SXSW ’11: Fightville – Review


Minor league MMA is a major league doc

“Most of these guys who fight will never fight again.” – Gil Guillory, MMA promoter

Mixed martial arts (MMA) has gained mainstream attention because Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), primarily. In operation since November 1993, the fight organization has seen its status grow to a level where its events are getting recap coverage on ESPN’s SportsCenter.

Fightville doesn’t attempt to chronicle the rise of the sport – where its origins extend as far back to the early 1900s – but it does examine the craze that surrounds MMA. Thought to have been a sideshow attraction like wrestling, the sport has a greater distinction. Going in, I didn’t know what that distinction was, but once it was over I had a greater respect for the sport and for the men who step into the cage and fight. The film dashes any preconceived notions of those who think they know what MMA is.

Directors Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein (Gunner’s Palace) could have gone any number of ways to tell their story. They could have pushed the issue of MMA being a sadistic sport where people pay to see two men step into a cage and beat the bloody pulp out of each other. Instead, they profile four individuals related to an MMA promotion based in Louisiana: a trainer, two aspiring fighters and a promoter.

The subject with the most visibility is Dustin Poirier, a promising fighter climbing the ranks in USA MMA, a minor league organization used to “groom” fighters for the big leagues, notably UFC and Strikeforce (recently purchased by UFC). Poirier is a very intense fighter. Interviews with his mother recall his love of fighting at an early age. She condoned the act, as long as he didn’t get into too much trouble. Run-ins with the law led Poirier to refocus his desire for roughhouse to a more creative outlet – trading in a jail cell for a different kind of cage.

Poirier is very vocal about his training. In one sequence we see his commitment to drop weight and compete in a lower weight division. Over the course of seven days he drops twenty pounds.

Not quite in the same league as Dustin, in terms of heart and commitment to the sport, is Albert Stainback. Here’s a guy who can talk the talk, but he lacks confidence at times. Stainback is drawn to the physicality of the sport as well as the psychology of it. His in-ring persona is a tribute to A Clockwork Orange; he walks out to the ring sporting a bowler hat similar to what Malcolm McDowell wore in the film. Singin’ in the Rain plays over the public-address system. Though he may lack the determination to always compete at 100-percent, he can deliver one hell of a staredown, which he discusses briefly.

Poirier and Stainback are trained by Tim Credeur, a grizzled veteran who, when he isn’t getting the fighters ready for an upcoming bout, speaks about the philosophy of fighting and how fighting for dominance is in our blood and is a trait as old as time itself.  To Poirier and Stainback, Credeur is their Mr. Miyagi, though there are instances where he’ll dish out tough love (particularly to Stainback), and you’ll think he’s John Kreese and they were his Cobra Kais.

The last profile is Gil Guillory, promoter for USA MMA. He interacts with all three, listening to Credeur when he gives him updates on how the fighters are progressing each week. The man is a character to be sure comparing what he does to promote an upcoming event – fliers in car windows, having his kids hand out postcards with event information printed on both sides – as what P.T. Barnum did when the circus rolled into town.

Each personality is a valuable component in painting a picture of the sport. Tucker and Epperlein don’t pepper the story with psychobabble on the four subjects; instead they allow the audience to draw their own conclusions. They do this by showing what the sport of MMA means to people. It’s not all about broken bones and black eyes. For some it is their livelihood. Others do it to give their life meaning.

Shot over the course of eighteen months, Fightville isn’t just a great documentary from a subject perspective but from a production perspective as well. The fight photography is solid and the soundtrack is rockin’, and the filmmakers do a great job at building suspense to the point that you’ll be cheering by the time it’s over. In some ways these men are living their own version of the American Dream. They learn the value of hard work and the importance of having dreams as they push themselves through adversity to make it happen.

Look at Mixed martial arts in this context and you may have a newfound respect for the men that do what they do.

Director: Michael Tucker, Petra Epperlein
Notable Cast: Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier, Albert Stainback, Gil “The Thrill” Guillory, Tim Credeur,
Writer(s): Michael Tucker

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