“Embattled,” a sports drama about a young MMA fighter, which premiered in 2020, released on 5 July online – tells the story of an 18-year-old athlete endures his father’s bullying, an MMA champion, an extremely controversial and cruel man, and tries to build his way into the sport.
Steven Dorff, 47, best known for “Felon” and “True Detective,” played his father, champion Cash Boykins. He talked about how he prepared for the role, trained, and the peculiarities of filming fight scenes.
Dorff was a fan of MMA even before scoring the role. He brought the features of real-life fighters to the character.
“I think you’re just not from this planet if you don’t follow the UFC or MMA,” Stephen said. – “I think it’s a better sport. And it surpassed boxing.”
“I’ve been a fan of the sport for a long time. Previously, I starred in the prison drama “Felon,” along with Val Kilmer. On the set, I met trainer Greg Jackson and fighters Donald Cerrone and Rashad Evans. In the fight scenes in the backyard of the prison we used some moves and techniques from MMA”.
The “Embattled” script immediately caught the eye of Stephen. Although many boxing movies have been made before, and Dorff’s favourite movie is “Cinderella Man” with Russell Crowe, he’s convinced it’s time for MMA.
“It’s more relevant now. There was the movie ‘Warrior’ and other movies about bare-knuckle fighting, but David McKenna is very talented. I immediately wanted the role. I knew that I would have to play not the nicest guy, but it’s certainly an intriguing character,” the actor told Men’s Journal.
According to Stephen’s statement, he based his character on several behaviours:
- The pride and sharpness of Conor McGregor
- The brilliance of Floyd Mayweather
- The fearlessness of Donald Cerrone
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Former fighters were called in for the shoot. They not only advised the actors but also played themselves in the film.
To help with proper pitching and coordination in the fight scenes, the filmmakers brought in former UFC fighters Kenny Florian (three-time UFC title challenger, a finalist of the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter” show) and Tyron Woodley (former UFC welterweight champion). Chris Conolly, a trainer of heavyweights Walt Harris and Erik Anders (former American soccer player, now competes in the UFC middleweight division), was responsible for the personal work with the cast.
“There were a lot of technical elements in the fight scenes we coordinated, especially related to jiu-jitsu and ground fighting,” Conolly told MMAFighting. – “It was crazy that Steven had just finished shooting ‘True Detective’ and immediately switched to a new role.”
They started working out in the gym from day one, training from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., running through fight scenes. It was a very intense class.
“Chris not only worked on the film, but he also took part in the shooting himself: he played the referee. Thanks to him, I learned a lot of great clutches and grabs. We worked on making the fights look realistic,” Dorff added.
All of the octagon fight scenes were shot at the beginning (although chronologically, they should be at the end of the movie). “It’s pretty risky,” Dorff explained. – “After all, we could get injured, and then we have seven more weeks of shooting the rest of the movie. But I thought it would be a mistake to shoot the fights at the end because we’d be emotionally exhausted, and this way we were energized and fresh from the gym.”
Steven noted that the main feature of fight scenes and choreography in martial arts films is that it’s essentially a dance, a very complex dance: “Whether you’re shooting MMA, boxing, street fights or sword fights, it’s a dance. Your brain can think fast and can multitask. But when you’re in constant motion, you wonder what you’re going to do next, and that’s where you inevitably make mistakes. And that’s where injuries can arise, but we’ve been fortunate.”
Chris Conolly added that MMA combines many different styles, punches, and fighting techniques. He had to make Dorff’s character look like a true champion in every sense.
“The training is similar to what I give professional athletes,” Conolly said. – “Maybe not as intense. But you take someone who doesn’t practice jiu-jitsu, and you get them to do complicated technical movements from jiu-jitsu. And then there are some elements for a pretty picture of the movie”.