T.K.O., by Jack Fleischer
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is one of those sports that seems to have come out of nowhere in the last decade to be one of the most popular things around. Less than 15 years ago Senator John McCain called it “human cockfighting,” but now you can catch it on network television, and stars like Chuck Liddell, Bas Rutten, Rampage Jackson and Kimbo Slice are household names. The documentary Fightville goes deep into the minor leagues of MMA in Lafayette, Louisiana and follows a number of people fighting not only to be that next household name, but also striving to bring even more legitimacy to the sport.
On the most superficial level this is an interesting look at a sport that I, frankly, knew little about. At its core this is a film is directed squarely at the heart of the true MMA fan rather than the curious outsider. I think that the filmmakers, (Petra Epperlein, Michael Tucker), have convinced me that it’d be more interesting to see one of these young up-and-coming fights, than just tuning into the UFC on Fox, but rather than offering a complete story, I feel as if this is an introduction to the introduction.
Through the course of the documentary we meet a number of people playing for keeps in this minor league field. There are promoters, coaches, and then there are the people who are striving to move up the ladder. In particular this is a film about fighters Dustin Poirier and Albert Stainback, coach Tim Credeur, and promoter Gil Guillory.
This film succeeds in showing us how much all of these people do this as a labor of love. Fighters Poirier and Stainback are painted as people who do this for primal reasons. It’s a matter of family, troubled youth, and pure drive. While fame is an element, we see that there’s as much punishment in it, as there is reward. There is pain in the ultimate match, there is tremendous fight in the training, and then there is sometimes agonizing sacrifice in how pursuing this dream forces them to live.
“Crazy” Tim Credeur could easily have been the central character of his own documentary. As a trainer and former fighter he helps to bring insight into what the sport means to those involved. Guillory too, is fascinating just in how much of his own resources he puts on the line to make this minor league system work. It’s also a family affair with his wife and children also getting involved.
Where this film suffers is in having to many interesting characters, and not fleshing each out to the fullest. It seems like each person could have been the subject of his own documentary. Through the course of the film there are at least a couple of three month “gaps” that are glossed over with title cards, and it would appear that the filmmakers spent the majority of 2009 with these people. Perhaps it’s greedy, but I expected more.
If you have even a passing interest in MMA, I’d absolutely suggest this film. Yet, if you’re new to this sport, I’d say that you need more than Fightville to make you a fan.