Back in the early 90’s, a then-unknown Michael Jai White was just starting out in the film industry, making minor appearances on “Saved by the Bell” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze”. Fast-forward to the present, and those early roles are bits of trivia fans eagerly flashback to in order to catch a glimpse of his early beginnings. In the ensuing years, Mike would go on to establish himself a captivating screen presence. In everything from Tyler Perry comedies, battling the forces of hell in 1997’s “Spawn”, or his unforgettable encounter with The Joker in “The Dark Knight”, the presence of Michael Jai White in your movie or television series is one that never goes unnoticed.
Additionally, Mike has established himself as one of the most respected martial artists in the film industry, and one who’s just as adept playing heroic or villainous roles, alike. Whether he’s uncovering the sinister machinations of the American President, mentoring a group of young MMA trainees while seeking to re-establish himself in the sport, or going toe-to-toe with ‘The Most Complete Fighter in the World’, Mike continues to leave impressive footprints on the world of action like few martial artists have. That’s naturally led to some absolutely incredible martial arts action sequences over the course of his nearly three-decade career, and that can only mean one thing readers: it’s time for another KFK countdown: time to get rocked by DYNO-MITE with KFK’s (descending order rundown) of the Top 10 Michael Jai White Movie Fights!
Honorable mention: Deleted Scene — “Kill Bill: Volume 2”
This one’s a slight cheat, considering that director Quentin Tarantino ultimately left it out of the finished film – a decision that Mike himself has made clear he’s in agreement with. Nevertheless, it was a very nice extra feature to discover when Volume 2 hit the DVD shelves. As Mike himself pointed out, it’s hard to pin down just where his sword duel with the late David Carradine would properly fit within the finished film. However, the mere fact that it was filmed and polished up to the point where it conceivably could have been, makes it a joy to see even in isolation. Everything from the sets to the soundtrack to Mike’s sinister laughter in the role of the villainous Da Moe is a loving throwback to the Shaw Brothers library, and of course, seeing David Carradine getting to channel a little of his “Kung Fu” days is great fun, as well. It may have been left out of the final product, but its inclusion among the film’s special features makes it an unequivocal favorite among fans of great deleted scenes!
- Prison Fight — Blood and Bone (2009)
- Black Dynamite vs Richard Nixon — Black Dynamite (2009)
- Case Walker vs bad cops — Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown (2011)
- Three vs John Chapman — Falcon Rising (2014)
- Tony vs Reed — Skin Trade (2015)
- Jaka vs Devereaux — Triple Threat (2019)
- Deveraux vs SETH — Universal Soldier: The Return (1999)
- Chambers vs Boyka: Round Two — Undisputed 2: Last Man Standing (2006)
- Bone vs Price — Blood and Bone (2009)
2009’s “Blood and Bone” is an interesting specimen of Michael Jai White’s career. As he’s explained in numerous interviews, he had largely eschewed action-oriented roles in the early stages of his career, out of his desire to be taken seriously as an actor first, and knowing that an abundance of martial arts-heavy roles would easily overshadow that. That’s not to say he didn’t dip his toes in those waters at all, as seen in 1999’s “Universal Soldier: The Return” and 2004’s “Silver Hawk”, but Mike nevertheless had held off from kicking and punching on-screen, for the most part. That changed with “Blood and Bone”, which kicks off with one of the most satisfying opening fight scenes you’ll ever lay eyes on, which given its relative brevity, is that much more impressive. When a gang of his fellow inmates, led by the late Kimbo Slice, prepare to assault our hero, Isaiah Bone, you could crack a walnut with the tension that’s in the air.
Bone clearly regards his enemies as less a threat than a momentary nuisance. There’s never a single moment’s doubt of what’s about to happen to them, and in a heartbeat, their plans to put the hurt on Bone are completely derailed. As far as Bone is concerned, he’s making an example of his enemies, and literally tasks them with spreading the word to the rest of the inmate population to stay in their lane. You just don’t see a fight sequence this short get the job done this effectively, or with so many rewind moments, i.e. the Aikido-esque throws Bone dispatches two of his opponents with. We never find out exactly what Bone is in prison for, but it’s testimony to how meticulously crafted “Blood and Bone” is that it need only devote about twenty seconds to making the point that he knows how to handle himself behind bars!
Michael Jai White’s faced many formidable enemies throughout his career, but how many action stars can say that they’ve gone head-to-head with the President of the United States? For anyone who hasn’t seen “Black Dynamite”, we’ll leave the particulars of why our hero is swinging nunchuku with Richard Nixon out, in the interest of keeping the villain plot unspoiled, along with the, let’s say, unusually sordid nature of said villain plot. “Black Dynamite” is a loving, affectionate send-up to the Blaxploitation genre, something that it pulls off so well that the late Roger Ebert felt it could legitimately be mistaken for a product of the 70’s, and that’s certainly hard to dispute.
