Mixed martial arts (MMA) is the fastest-growing sport in the world. This means a number of things—pay-per-view buy rates, live attendance, television viewership, and general awareness of the internationally beloved sport are all up, but the culmination of these points is more recognition from the media—something that cannot be understated in importance.
ESPN and Fox Sports run segments, write articles, and keep fans informed on everything related to MMA. Fighters are crossing over into other avenues of entertainment, like video games (Conor McGregor’s role in the upcoming Call of Duty), film (Ronda Rousey’s parts in numerous works, including Furious 7 and Entourage), television (there are numerous examples of this—one of the most telling is the longtime competitor Nate Diaz’s recent appearance on Conan), and others. These out-of-cage opportunities are indicative of MMA’s new era.
Another good indicator of MMA’s ever-evolving popularity is the collection of movies specifically based upon the sport that have been made. At first, such endeavors were seen as financially risky and ill-advised, but now, they’re commonplace.
As such, we’ve got a lot to consider when determining the best ten MMA movies that every fan should watch.
In no particular order, let’s take a look!
Here Comes the Boom
Alright, I’m sure many of you are ready to stop reading because I led the list off with a big-budget, PG-rated comedy, but please, allow me to explain.
Here Comes the Boom follows a former collegiate wrestler that now teaches high school, and in an effort to save his financially worn-down place of employment, he begins training and competing in MMA, all the way to the UFC. Yes, it’s a bit cheesy, yes it’s a bit predictable, and yes, the film is appropriate for the entire family.
Now that the reasons why you may not want to watch are covered, let me specify why you should watch.
First, this is a HOLLYWOOD film based around MMA and the UFC. Let that soak in.
Second, Kevin James is a funny dude, and in Here Comes the Boom, he co-stars with Henry Winkler. I wouldn’t care if the finished “movie” was a single still image—seeing James and The Fonz in an MMA-related work is worth it alone.
And finally, all the detail administered by the film’s producers greatly enhances the overall experience. Even if you’re not necessarily enamored with Here Comes the Boom’s comedy, seeing Bas Rutten, Mark Munoz, Mayhem Miller, Bruce Buffer, Chael Sonnen, Wanderlei Silva, Krzysztof Soszynski, Herb Dean, Joe Rogan, Mike Goldberg, Stich Duran, and several others MMA fighters and personalities on screen will keep you interested for an hour and forty minutes.
Fight Life is a phenomenal independent documentary that follows several high-level MMA fighters during specific points of their career, including Jake Shields, Nick Diaz, and Gilbert Melendez. Miesha Tate and Big John McCarthy also make appearances, and overall, this well-made film is a must-watch work for MMA fans; it provides a look at the less glamorous side of the sport, when the spotlight, fans, and attention are focused elsewhere.
It might not be groundbreaking, as we’ve seen first-hand just how ridiculously taxing MMA is, but Fight Life is a must-watch film for fans of the sport.
Is Fight Club an “MMA movie”? The long answer is a bit complex, but the short answer is “kind of.” After all, it is, as its title suggests, based around a fight club, wherein members engage in hand-to-hand combat. So, to bring this masterpiece to mixed martial arts fans (long-known to have the best taste in film) that have yet to watch, I’ve included it on the list.
While it’s obvious core component is in fact fighting, Fight Club covers a mass of interesting ideas, topics, and themes; this is by no means a one-dimensional action film, and chances are you’ve never seen anything quite like it. Rather, the title explores identity, individual purpose, consumerism, and several other intricate themes. It’s hard to relay the complex story details without revealing something important, and furthermore, it’s best for interested individuals to watch this one fresh.
You’ll be glad you did.
The Hammer is directly related to MMA and explores the life, and specifically, the wrestling career, of Matt Hamill, a deaf UFC and TUF veteran who walked on to a college team and secured several championships.
During his time in the UFC, Hamill was a great fighter. His consistency for the better part of a decade, including a once again impressive TUF run, was noteworthy in its own right. He commanded victories over Tim Boetsch, Mark Munoz, Keith Jardine, and several other quality opponents—all while overcoming the inherent adversity of not being able to hear. The tenacity that helped bring Hamill MMA success was also utilized in his lesser-known wrestling days, as The Hammer showed.
