There's a moment halfway through the upcoming Muay Thai documentary Girl Fight that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the film. The documentary's main subject, coach Prairie Rugilo is making her return to in ring action and is looking to rematch a past rival and win back a title she lost in a controversial decision. She's motivated, she's intense, she's ready. Then, at the last minute, that rival retires from the sport, and Rugilo is left fighting a new opponent for the vacant title. Her motivation gone, Rugilo does not perform at her best, dropping a decision. It's an interesting story - one that combat sports fans can relate to. But the really interesting part here is what is going on in the stands, as Rugilo's teammates and trainees watch the fight. The film lingers on their reactions, as you can see their pain of cheering her on, while also watching her lose. Their anguish is perhaps even greater than Rugilo's own - and that's how you know you are watching a truly special team.
Girl Fight: A Muay Thai Story is an upcoming documentary following that team - an all women's Muay Thai team out of the Girl Fight Gym in Tom's River, NJ. Full disclosure: the film is directed by Bloody Elbow's own Fight Nerd, Matthew Kaplowitz. Check out the full trailer below.
What is perhaps most interesting about the film can be found in the title. Despite the all women's team and the name, this is a movie that puts the emphasis squarely on that second word - fight. At its core, the movie is about a gym, any gym, and the trials and tribulations fighters in that gym face as they look to advance their careers in combat sports. Yes, it happens to be a gym of women, and while there are some early discussions of the importance of giving women a place where they can feel safe and empowered while training, for the majority of the movie, gender does not play a role. That's extremely satisfying to see, and speaks volumes about how far we have seen combat sports progress.
Consider this: Muay Thai in America is itself a pretty small, niche subset of combat sports. Women's Muay Thai is a subset of that subset. And yet where Girl Fight truly excels is looking past that small niche and telling a story that is universal to combat sports, and indeed to all of sports. This is a story of redemption, and of athletes looking to push themselves. It's a classic sports story - one that resonates whether it's about women or men or Muay Thai fighters or baseball players.
All that said, it does have these particular fighters as its focus, and that's a strength. Because for as much progress as we have made, women in combat sports (and in almost all sports) remain frequently on the margins. We're seeing more and more women break through, and that's a good thing. Ronda Rousey is the obvious example, but there's also Cris Cyborg, Holly Holm, Tiffany van Soest, Valentina Schevchenko... more and more women are being seen as part of the main attraction, not some separate sideshow.
In order for that to keep happening, for women's combat sports to continue to evolve, women need to be comfortable training, and that's one of the true positives of the Girl Fight Gym story. Rugilo and her team provide a place for women to come, train and be simply fighters - not "women fighters." The film expertly follows their lead by making this a fight documentary, plain and simple. That's a genre that's still growing, and Girl Fight is a fantastic addition to the growing library of documentaries every fight fan needs to see.
As of right now, the film has not been released. Hopefully it will soon, because Girl Fight tells a story that should be told. The film is complete, and the filmmakers are currently raising funds on IndieGoGo for distribution. You can follow the film's progress on Facebook and Twitter.