Even before the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) exploded into the mainstream, filmmakers have been fascinated by the sport and compelled to document the lives and careers of its competitors. In 2002, HBO picked up John Hyams’ documentary The Smashing Machine following its premiere at that year’s Tribeca Film Festival. The Smashing Machine followed MMA legend Mark Kerr’s tumultuous life and career up to and through the PRIDE 2000 Grand Prix tournament, from which he was eliminated in the quarterfinals.
In subsequent years, top MMA competitors including Jens Pulver, Georges St. Pierre, and Anderson Silva have been the subjects of documentaries seeking to illuminate the lives of these modern gladiators and the sport in which they compete. What makes the recent documentary Fightville so interesting is the choice of subjects. Far removed from the big stage of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) on which these champions of past and present compete, Fightville follows the fighters, coaches, and promoters in and around a small amateur MMA organization in Lafayette, Louisiana. The primary focus of the documentary is on two of the top fighters in the organization, Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier and Albert Stainback. In addition to these two fighters, however, the film also devotes a considerable amount of time to following Poirier’s and Stainback’s coach, former UFC fighter and Season 7 alum of The Ultimate Fighter, “Crazy” Tim Credeur, as well as former boxer turned MMA promoter, Gil “The Thrill” Guillory.
Admirably, this film is really exempt from almost any criticism. The only thing it could conceivably be accused of is trying to focus on too many people in its 85-minute running time. At times, I felt bored following Gil, while at other times, I felt giving so much time to Stainback was short-changing Poirier, who was clearly the star on the rise. The most compelling portions of the film undoubtedly revolve around Poirier and Credeur. Poirier’s story is a familiar one, growing up in a tough environment and often times finding himself on the wrong side of the law growing up, but equally familiar is his finding an outlet in the martial arts, which offered him discipline and self-confidence. Those things combined with a drive to compete and an iron will forged by hardship made him a formidable challenge for anyone who stepped in the cage with him, and as the film shows on numerous occasions, Poirier consistently found himself having his hand raised. Poirier is currently on the UFC roster, making his way to the big show in January of 2011 and winning his first four fights in the promotion before recently suffering only the second loss of his career in a phenomenal fight against fellow rising star Chan Sung Jung.
Expertly providing insights on fighter psychology, martial arts philosophy, and combat reality, filmmakers Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker entered the unique world of amateur MMA and filmed the ups-and-downs of fighters’ lives, providing both education and entertainment, all the while preserving the dignity of the fighters and of the sport.
Fightville is a thoroughly engrossing ground-level look at the sport of MMA that is highly recommended to both fans of MMA as well as fans of great documentary filmmaking.