You’ll be intrigued, and perhaps even a little bit inspired by The Hammer. Plus, the fact that deaf actors and crewmembers were cast also adds to the film’s appeal, as does a role from the former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin.
Is Fight Valley a good movie? No.
Is it a film that every MMA fan should watch— and more pressingly, that they’ll have a great time watching? Absolutely.
Fight Valley is an independent film that follows a woman training with Miesha Tate to hold her own on a brutal and ridiculous underground MMA scene so she can find her sister’s killer.
Based upon this brief plot summary alone, I’m sure you’ll understand when I say it’s not a stretch that Fight Valley isn’t perfect (check the trailer for additional clarification—or better yet, the film itself). Moreover, it wasn’t really intended to be perfect—or at least I don’t think it was.
The over-the-top action, questionable storylines, not great acting, and appearances from Miesha Tate, Holly Holm, and Cris Cyborg all make the film worth checking out, in the end. It’s also odd that these three women would come into their own inside the Octagon, winning career-defining fights, not long after Fight Valley’s filming closed.
It should be mentioned that I’d recommend watching Fight Valley in easily digestible doses, to the tune of fifteen minutes per day.
Trust me on this one.
Although it’s just over an hour long, and is more of a television special in character and format than a feature film, Anderson Silva’s Like Water is worth checking out for every MMA fan—whether they love or hate “The Spider.”
The reasons being that he’s one of the greatest and most dominant fighters in UFC history (something that’s universally admirable, whether you wanted him to keep winning or finally lose), and also, that there’s a lot more to Like Water than information relating to Silva, as it follows his training for UFC 117—a title match against Chael Sonnen.
At the time, this was one of the biggest contests in MMA history, and in retrospect, it did a phenomenal job of heralding in the modern days of the UFC and the sport in general; days that would see millions of people buy several different pay-per-views in a single year, and see more fans than ever become enamored with the sport, and finally, days that would see the UFC sell for over four billion dollars in one of the largest transactions in sports history. On a separate note, Sonnen’s role in this work cannot be understated, or easily quantified (yes, he was probably underpaid during his UFC days).
Back on track, you won’t be thrilled or moved by Like Water. But, if you love this sport, the film will provide enough interesting and unique content to keep you occupied for its duration.
Before you try to make me cry by leaving a mean comment about this one, as I said before, please allow me to explain. No, Cyborg Soldier is not an MMA film; in fact, it’s an action sci-fi thriller that has literally nothing to do with the sport, in terms of plot.
It does feature one of the most beloved and talented martial artists of all time in its lead, however: former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin.
In Cyborg Soldier, Franklin plays an escaped criminal, now hopped-up on modifications which render him an ultra-smart, ultra-strong, ultra-badass, and of course, ultra-unaware in his deliveries and dialogue (the most integral element of the cyborg). With Tiffani Thiessen (Saved by the Bell) at his side, Rich’s character tracks down the evildoers responsible for altering humans in such reckless fashion across an hour and twenty-four minutes.
Again, Cyborg Soldier isn’t a grade-A film. It is, however, both intentionally and unintentionally interesting (mostly intentionally), and furthermore, a solid showcase for Rich Franklin’s acting. Especially since he’s landed a huge position with ONE Championship, I don’t think Rich is going to be walking onto any film or television sets in the near future. If he did choose to do so, Franklin would actually be rather successful. This was his first time in front of a camera during moving scenes, and truth be told, he did pretty well. With much lower stakes and far less pressure, I forgot several lines and generally sucked during my first acting romp, in a high-school play.
I guess, in addition to being a legendary fighter, incredibly nice and likable guy, and an intelligent individual, Rich Franklin is able to rise to new challenges. For a couple bucks on Ebay, you can purchase Cyborg Soldier and watch him do so.
I haven’t seen Warrior in over half a decade since it was released in theaters. At the time, I recall enjoying the film, but not being overly impressed or enamored with it. A quick perusal of the movie’s Wiki page made clear that critics adored it, however.
Warrior follows two emotionally distant and troubled brothers that enter a winner-take-all MMA tournament, with the cash prize being five million dollars. Each man has pressing reasons for wanting to win (besides being physically hurt during a loss), and as they progress through this tournament, both brothers learn more about each other and begin to reconcile—as siblings and in life generally.
After rereading this, it all started to come back to me. Warrior, although heartfelt, well-acted, beautifully filmed and technically proficient, is just so utterly unrealistic for any semi-knowledgeable MMA fan that its cheesiness is placed on the back burner.
