There aren’t that many MMA movies out there, and almost all of them are about underground fighting rings. It will be interesting to see if Halle Berry’s Bruised, which is produced by Thunder Road and set in the world of the UFC, can usher in a new era of MMA movies set within legitimate promotions. But whether legit or illegal, MMA provides a drama-filled setting no matter the genre.
1. Warrior (2011) - Arguably the best MMA movie ever made, Warrior was a financial failure, earning only $23 million at the box office. (It had a $25 million budget.) However, the movie about two estranged brothers facing off in the cage wound up finding a second life after its theatrical release, starting with Nick Nolte’s Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. Star Tom Hardy famously bulked up to play Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, but in fact Hardy first put on the 28 pounds of muscle for Warrior, which immediately preceded the Batman installment. Former UFC Middleweight champion Rich “Ace” Franklin, who was a high school teacher during much of his MMA career, was an inspiration for the character of Brendan Conlon, played by Joel Edgerton. Other real life influences abound. Actor Frank Grillo based his character on trainer Greg Jackson, and UFC fighters Anthony Johnson and Nathan Marquardt have small roles in the film.
2. Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown (2011) - On the opposite end of the quality spectrum we have The Beatdown. Three years after the first movie came out (covered in this edition of Fight Film Trivia), The Beatdown returned with only two members of the original cast. It features another underground fighting ring and the directorial debut of Michael Jai White, along with a slew of appearances by real life MMA personalities. Big John McCarthy and Lyoto Machida play themselves, while others have roles small and large. Eddie Bravo has a cameo playing a DJ, while Todd Duffee has a large role echoing his real life accomplishment of scoring the fastest knockout (7 seconds) in UFC Heavyweight history. (Duffee went on to have a very small role in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016).) MMA fighter Scott Epstein plays Justin Epstein, the villain of the film, who winds up with a broken shoulder courtesy of the hero executing an omoplata submission, after which Epstein is knocked out via a superman punch.
3. Here Comes the Boom (2012) - Kevin James is a huge MMA fan, and has gotten a lot of credit for fighting hard to get this comedy to the big screen. James—who co-wrote the script—plays an average joe who becomes an MMA hero and gets Salma Hayek to be his girlfriend. Clearly, big sacrifices to make as an actor. Genuinely impressive, James did lose 80 pounds in order to play the role. Like Warrior, the protagonist is also a teacher, and it is likely Ace Franklin was the inspiration here as well. Perhaps more than any other MMA movie, Here Comes the Boom is loaded up with MMA cameos. Kevin James and Joe Rogan were roommates for many years, so James had easy access to many prominent figures in the sport. Chael Sonnen ad libbed his famous, “I didn’t tap!” line, pleasing James so much he gave him a $200 bonus. Bas Rutten improvised a scene as to why he couldn’t fight in the UFC and described his real life injuries. Rutten has been in several projects with James, including King of Queens and four additional feature films. Keep an eye out for Joe Rogan, Mark DellaGrotte, Krzysztof Soszynski, Bruce Buffer, Mike Goldberg, Herb Dean, “Stitch” Duran, Jason “Mayhem” Miller, Mark Munoz, Satoshi Ishii, and Wanderlei Silva.
4. Tapped Out (2014) - Cody Hackman, a five time World Karate Champion, was living in Los Angeles when he met screenwriter Allen Ungar at a party. They realized they both hailed from the same area outside of Toronto, and both loved MMA. Like many would-be Hollywood types, they spent the next two weeks working out the plot at Starbucks. Unlike most would-be Hollywood types, they succeeded in getting the movie made. Hackman went on to star in his own project, and recruited a few MMA notables to join him in front of the camera, including Anderson Silva, Krzysztof Soszynski, and Lyoto Machida. They also asked Martin Kove to appear in the film as an allusion to The Karate Kid. To their surprise, Kove asked for them to write him a larger role in the movie. The Canadian filmmakers returned to Ontario to shoot their project.
5. Fight Valley (2016) - So this is a thing that happened. Yet another underground fight ring movie, this one featuring a woman seeking revenge for her sister’s death. Fight Valley stars Susie Celek and Miesha Tate, with side helpings of Holly Holm, Cris Cyborg, and Katlyn Chookagian—although the poster puts Holly Holm front and center. While the film was poorly reviewed, The New York Times did throw some compliments Tate’s way, saying she was the “star” of the show and “clearly the winner.” The Hollywood Reporter also praised the “hot girl-on-girl action” so if you’ve yet to tackle Fight Valley, it does offers up some B movie entertainment.