The worlds of documentary filmmaking and Mixed Martial Arts have collided numerous times before dating back to “The Smashing Machine,” 2002’s glimpse into the troubled life of Mark Kerr and his battles of both competitive and chemical natures. Since then the bulk of documentaries surfacing with MMA at their core have been similar in the sense their focus has been directed on an individual rather than the sport itself. Fans of Jens Pulver, Jon Fitch, Renzo Gracie, or any other number of prominent fighters are given an opportunity to glean insight on what was endured to achieve success but when the film initially rolls the ending is already known for the most part. It is partially in this way 2011’s FIGHTVILLE differs from its predecessors and one of the primary reasons it is such a wonderful documentary, the others relating to an affable assembly of talent highlighted by Tim Credeur, Gil Guillery, Albert Stainback, and Dustin Poirier, as well as the film’s storytelling and slick score.
I had the pleasure of joining a few hundred folks at Austin’s SXSW festival, including the cast and directors, in watching the premiere of FIGHTVILLE this past weekend and came away highly impressed as not only someone who loves MMA but highly appreciates good documentaries. I also know I was not alone in my enjoyment of the movie as the crowd, a group ranging from indie-types to journalists to 50-year old women and many more other subsets not typically associated with the sport, clapped at points and I overheard more than one person say they came away a fan of MMA based purely on the philosophies imparted and sacrifices witnessed. The house was packed from start to finish and rightfully so as it turns out. Without divulging too much information I’m going to take you on a walk through the streets of FIGHTVILLE while hopefully turning your heads towards a few points of interest in ensuring you make plans to visit as soon as possible.
“Fighting is truth…”
The basic premise of FIGHTVILLE revolves around a local promotion in Louisiana called USA MMA where Guillory, the promoter, puts together a string of shows including local talent like Poirier and Stainback who train at Credeur’s Gladiator’s Academy in Lafayette. Guillory is a former boxer and family man with a mild Cajun drawl who genuinely seems to care as much for the fighters as he does the bottom line financially. He imparts wisdom throughout including the danger of the world “potential” based on how tough it actually is succeed as a professional fighter.
Credeur is also full of knowledge and, in a scene drawing a number of laughs from the crowd, mocks the fast-food culture of handing out blackbelts to children and adults who can chop planks of plywood with their bare hands. He refers to MMA as a weapon created by warlords to defend their homelands; as an art with which fighters are given the same tools – the same paint, brushes, and canvas – and apply uniquely. “So different, so beautiful,” the Ultimate Fighter Season 7 alumnus explains. Credeur is also a firm, but loving, coach as evident in certain sparring where stiffer-than-normal striking is used for punishment only to be met with a hug and appreciation. He expects his students’ respect, discipline, and, understandably, to “not leave blood all over” when it comes to cleaning up.
Two other individuals involved in a particularly memorable sparring session are Poirier and Stainback, the former most fans know as the kid who shattered Josh Grispi’s hopes of a title-shot at UFC 125 this past January. However, given that FIGHTVILLE takes place between Fall 2009 and Summer 2010 the thought of competing in an Octagon is only a dream for then 20-year old. The film talks a bit about Poirier’s background including segments with his mother, a true treat in the film, discussing her son’s attraction to fighting at an early age and an incident where a challenger from the neighborhood found himself with a dentistry date.
In terms of Poirier’s profession he himself talks about it being a road to redemption with MMA providing the focus he needed so badly in his youth. A featherweight now, Poirier once weighed 200 pounds for example. His dedication is clear throughout and evident in performances which, to my surprise and appreciation, drew applause based on how he’d endeared himself to the audience. He also went into some humorous superstitions he has including a Target Bag, a certain type of gum he has to chew all day before a fight, a flavor and brand of Pedialyte he has to drink, and how he’ll sometimes eat a whole box of peanut butter ice cream sandwiches after a win. If you are not a Poirier fan entering FIGHTVILLE, or simply don’t know much about him, both of those things will change after viewing the movie.
The other fighter featured heavily is Stainback who is an up-and-comer just turning pro. He is funny, yet also comes from a tragic background and is still trying to get on track consistently to fulfill his obvious potential in the ring. You will find yourself rooting for him and maybe even shedding a few tears like during a moment where he has to tell an empathetic Guillery he has to pull out of a scheduled fight. He is someone you will want to see more of, even on a show like TUF, and yet may possibly never see fight on a major show depending on how his life unfolds. Thus is the life of a fighter and one FIGHTVILLE pays homage to.
That uncertainty is an underlying factor in FIGHTVILLE, perhaps appropriate as creators/directors Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein hadn’t known a thing about MMA until a chance encounter with one of their previous documentary’s subjects. They portrayed the sport beautifully for newcomers to its pull yet honestly as well. Never once did it insult or glamorize Mixed Martial Arts. The fight scenes were done exquisitely, almost like dances to the drum-infused soundtrack, and even offered a clever moment during Poirier’s fight with Derrick Krantz where Krantz says “you’re doing good” during an exchange on the ground and Poirier thanks him for the comment.
All in all, again, I can’t recommend FIGHTVILLE enough. It would be at home at ESPN Films or HBO if not a wider release based on how entertaining it is, how properly the subject matter is handled, and how likable the players are. You will laugh, cry, ooh, ahh, and come away with an entirely new respect for Mixed Martial Arts and its lifeblood no matter your viewpoint on either beforehand. We don’t have a ratings system at Five Ounces of Pain since movie reviews aren’t the norm but needless to say if I had three thumbs they would all be turned upwards.
Interested people in Austin can catch it for a reasonable price March 15 and March 17. The film will also be playing at the Fan Fest in Toronto for UFC 129 late next month. Check their website for more information. Below is a preview: