5 UFC Stories That Would Make Great Movies
Many things have changed since WME-IMG made their record purchase of the UFC last year. Matchmaking and building pay-per-views have been altered considerably, and the chase of the almighty dollar appears to be as prominent as anything that suggests MMA is still a sport.
Some athletes under the promotion's umbrella have shown up in movies or are going to, which is an interesting turn of events. Back in the days when the Fertittas ran things, any cinematic crossovers were purely coincidental and largely focused on the biggest stars the UFC had to offer.
When new ownership took over, they began to tout the possibility of commoditizing their fighters in the Hollywood realm with far greater regularity.
With that process underway, it's hard not to think that licensing UFC stories for feature length adaptation won't be far behind. There have been far too many remarkable happenings in the UFC over the years for such a profit-driven ownership group to ignore the potential to generate revenue that those stories have.
Realistically, some guys already have movies about them, and the UFC itself has dipped its toe into the short film waters in the past to great acclaim. It's not going to be a far trip to start doing features.
If that's the objective that WME-IMG has in mind and it's the avenue they plan to go with the UFC, the following five stories might generate a little box office cheddar and get some butts in theatre seats when the time comes.
UFC 1 Changes Martial Arts Forever
Arguably nothing has been as influential in martial arts history as UFC 1. There's maybe a case for the wonderment of Bruce Lee, but even if you fall on that side of the fence, it's hard to suggest that anything has been more important for professional martial arts.
The tournament first launched a movement, then an entire sport. Nothing else can claim that level of impact.
For those who remember the early days and see what the game is today, it's almost too much to comprehend, and a film on the journey would be enthralling.
There have been books written and documentaries produced on how the event came to be and what happened on the night it all went down, but none of them are definitive. Or at least they don't feel that way.
WME-IMG now holds the keys to give us that definitive retelling, either in documentary fashion or as a feature length film.
Either one would give unique insights into how the single greatest fighting tournament to ever happen came together. Whether through actors or interviews with the real subjects, the appetite for the story would be insatiable among martial arts fans and UFC fans, and there would likely be some mainstream interest as well given how big the sport has gotten in the past two decades.
Explaining how Rorion Gracie conceived of the structure and enlisted the help of Art Davies and Campbell McLaren to sensationalize it for pay-per-view is interesting enough, but to delve into the history of the Gracie family and discuss how Royce became champion while jiu-jitsu became an indispensable art on which modern MMA was built would really put it over the top.
If done correctly, this feels like a winner.
The Ultimate Fighter Saves the UFC
Still, despite the great idea that underscored the early days of the UFC, it wasn't all rosy. Actually, for a number of years, it was quite nightmarish, as the promotion hemorrhaged money and was chased into obscurity from pay-per-view due the oft grizzly nature of the combat.
Blah blah blah, human cockfighting and all that.
When the Fertittas initially took over after dropping a cool $2 million to buy the promotion, the nightmare continued. They lost money faster than Dana White lost hair in the early 2000s, getting to the point where a last ditch Hail Mary reality show was all they had left.
It's a predictable outcome in a way, the Vegas businessmen thinking there was no way out of a bad investment other than to try to gamble his way out.
They did, and the rest is history.
Talking Spike TV into a time buy, Zuffa pitched The Ultimate Fighter, a reality show where a bunch of mixed martial artists would live together and train together, and eventually fight each other, with every moment being caught on camera.
While TUF is mostly played out in modern times, it was a revolutionary notion in 2005, and the results proved as much. People became fascinated by these personalities, how hard they worked and how normal they were (for the most part, the occasional bed peeing notwithstanding).
The story of the show coming into being, fuelled by financial losses and the bitter desperation of frantic owners, then saving the promotion is very much made for Hollywood. It's the ultimate case of overcoming adversity to reach the highest peaks. WME-IMG could turn it into something, and even if they were lukewarm on it, seeing the first Griffin-Bonnar fight dramatized for cinema would be worth it on its own.
Randy Couture Unretires and Mops Tim Sylvia for the Heavyweight Title
"Not bad for an old man."
Could you not imagine that line closing out a trailer about this epic tale of redemption?
