Four years before the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will be installed as the reference tournament of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA, for its acronym in English), the director and screenwriter Gavin O’Connor developed Warrior (2011). The film was released in 2011, when the tournament did not have the prestige that it enjoys today. Maybe that lack of coordination between premiere and contextual explosion of the sport made Warrior not transcend beyond a cult audience, even if it is a very good movie with Tom Hardy shining.
This September 9, 2021, it will be ten years since its premiere. Between that initial moment and today, the difference cannot be greater. Mixed Martial Arts is a mainstream discipline that attracts locals and strangers. It is practiced in different spaces and is consumed through several more. Even after the sports break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was one of the first sports to offer shows. Of them, the most famous is UFC. In that tournament, according to the specialized journalist Ennio Fereira, the legend of Conor McGregor was born. With him exploded the boom of that discipline on which Warrior is based.
However, despite its quality, the film went unnoticed in the main awards except. Except for one of its actors, Nick Nolte. His performance represented him different nominations, although he only won that of the Critics Society. Nolte embodied, in his own way, the entire cast that gave meaning to the production. Even the onboard pro fighters delivered on the plot, regardless of whether they had little to no acting knowledge. One of the achievements of Warrior is that, without having to be a documentary film, everything in it seems real.
Warrior, before the MMA boom
Gavin O’Connor, remembered for Miracle (2004), developed, together with Cliff Dorfman and Anthony Tambakis, an entertaining, emotional script that, in its own way, pays tribute to old figures of Mixed Martial Arts and some other combat sport off the traditional radar. Within it are athletes such as Kurt Angle and Nate Marquardt, icons and competitive athletes in different modalities. Beyond the fact that this may be attractive for the public to know, it brings a degree of verisimilitude that not all sports-inspired films tend to handle in a good way.
In Warrior athletes are combined with a handful of notable actors, led by the aforementioned Nolte, Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Morrison. Hardy, perhaps the most recognized among those cited by the general public, had already made Bronson (2008) and Inception (2010), perhaps the highest-grossing productions at that stage of his career. Within this range of films, Warrior is presented as a violent film without becoming an action production. It is valid to suspect that his role as a figure capable of handling himself in different registers was born in Band of Brothers (2001) and was confirmed through Warrior, ten years later.
The film was released during a time when the discipline was underground. For the change, you have to be in the year 2015, four years after Warrior
Those who were delighted with his portrayal of Bane and did not see Warrior will find an even more violent and aggressive character. Tom Hardy plays someone filled with so much hatred that at some point he explodes. For his part, Joel Edgerton holds his pulse from the other side of the street. While one is disenchanted, the other cannot be more noble. Both serve as vehicles for exploring topics such as sports disorders, veterans’ depression, as well as dysfunctional families.
The film was released during a time when the discipline was underground. To place ourselves in the moment that the above changes, we must be in the year 2015, four years after Warrior. The fight between Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor at the end of that year changed everything., according to specialist Ennio Fereira, director of the Somos MMA information space. The sport became massive and the pay per view became even more attractive to people, until it accumulated more than two million purchases.
Added to this is the spectacularization of different aspects related to sport, from the previous ones, with controversial phrases between one and others, to the subsequent reactions on social networks after the fighting. A kind of overcrowding that manifests itself in different spaces, from gyms to likes on Instagram.
An anticipated spectacularization
Much of that show is efficiently recreated through Warrior. The film tells how different athletes prepare to appear in Sparta, a championship in which they will have to fight different fights, like a rally, until they reach the end. That choice, from a narrative perspective, is key to understanding the rhythm of the story. The fights follow one after another while the particular dramas of the protagonists unfold.
By development it is convenient to understand that evolution of the protagonists, who are seen to change, to mutate due to the circumstances they are going through. MMA, in essence, is just an excuse to solve deeper pain than that generated by a broken arm (as it happens). Warrior offers the viewer a series of attractions present in other combat films but framed in a much more efficient context. From the verisimilitude of the fights to solid performances, from Frank Grillo to Tom Hardy, to other supporting actors who deliver.
Seen with perspective, it is valid to suspect that if Warrior had been released in another context, perhaps at the end of 2015 or in 2016, after Conor McGregor relaunched the discipline to another level, Gavin O’Connor’s film would not be just a cult production. Perhaps it would be one of the best contemporary proposals in terms of combat fighting and sports.