don’t know if I would have done it,” Samman continued. “It was the most difficult, time consuming, delayed gratification experience I ever had in my life.”
All great art is, isn’t it? But to find a way to have that art matter to someone not directly involved in the process is a rare gift. Samman won’t be bold enough to say that about “The Housekeeper.” But he does hope readers can take something away from it.
“It’s all human stuff,” he said. “All things that we deal with. We all eventually deal with a loved one dying. We all deal with addiction, whether it’s ourselves or loved ones or whatever. We all deal with self-doubt and rejection and heartbreak. This is my story. For me, the purpose of life is to ride this journey and share it with people. Otherwise, what’s the point?”