When two warriors step into a cage to pit their might against one another in the latest UFC match-up, for their countless cheering fans, whether cage-side or tuning in through Video on Demand, what they see is what they get.
What’s missing from the epic battle before them however are the countless long hours forging the skills of the two fighters, the injuries they must work around and whatever challenges or struggles they face in their personal lives outside of their MMA careers. You get all of that and more in Vlad Yudin’s “The Hurt Business”, a sprawling and emotionally gripping documentary which pulls back the curtain of the MMA world. It shows that for all the sparkle and spectacle on the surface, no championship in this sport is earned without winning a few dozen other fights outside of the cage along the way.
Director Vlad Yudin, assembles a veritable smorgasbord of interviewees for “The Hurt Business”. He zeroes in on former King of the Cage and UFC competitor and impeccable Ron Perlman-lookalike Mike “Joker” Guymon, Olympic wrestler and women’s bantamweight champion Sara McMann. We also have former UFC Light Heavyweight champ Rashad Evans, and current MMA sensation Jon “Bones” Jones, with their stories forming the film’s foundation, with the story of aspiring MMA fighter Rory Ransom in their orbit, as well. Additionally, the film is populated with interviews with names that will be instantly familiar to any MMA aficionado, including Ronda Rousey, Bas Rutten, Georges St-Pierre, Rorion Gracie, Ken Shamrock, Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, Michelle “The Karate Hottie” Watterson, and “Big” John McCarthy!
Narrated by Kevin Costner, “The Hurt Business” is nothing if not expansive, covering the journey of MMA from its beginnings as a cult pay-per-view phenomenon to its rise to the fastest growing sport on the planet. Yudin’s interview roster is an MMA lover’s dream team – legends of the sport like Bas Rutten, Rorion Gracie, and Ken Shamrock, fighters who helped bring MMA into the mainstream like Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, Rashad Evans, and Georges St-Pierre, and the current champions of the Octagon like Ronda Rousey, Jon Jones, Michelle Waterson, and Sara McMann. However, the film is careful not to let the up-and-comers fall through the cracks and follows the struggles of Rory Ransom, an aspiring MMA fighter whose criminal background hinders his ability to progress in the sport and Mike “Joker” Guymon, whose battle with depression forms an emotional centerpiece of the film.
The strength of “The Hurt Business” comes in its focus on the challenges that fighters face outside of the cage and the vulnerabilities that they must overcome, elements common to every one of us.
Indeed, the stories of any one of the interviewed fighters could be its own documentary. Rashid Evans’ knee injury all but forces him to learn how to walk again, while his one-time training partner, Jon Jones, whom Evans was later defeated by at UFC 145, has risen to the highest echelon of the MMA world. The story of the former champ’s determination to recover and return to the cage runs parallel to the current champ’s time at the top and ultimately his fall from grace that began with his 2015 hit-and-run arrest.
However, in keeping with the overall theme of the film, no fighter goes unscathed and experiences some kind of external challenge running alongside their next fight. That’s certainly the case for former Olympic wrestler and UFC bantamweight fighter Sara McMann, who balances her tireless preparation for her then-upcoming match with Miesha Tate with raising her daughter as a single parent.
However, it’s the story of Mike “Joker” Guymon that operates at the film’s core. An MMA-veteran, his focus is on re-entering the cage after being sidelined due to an injury, which has hurt himself and his wife Nicole financially due to his inability to compete. Mike’s also experienced a long battle with depression, which led him to attempt suicide in 2009 -his troubles are enough that you’ll absolutely be reaching for the nearest box of Kleenex, though he’s far from the only MMA fighter to be competing for essentially a pittance, as we damningly learn.
Overall, while footage of many of the fighters’ past bouts is liberally sprinkled throughout the film, a far greater emphasis is placed on their battles outside of the cage and ultimately their training in the gym is as much a fight to overcome those struggles as it is to prepare for their next opponent. While every individual story is one to cheer for, Mike’s has a special significance – if it’s your dream to one day step into the octagon, seeing his story is a reminder that you aren’t alone in the challenges life throws at you. Indeed, if you can truly get out of your own way, appreciate where you’re coming from and what you’ve got right now, you’ll increase your chances to make it big.
“The Hurt Business” is powerful and riveting, truly a feast for MMA fans! While the battles in the Octagon and shows like “The Ultimate Fighter” are the main attraction, “The Hurt Business” is an emotional powerhouse that goes behind-the-scenes and zeroes in on everything a champion must fight through to make it there. Every fighter has something to overcome to reach the top, but as they say, if it were easy, everybody would do it.
- Before getting his start in MMA, Mike Guymon had originally wanted to pursue a career in baseball. After several victories fighting in King of the Cage, he was subsequently contracted to fight in the UFC.
- Prior to her MMA career, Sara McMann competed as a wrestler for the U.S. team in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, and became the first American woman in history to win a silver medal in Olympic wrestling.
- Rashad Evans first broke into the UFC as a competitor on the show “The Ultimate Fighter”, defeating Tom Murphy, Mike Whitehead, Keith Jardine, and Brad Imes. Evans and Jardine would subsequently become training partners in Greg Jackson’s MMA gym in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
- Director/producer/writer Vlad Yudin has also produced such documentaries as “Last Day of Summer”, “Generation Iron”, and the series “Iron Cinema”.
- Executive producer Jim Czarnecki has collaborated on numerous projects with filmmaker and political activist Michael Moore, including “The Big One”, “Bowling for Columbine”, “Fahrenheit 9/11”, and “Capitalism: A Love Story”.
- “Originally, I think it (mixed martial arts) started at about 648 B.C. It was in the first Olympics, and it was called ‘Pankration”. – Bas Rutten on the origins of MMA.
- “People all over the world gravitate towards fighting because it’s something that’s in everyone and it’s an actual instinct. It’s not a man’s thing or a woman’s thing, it’s simple and its natural, and we’re all compelled to do it.” – Ronda Rousey
- “When I saw a little guy like Royce Gracie beating the bigger and more intimidating guy, I was very inspired, because I remembered my childhood when I went to school and was bullied. So right away, I knew that I wanted to do this and I wanted to be world champion.” – Georges St- Pierre
- “The guy gets knocked out, he gets carted off, and you don’t see him the next week. If you saw me the next day, you would never have recognized me. It’s not a game.” – Mike “Joker” Guymon
- “For me, fighting is always overcoming.” – Rashad Evans
- “I’m always looking at my own fighting, and win or lose, even if it’s a dominant fight, I go out there and find something that I need to get better at.” – Sara McMann
- “Because for these men and women, there is no defeat that keeps them on their backs, no referee to stop their fight, no corner to show them the way. They must find the strength to carry on within themselves and that is why we follow their stories so intently, through magnificent victories and crushing defeats – so that just for a moment, we can put our own struggles on hold, and witness the triumphs of another.” – Kevin Costner (narration)