Everything from the costumes to the set design to the soundtrack is deftly in sync with any Blaxploitation flick you could pull out from that era, but what ultimately seals it is how much the fight choreography of “Black Dynamite” evokes that era as well. Compared to the likes of “Undisputed 2” or “Blood and Bone”, the action in “Black Dynamite”, is meticulously crafted to reflect what was commonplace in Blaxploitation films in the 70’s, and our hero’s nunchuku duel with Richard Nixon brings the most popular weapon of the era front and center. Add in Black Dynamite’s ki-ai’s that are clearly predicated on those of Jim Kelly in “Enter the Dragon”, and it all makes our hero’s final smackdown with Richard Nixon a Blaxploitation Hall of Famer!
Michael Jai White made his directorial debut with 2011’s “Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown”, while also appearing in the film as former MMA fighter Case Walker. Though he’s not a participant in the titular Beatdown, serving as a mentor to the film’s young heroes, Case still has his own battles to fight in the form of a gang of racist cops eager for any excuse they can find to beat and arrest him, in that order. Case is further at a disadvantage by being handcuffed, and has to rely almost entirely on his kicks to hold his opponents at bay. As anyone with a background in kicking-oriented martial arts can tell you, throwing powerful kicks with one’s hands bound isn’t as easy as you might think it is, but Case makes it look amazingly easy indeed, dishing out every kick in the book, whilst also making it look like the kind of technical illustrations you’d find in a book. Case doesn’t fully move into center stage until 2016’s “Never Back Down: No Surrender”, but even without competing in The Beatdown itself, he still leaves his mark and then some on “The Beatdown”!
When we meet John “Falcon” Chapman in the opening of 2014’s “Falcon Rising”, it doesn’t take long to see that he’s battling some serious inner demons from his time in the military. Following his harrowing experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, he’s all but lost the will to live when the film opens, but is forced to fight a new battle in the favelas of Brazil. Chapman’s mission ultimately culminates in a three-on-one battle with his determined adversaries. The finale starts out with Mike and renowned Capoeira exponent, Lateef Crowder, going head-to-head, and progressively builds up the challenge with our hero holding off further attacks from a corrupt cop and a katana-wielding yakuza boss.
Seeing our hero navigate a progressive increase in opposition keeps us on our toes while each combatant bringing a different skill set to the table gives the fight a “Game of Death“-like feel with John having to adapt to three different methods of attack simultaneously. Ultimately, however, it’s the knowledge of just how much of an internal battle Chapman is fighting that gives the audience that much more of an emotional investment in seeing him emerge victorious. The finale of “Falcon Rising” takes a very unique approach indeed to making its highly-skilled hero with muscles on top of muscles into the underdog.
There’s a moment in 2015’s “Skin Trade” that is one of the most subtle yet simultaneously overt displays of “Hoorah” macho villainy I’ve ever seen. It comes when our hero Tony Vitayakul, played by the great Tony Jaa, tries to kick his enemy Reed, played by Michael Jai White, in the chest. Reed’s counterattack is to literally chest-bump the incoming kick and throw his opponent off balance. We’ve seen some amazing David vs Goliath duels before, but has there ever been one where Goliath employed a defensive tactic like that, where he’s literally thumping his chest with pride as he puts his enemy down? That one moment is as worthy of a highlight reel as any, but obviously, the overall battle between Tony and Reed is excellent, as well. Tony takes quite a pounding from his much larger enemy, but the pain threshold of Muay Thai fighters is just about as high as they come, as well, which is why Tony can continually slam his shins into Reed’s and not be fazed in the least. The showdown of Reed and Tony is the undisputed highlight of “Skin Trade”, and would also foreshadow them crossing paths on the hero-villain spectrum again in “Triple Threat” – albeit, with one of Tony’s compatriots now going head-to-head with Mike, which brings us to…
Here’s a showdown that had quite a build-up! When it was first announced, “Triple Threat” was immediately positioned as an Asian-driven version of “The Expendables”, and for action aficionados, it was more than worth the wait when it finally arrived last month. As one-third of the titular motley crew, Jaka, played by Iko Uwais, takes a puppet master’s approach to his quest for vengeance, steering his enemies, and even his allies, right where he wants them to be, when he wants them to be there.
Devereaux, however, is the only one who sees through Jaka’s facade, and not only makes his feelings known, but does everything he can to bait Jaka into exposing his ulterior motives. That, of course, just makes it that much more satisfying when Jaka is finally able to drop the act and face off with the man who carries his wife’s blood on his hands, with a little help from his new ally Long Fei, played by Tiger Chen. Jaka’s smaller stature and masterful abilities in Silat is perfectly contrasted against Devereaux’s size and strength advantage, along with his commensurate agility. Mike himself faced the challenge of adapting his kicking skills to an opponent of Iko’s stature, something he describes in-depth in KFK’s exclusive interview with him on the making of “Triple Threat”. Check it out now to gain a greater appreciation of Devereaux’s climactic smackdown with Jaka!
