Anyone who thinks mixed martial arts is just a vicious, bloodthirsty sport where grown men beat the crap out of each other for fun might think differently after seeing Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein’s Fightville, an in-depth and beautifully shot look at the world of MMA through a group of fighters, trainers and promoters in Southern Louisiana.
Fightville follows a cast of characters in and around the Gladiators Academy in Lafayette, a small local gym where philosophy-spouting veteran UFC fighter, “Crazy” Tim Credeur trains amateur and rising professional fighters. Far away from the bright lights of the big time promotions like the UFC, the movie takes a look at what essentially amounts to the minor leagues of MMA – where guys are fighting to prove themselves and learn what it takes to become champions. Glamorous it ain’t (the fighters have to mop up their own blood after fights) but what it lacks in luster it makes up for in heart.
Dustin Poirier and Albert Stainback are two young fighters working their way through the lower echelons of the brutal sport. These aren’t bad kids who just got out of prison and need a way to make some fast cash, they’re intelligent and driven guys who believe in the honor and integrity of the sport. Young and determined, yet soft-spoken and friendly, Poirier has all the makings of an MMA star. (Since filming he’s made it to the UFC). Trailing slightly behind is Stainback, a well-spoken and charismatic kid whose troubles off the mat lead to struggles on it, and while Stainback’s performance starts to suffer, Poirier’s star just keeps rising.
Both Poirier and Stainback are trained by Credeur, a well-known mixed martial artist who takes the term ‘artist’ very seriously (“we’re not fighters, we’re artists,” he stated quite emphatically at the after-screening Q&A). Credeur’s tough love approach to teaching endears him to his students, but beware the pupil who shows a lack of commitment and dedication (blow off practice or give him some attitude and he’ll teach you a lesson you won’t soon forget). Also featured prominently is Gil “The Thrill” Guillory, an up-and-coming MMA promoter who shows just as much determination and enthusiasm as the fighters he’s promoting. For him, the business of MMA is his livelihood and he goes around promoting his fights with his wife and three young kids (there’s something just so darling about seeing a four-year-old pass out flyers for cage fights). For him, every big fight can be the difference between his family having a home to sleep in at night and losing it all. Together these men represent the many facets of the mixed martial arts experience.
In many ways Fightville is an old-fashioned story – one about dedication, discipline and the value of hard work. It just happens to take place in the context of a very controversial subculture (one that is captured brilliantly with terrific camera work, including some beautifully shot fight scenes). And make no mistake, it is brutal. Guys can get knocked out in a matter of seconds. (Although much is said in the film as to why MMA is actually much safer than many popular sports – and it’s quite convincing.) What’s impressive about the film, though, is that it speaks so well to this culture without excluding outsiders. People who aren’t particularly interested in the sport should be duly impressed by this universal and very human tale of commitment, discipline and finding meaning in adversity. Without a doubt, Fightville is a knockout.