DVD Review: 'Fight Life' Gives Honest, in-Depth Look at Mixed Martial Arts

John Heinis@HeinisHardNewsSenior Analyst IJune 5, 2014

Photo from Fight Life DVD cover

For fight fans interested in an honest, candid (albeit now a slightly dated) look at the sport of mixed martial arts, Fight Life is an excellent documentary to spend a little over an hour watching.

On Tuesday, Fight Life, the United Film Festival's recipient of the "Best Documentary" award in 2013, became available on iTunes for the first time. A rental comes with a $3.99 fee, while a purchase costs $9.99.

The film, which chronicles events between 2008 and 2011, profiles two rising stars (at the time) in the sport: Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu's Jake Shields and SikJitsu founder Lyle Beerbohm. 

However, plenty of other recognizable competitors (and one referee) make at least a cameo: Frank Shamrock, Chuck Liddell, Nick Diaz, Nate Diaz Gilbert Melendez, Bryan Caraway, Miesha Tate, "Big" John McCarthy, Cody McKenzie, Michael Chiesa and Julianna Pena all appear on camera at some point. 

But again, the true stars of the documentary are Shields are Beerbohm. 

Shields is profiled as he goes through a fight camp for "Ruthless" Robbie Lawler, whom he fought under the Strikeforce banner in June 2009.

The highly touted grappler needed just over a minute to submit Lawler, who ironically is now a consensus top-three welterweight in the UFC, while Shields has been ousted from the organization.

Entering the bout, Shields boasted an 11-fight win streak, and his head coach, Cesar Gracie, gushes on multiple occasions about his star pupil's commitment and dedication to the sport.  

Shields, now 35 and under contract with the World Series of Fighting, tells the story of his early love of the sport of wrestling and how Chuck Liddell got him into MMA

Viewers also get a brief glimpse into his relationship with his daughter, who he has enrolled in BJJ classes of her own. Shields is a BJJ black belt under Cesar Gracie, which he earned in 2007.

While in college, Shields recalls taking classes, working full time, taking care of his daughter and still finding time to train regularly. 

"I'm really close to the top, but I'm not there yet." Shields says toward the end of the film. "So, certainly, now would be a bad time to lose."

While Shields' story is Rocky Balboa-esque—a perennial underdog who refuses to quit—Beerbohm's tale is one of a man who hit rock bottom and somehow managed to survive. 

Despite a successful high school wrestling career, Beerbohm admittedly "fell in with the wrong crowd" and began using methamphetamine, which landed him in and out of prison and jail as a young adult. 

While incarcerated, "Fancy Pants" often watched The Ultimate Fighter and decided mixed martial arts could be the thing he needed to turn his life around. 

Before his parents had even gotten him home from his last jail stint, Beerbohm insisted they stop at an MMA gym, took his first gi jiu-jitsu class and never looked back. 

If there was any question of the Spokane, Washington, native's intentions, look no further than the fact he took his first amateur fight on an unheard of eight days notice. 

He won with the matchup with a guillotine choke in the first round. 

Beerbohm's fight camp for his June 2009 matchup with Duane "Bang" Ludwig is highlighted in the documentary. 

The SikJitsu camp in Spokane favors high-intensity sparring over anything else, wearing just MMA gloves and shin guards as they beat each other senseless round after round. 

While the team lacks well-recognized trainers and high-end equipment, there is no shortage of grit, guts and desire at this gym. 

Members leaving with cuts, bruises and welts on their faces seems to be the daily norm, and no one there would have it any other way. 

"I had one addiction: meth, and I traded that addiction for MMA," Beerbohm said at an interview in his home. "And right now, if I win a couple more fights, then I've made a career in this. Now everything is on the line. Now it's the big stakes."

Like Shields, Beerbohm won via a first-round submission in his anticipated bout with Ludwig, though has largely fallen off the MMA map since being cut from the World Series of Fighting last year. 

The 35-year-old clearly still has the burning desire to be a champion though, as he has racked up three straight finishes on the regional scene since his WSOF release, though he is yet to fight in 2014. 

The film also glosses over issues such as low fighter pay and fighters competing without insurance, which Frank Shamrock speaks the most adamantly about in both instances. 

A special thanks goes out to Fight Life writer, director and producer James Z. Feng, who sent Bleacher Report a complimentary copy of the DVD last week. 

John Heinis is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also the MMA editor for eDraft.com.


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