Dever…similar name, how often does that happen! The “Universal Soldier” series is certainly an oddity among action movie franchises. Beginning in theaters, the series moved to basic cable with two made-for-TV sequels, and returned to theaters before moving to the home video market with two reality-warping sequel-reboot hybrids. It’s also a curious entry in the career of Michael Jai White, who appeared in 1992’s “Universal Soldier”, but in his own words, “you need the pause button to see me.” That changed with 1999’s “Universal Soldier: The Return”, where he graduated to the central villain of the film, the malevolent A.I. known as SETH, who gives himself a human body and commandeers the UniSols in his bid to conquer the world. Up to this point, the “Universal Soldier” series had never delivered a fight sequence this good, and the series’ mainstay Luc Devereaux, played again by Jean-Claude Van Damme, feels genuinely overwhelmed as a UniSol having to battle a more advanced model of what he was made into. Mike truly lives up to the idea of what both a supervillain and a super-soldier can do with the agility and fighting prowess he imbues SETH with – especially with that rewind-worthy aerial kick at 1:30. Fun fact – despite his extremely well-defined physique, by his own account, playing SETH was actually the lightest Mike has ever gotten for a role, but it certainly paid off in spades!
If George “The Iceman” Chambers’ rematch with Yuri Boyka in “Undisputed 2: Last Man Standing” can be summarized in one word, it would be “reversal”. And that doesn’t just refer to Chambers’ reversal of fortunes in the fight itself, either, but also to the fact that, well, you’re actually rooting for him this time. Among the many tricks it had up its sleeve, “Undisputed 2” pulled off a terrific bait and switch with its two main characters. Boyka may not yet have graduated to the fully-fledged hero of the series at this point, but his portrayal in “Undisputed 2” as an out-of-this-world fighting machine with a firm code of honor made you cheer to see him do his thing the ring. Add in the fact that Chambers, the villain of the first “Undisputed”, is both written and portrayed by Michael Jai White as an arrogant, hot-tempered, self-absorbed jerk, and who among us didn’t spend the first three-quarters of “Undisputed 2” rooting for Boyka to kick his face in? That, of course, only makes it that much more satisfying to see Chambers reform himself for his rematch with Boyka and learn just enough MMA techniques to get by. It even required a little “unlearning” on Mike’s part, as he had to learn to “kick bad”, in the words of director Isaac Florentine. Chambers’ means of achieving victory would also prove to be the MacGuffin of “Undisputed 3: Redemption”, and give Boyka his own test of humility to overcome, making Chambers’ final showdown with Boyka arguably the most pivotal fight of the entire “Undisputed” series.
“Blood and Bone” is a surprisingly dense and layered film. Its opening prison fight is over in the blink of an eye, and it still manages to be one of the best opening kickoffs you’d could ever ask for. We see in the opening that Isaiah Bone knows how to fight, but as we see throughout the rest of the film, he’s also sharp as a tack and incredibly strategic. Bone faces his most formidable enemy in the form of the arrogant henchman Price, played by Matt Mullins, and it’s great fun to see he and Bone feel each other out in the beginning, with the pace of fighting growing steadily as each one counters the other’s respective strengths.
Bone ultimately proves better at standing his ground, as we see when each combatant tries to fake out the other, with only Price flinching, and you can see the turning point of the fight unfold before your very eyes as Bone finds the perfect rhythm to penetrate his opponent’s defenses. Ultimately, however, Price is just a lackey for Bone’s real enemy James, played by Eamon Walker, leading our hero to end the fight in a way that adds insult to injury in the most flippant way possible, and leads right into their final confrontation. “Blood and Bone” is a movie with a head on its shoulders, and the title character’s smackdown with Price is the most shining example of the cerebral approach it takes to martial arts action. Be sure to also watch out for those cameos by Fumio Demura and Bob Wall, the latter adopting the name of his famed character from “Enter the Dragon”, O’Hara!
…and in at #1 is…
Case Walker vs Caesar Braga — Never Back Down: No Surrender (2016)
Given his pretty imposing build, the idea of doing a David vs Goliath fight with Michael Jai White in which he’s David is a tricky proposition. Fortunately, Australian pro-wrestler and strongman Nathan Jones can loom a few heads taller than almost anybody. Well- known to action fans for his villainous appearances in “Tom Yum Goong”, “Fearless”, and “Mad Max: Fury Road”, Jones portrays the hulking, and quite simple-minded Caesar Braga, and that latter character trait is hilariously illustrated in the finale of “Never Back Down: No Surrender”.
Braga is no brains and all brawn, as we see when Case Walker manages to push his buttons to instigate their fight before they even step into the cage. But make no mistake, while our hero is more than capable of outwitting him, Braga’s still got a LOT of brawn to throw at him. It’s exceedingly rare to see a David vs Goliath battle in which the David in question could be (and, indeed, has been) the Goliath of other battles, but the final smackdown of “No Surrender” does not disappoint in its blend of powerful fisticuffs and intellectual maneuvering. Of course, action sequences are even more satisfying when you know what the participants had to overcome to make them happen, and Mike overcame the hurdles of battling food poisoning along with attempting a particular kicking technique for the first time in his life for the finale of “No Surrender” – you can read all about that right here in KFK’s other in-depth interview with Michael Jai White!
So there we have it folks KFK’s Top 10 Michael Jai White Movie Fights. Which of your faves made it and are there any others you’d like to see?
Which other big screen martial artists would you like to see Michael Jai White square off with next? Let us know in the comments below; Like, share and join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter & Instagram.
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