What about blood tests, finding proper gear, sporting sponsors, and cumulative injuries? How in the world can this tournament’s payout be $5,000,000? That’s mathematically impossible! Oh, and where’s the athletic commission oversight? They’d never sanction something like this!
The list goes on and on, but only for people like me. Furthermore, the reason why these elements are and aren’t included in the film is simple: it’s a film! I get that there has to be intrigue, drama, and entertainment value, but I’m too far into my MMA-watching and kind-of-training career to allow my basic knowledge of film plot points and formulas to overrule.
With that said, Warrior isn’t a bad movie, and UFC fighters Roan Carneiro, Nate Marquardt, and Anthony Johnson make appearances and help speed this all-encompassing work’s two-plus hour runtime along rather well.
Like Fight Valley, Never Surrender isn’t good, nor does it make much of an effort (or case) towards being good. Seriously, from a technical perspective, there isn’t much to redeem this one: it isn’t very well-written, well-filmed, or thoughtful, at all. Also like Fight Valley, but perhaps even more so, you’ll need to watch Never Surrender in bursts.
But thanks to some high-quality casting and this carefully crafted burst-viewing schedule, you’ll eventually reach the end of Never Surrender. MMA stars and champions likely comprised the majority of the film’s budget, as Georges St. Pierre, B.J. Penn, Rampage Jackson, Anderson Silva, and Heath Herring all play large roles. Frankly put, all of these men need to get paid to be on set; it’s been especially well-documented that GSP doesn’t waste his time for anything less than optimal compensation, so I’d actually be very curious to see a detailed budget analysis of Never Surrender.
That’s neither here nor there. For an hour and a half, you can watch crazy and over-the-top action made possible by some of the greatest fighters and biggest names in MMA history, and as a mixed martial arts fan, it’s your duty to do so.
Jens Pulver: Driven
Today, the UFC’s lightweight division is ruled by nobody. Sure, champions like Eddie Alvarez, Rafael dos Anjos, and Anthony Pettis have taken and even defended, in some instances, the title impressively, but it appears as though the days of a single man defeating all comers for years on end are gone, in the sport’s most competitive and talent-stacked division.
In MMA’s earlier days, it wasn’t unusual to see dominant forces in each division, and one of the men that did this dominating was Jens Pulver. After making his professional debut in 1999, Pulver claimed the UFC belt in 2001 and defended it twice before signing with another promotion. Some of his notable career triumphs include Joe Stevenson, B.J. Penn, Caol Uno, Dennis Hallman, and Cub Swanson.
Driven documents Jens’s tough childhood and upbringing, as well as his path into MMA. Additionally, his grueling training camp for an upcoming contest is followed, and by the end of the film’s one and a half hour runtime, you’ll be asking how the hell Pulver worked so hard for so long just for a chance to compete.
The answer is in the title: he’s Driven. And this documentary is an appropriately excellent work for such a distinguished fighter and person.
Bonus: Supreme Champion
For whatever reason, Supreme Champion has fallen underneath the radar of most fans, and with any luck, its position on this list will begin to change that. Stephan Bonnar plays the lead role in this over-the-top, slightly predictable, and completely fun action flick.
Let me repeat that: Stephan Bonnar plays the lead!
“The American Psycho” is actually rather good in Supreme Champion, and much like Rich Franklin in Cyborg Soldier, I think the keys to his success are boldness and intelligence. MMA is the most involved and unpredictable sport in the world, and to excel as Bonnar did, I truly believe he had to be smart, in training and preparation, as well as his own offense and reactions to an opponent’s offense.
In any case, Supreme Champion follows Bonnar as he attempts to retrieve his beloved girlfriend from the man who kidnapped her—also a fellow fighter. There’re plenty of fight scenes, cheesy one-liners, and over-the-top general action to keep you entertained during Supreme Champion’s one and a half hour runtime.
Congratulations! You’ve reached my list’s end! Before you begin to complain about how poorly composed you think it is, it’s worth reiterating that you did read until the end. In a way, insults directed towards me could be deflected towards you.
Now that the matter is settled, you have some fights to watch and some movies to catch up on! Be sure to stay up-to-date with everything MMA—and much more—here at Movie TV Tech Geeks.