Talking MMA With Rapper N.O.R.E.

Chris Nelson talks music and MMA with rapper Nore.

Chris Nelsonby Chris Nelson

Talking MMA With Rapper N.O.R.E.

Thursday evening, I heard the familiar pling that accompanies an incoming email on my phone. I picked up the device, glanced absentmindedly at the latest press release from Bellator Fighting Championships, and tossed it back down on my desk before doing an entirely unintentional, slapstick comedy-style double-take.


“Super-Star Rapper N.O.R.E [AKA: Noreaga] Will Perform Ben Askren's Walkout Song at Bellator 33 In Philadelphia,” read the subject line.


The hip-hop fan in me was fascinated to see the Queensbridge rap don’s name associated with mixed martial arts, however tenuously, but this pairing required some explanation. Despite being fairly familiar with the artist’s oeuvre, I’d never taken the “Superthug” for an MMA fan. Boxing, sure -- “my dad, he was a boxer, God,” he’d explained on the track “Sometimes” -- but MMA? Furthermore, I’d prejudged Askren, with his trademark wild mop of frizzy hair, to be more of a Phish guy.


While Askren’s musical proclivities remain unclear, I quickly learned that I was wrong about the man from LeFrak City, Queens, N.Y.


“I’ve been quite a fan for a little bit,” the rapper born Victor Santiago, Jr., told “Actually, I first saw it when I was on tour in Japan. This was in maybe 2000, before it was even really called MMA. It was just guys fighting. I remember there was a black guy with blonde hair back then who would take out everybody.”


I surmise that he’s talking about Kevin Randleman in his Pride Fighting Championships days, but N.O.R.E. can’t say for certain.


So, how did the Bellator connection come about?


“My publicist asked if I was a fan of MMA, and I told her I was,” he answers bluntly.


As it turns out, Noreaga won’t be able to perform live at the Oct. 21 Bellator event -- “due to restrictions,” a PR rep quasi-explains -- but he’ll still be in attendance, and Askren will still walk out to N.O.R.E.’s latest single, “Nutcracker,” before his welterweight title bout with defending champ Lyman Good.


As entrance themes go, the Scoop Deville-produced cut is sufficiently hype, boasting an easily-recognizable sample from the Public Enemy classic “Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya Man.”


Asked which MMA fighters he most enjoys watching, N.O.R.E. cites “the real popular guy with the mohawk who was on ‘Entourage,’” as well as “the guy who was in ‘The A-Team’” and “the dude he had beef with.”


“I don’t really know them by name,” he says. “But, I really do like watching them fight.”


Noreaga’s passion for the sport becomes more obvious when I bring up Bob Reilly, the New York assemblyman who’s led a moral crusade against the legalization of MMA in the rapper’s home state.


“Man, he’s corny. F--k him,” N.O.R.E. says, suddenly animated. “What’s the difference from boxing? You’re telling me if a person kicks, that’s promoting violence, but if they knock someone the f--k out with a big glove on, it’s not? It’s the same thing.


“At the end of the day, a lot of people, Congress and all them, they take entertainment too far,” he expounds. ”It’s a sport, but it’s still entertainment, you know? It’s the same thing with hip-hop. Rappers come from the hood, they talk about what’s going on in the hood, but we’re not telling you to go out and do the same thing.


“If everyone took entertainment too seriously, Arnold [Schwarzenegger] wouldn’t be Governor of California, ‘cause he killed more people in movies than rappers ever have in songs.”


On the subject of killing, Noreaga says he’s strayed from the vegan diet he took up a few years ago, but hopes to get back in shape and start eating right again soon. While he hasn’t done much training since his pops made him hit the punching bag, the rapper would like to take up some MMA or jiu-jitsu to stay healthy.


“I never have trained, but I would like to,” he said with a decided note of interest. “Hopefully after I watch these fights, it’ll motivate me to do that.”


Maybe if “Nutcracker” brings Ben Askren good luck, the former NCAA D-I champion can give N.O.R.E. a wrestling lesson or two. In return, Noreaga could offer the University of Missouri alum some wisdom on the benefits of tiger bone.