TORONTO - Watching the fight drama Warrior, you can’t help but feel it represents three steps forward, followed by a quick stumble backwards for mixed martial arts.
On the one hand, it’s a huge positive to have a film with some actual depth associated with the sport. The characters are real people with relatable motivations for stepping inside the cage.
But the film doesn’t do much to dispel the myth that MMA is a barbaric free-for-all — it almost revels in that stereotype as a means for generating sympathy for the two leads, played by Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy.
The filmmakers also tack on so many superfluous plights to the main protagonists that you begin to wonder if they were awarded with free ice cream each time.
But enough about the story – we’re here to talk about fights. So are they any good?
Despite some obnoxious shaky-cam direction, the scraps feel authentic enough, due in large part to stunt coordinator J.J. Perry, who choreographed the awesome action flick Undisputed II: Last Man Standing. The appearance of some familiar faces like Nate Marquardt, Anthony Johnson, Yves Edwards and Roan Carneiro doesn’t hurt either.
Sure Warrior takes some liberties with the sport, but this is a film after all. MMA fans will roll their eyes at the ludicrous turn the final bout takes — hint: right at the end of the third round — but these are some of the best movie fights of the year.
One of Warrior’s key players in this area is Olympic gold medallist turned pro-wrestler Kurt Angle, who plays Koba, a stoic Russian fighter who is thought by many to be invincible.
The parallels to Fedor Emelianenko are anything but coincidental. When the film was being shot, Emelianenko’s mystique was still alive and well. The filmmakers decided to fuse the former PRIDE heavyweight champion’s background with Angle’s to create Koba, who is both an Olympic gold medallist wrestler and world Sambo champion.
“They revolved the character around both me and Fedor,” Angle said on a recent media call. “They wanted me to act like Fedor and they wanted him to be an Olympic gold medalist. So it just seemed like a perfect fit.
“Because Fedor was the hottest fighter at the time, they wanted (Koba) to look and act like Fedor in terms of his demeanour. It’s kind of that ‘I don’t even care’ attitude. So I fit that description. They even tried Russian fighters and it didn’t work. So they picked me and I was just very blessed and very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.”
Angle said coming from a pro-wrestling background gave him the edge in learning the fight sequences.
“I said, ‘Guys, I’m a pro-wrestler. Whatever techniques or choreography you need me to learn — you can teach a guy in a month, I’ll learn it in one day,’” Angle said. “And I literally learned every fight in one day. Every time I did it, I nailed it. It wasn’t that hard for me because I’m in the world of pro-wrestling and choreography. It turned out to be very easy and they were very surprised.”
Despite working as a pro-wrestler for over a decade, Angle once flirted with the idea of switching to MMA. Around the time he signed with TNA wrestling, he was also in talks with UFC president Dana White.
When he eventually chose wrestling, many MMA fans labelled Angle as someone who wasn’t serious about the sport and was simply trying to generate headlines. During a recent appearance on the MMAWeekly Radio, he even stated the UFC extended him a new offer.
However, White later rebuked this claim.
Having failed to make the switch to MMA, Angle said he now has his sights set on returning to the U.S. Olympic wrestling squad.
“I plan on making the team,” Angle said. “This isn’t just a media thing. This is for me and it has a lot to do with MMA. I kind of missed the boat on it and I signed a three-year deal with TNA. This was the last thing I wanted to do before I got out of competition entirely. I think this will fill that void of not being in MMA or the UFC. It was something I wanted to do and knew that if I could do again – make the Olympic team – that would make me very proud.
“What really eats me up inside is how good of a fighter I would have become.”