In 2006, Couture left MMA on a loss, the conclusion of his epic trilogy with Chuck Liddell that helped push MMA into a more mainstream consciousness following the aforementioned push the UFC got from TUF.
Couture and Liddell had served as coaches of that inaugural season, in fact, and concluded the season with a light heavyweight title bout that saw Liddell win by stoppage and begin his reign of terror at 205. His second defense was his second stoppage of Couture, who retired that night.
In 2007, though, with the heavyweight division in something of a mess, Couture appeared to realize that he was still better than many of those who were competing with the big men. He announced he was ending his brief hiatus and returning to challenge Tim Sylvia, a hulking champion who was dominating but was perhaps not truly spectacular.
Many felt it was a nightmarish idea for Couture, who was 43 and had alternated wins and losses during the end of his time at light heavyweight. Sylvia was 6'8" and cut weight to hit the heavyweight maximum, unbeaten in two years and 23-2 overall.
The result was anything but expected.
In incredibly dramatic fashion, Couture floored Sylvia with an overhand right in the first exchange and proceeded to completely dominate him for 25 minutes. He ragdolled his giant foe, wrestling him, punching him, throwing him around, all with ease. It was genuinely stunning, and stunning in a protracted, thorough way that had perhaps never been seen in MMA before and may not have been seen since.
A movie picking up at the Liddell loss, examining Couture's fire to return and his training for a heavyweight title fight that he ultimately wins would be, to be cliche, a real life Rocky story that would surely leave people fascinated.
Matt Serra, TJ Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt Become World Champions
Most will tell you that MMA is unpredictable. Generally there's an unruliness to the proceedings of two highly trained combatants winging four ounce gloves at one another that often gives rise to fireworks and may provide stunning results.
The best examples of such results would be ideal for a UFC "Upset Trilogy" centering on the three biggest title shockers in the promotion's history: Matt Serra beating Georges St-Pierre, TJ Dillashaw beating Renan Barao and Cody Garbrandt beating Dominick Cruz.
All three stories share the commonality of an unheralded challenger coming out of nowhere to steamroll an entrenched champion. Serra did it with one big punch, a more typical variety of MMA stunner, while Dillashaw and Garbrandt each did it with protracted thrashings that left people's mouths agape well into the fifth rounds of their respective successes.
Looking into the juxtaposition of how the challengers trained and prepared against the work the champions did, comparing their hunger and drive and digging into the dramatic details of how such profound underdogs shocked a sport that is inherently shocking is the type of thing that can be mined for considerable cinematic gold.
Such stories never get old, not in the realm of sports cinema or in any other genre. The UFC could leverage these fascinating tales into either one documentary-style film or a trilogy of fully-produced, scripted films and garner some major interest in both the past and present given that Dillashaw and Garbrandt remain among the elite of their division, even today.
Conor McGregor Goes from Nobody to MMA’s Biggest Star
It's hard not to envision a series of films undertaken by WME-IMG about it's hot new property without at least one of those films focusing on that property's hottest commodity. It also doesn't hurt that the story of Conor McGregor's rise to greatness is among the most compelling in MMA history.
Prior to being a two-weight world champion and moneymaking machine who appears to have talked himself into a crossover fight with boxing kingpin Floyd Mayweather, McGregor was a young tradesperson in Ireland struggling to make ends meet. He relied on government assistance, fought with his parents about where his life was heading and reached a point where he'd stopped going to train.
But there were hints of stardom there when the lights shone brightest.
He was brash in the cage and around fight time, a young man looking to conquer Europe and then the world. He became the first Irishman to win Cage Rage titles in two weight classes. He told people he'd go to the UFC, become Ireland's first champion and then become the first man to hold two world titles simultaneously.
And he did it all.
He found his way on a card in Sweden as a relative unknown filling out a prelim card, then took off like a rocket. Dropping featherweights left and right with a savage left cross, he took the sport by storm and became arguably the first person in the history of the game to justify his own name being bigger than those important, expensive letters: U-F-C.
He sits now as the biggest star in the sport and an increasingly notable name in sports generally, a profile that will only be helped should he sign a contract to sling mitts with Mayweather. And it's all happened in four years.
That's the type of rockstar rise that great films are made out of.