In about ten years' time, mixed martial arts in America has gone from a niche product followed by a few thousand people to a humongous industry followed by millions. Why, just last April the UFC sold 55,000 tickets for one of their events. Like any other major sport, Hollywood has come a-knockin', looking to use the sport's colorful backdrop as a setting for movies. The personalities and scenarios have made for some good drama, and these five films truly show what "the warrior's way" is all about!
"Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown"
This flick may be a little over-the-top, and it may be a little (or more than a little) poorly acted, but its fight scenes are surprisingly well-done. That is, they take some of the more spectacular aspects of MMA, like the huge knockouts and surprising submissions, and wrap them around a story that owes a debt to the "Rocky" series. But hey, almost any fight film made after 1976 owes something to "Rocky," right? "Never Back Down 2" can be forgiven for cribbing from its predecessors, especially when a few legit MMA fighters, including former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Lyoto Machida, make appearances in the film.
"Warrior" is perhaps the most high-profile MMA movie to have ever been made to this point. With a cast of true A-List actors like Nick Nolte and Tom Hardy, "Warrior" has helped elevate the public awareness about this fast-rising sport. The story centers around two brothers, each of whom has fallen on hard times after taking different paths through life. One is a brutal knockout machine and is the new toast of the MMA world, while the other brother is a former star who's fighting in order to earn money for his family. Throw in their turbulent familial past and you have a recipe for one hell of an MMA movie.
Inspired by the true story of UFC fighter Matt Hammil's journey to become a national wrestling champion, "The Hammer" does a good job of playing on the viewer's heartstrings. Matt was born deaf, and thus he faced some rather unique challenges on his quest to become the best, not the least of which is the fact that hearing his coach's instructions during a match proved to be problematic. While the film is more about amateur and collegiate wrestling, Hammil was a major star in MMA, and his wrestling roots are on full display in "The Hammer."
Independent documentaries don't always get a lot of attention, but Jens Pulver, the subject of the documentary "Driven," is compelling enough to make this movie stand out. Pulver is the former, and the first-ever, UFC Lightweight Champion, and is the former number one 155-pound fighter in the world. He's starting to slow down after a long career of wrestling and MMA, and the sport is evolving. But more than that, it's Pulver's past that is of interest. Jens, named after his horribly abusive father, is very open about his dad, and when he tells the story of his father sticking a gun in his seven year old son's mouth, you can't help but feel for him.
Okay, so the MMA of today is pretty far removed from the campy fare on display in the ultimate '80s martial arts flick, "Bloodsport." But think about; the movie is set in Hong Kong at the kumite tournament, and it features fighters from all different backgrounds mixed together. Sounds like mixed martial arts, right? So maybe there's not a lot of guys doing split-legged ball-punches in the UFC, and it's likely that throwing powder in your opponent's eyes will get you disqualified. Still, for years, this was about as close to mixed martial arts as the public had ever gotten, and plus, it's easily the best Van Damme movie ever!