Born a Champion (USA, 2021)

A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter finds himself on an ultimate road of redemption for himself and his family in this exciting drama that is set to turn Sean Patrick Flanery into a force to be reckoned with.

Mickey Kelley is a well-known expert in the martial art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He is invited to the Middle East to teach a seminar on the art when he meets Layla on the plane. After his class, Mickey nearly gets in hot water with a snide businessman over Layla. Layla and Mickey soon begin a whirlwind romance that leads to them getting married. When Mickey is invited to enter a tournament and does well until he faces Marco Blaine, a contender for the Vale Tudo Championships. Mickey suffers a career-ending injury when his eyes are heavily damaged.

Mickey soon finds himself now a dad and making ends meets in various ways. He’s teaching or he is working as a bouncer for a local bar. When he gets into a bar fight, Layla warns Mickey about the ramifications of his actions. However, when word gets out that Marco had given Mickey a cheap shot during their match, word gets out and it begins to question the integrity of the now MMA contender. Blaine’s manager Dick Mason plans to set a rematch between Mickey and Marco. Will Mickey gather up the strength to make a comeback or will fate has something else in store for him?

Mixed martial arts and the action film world are quite an interesting combination. There can be the good ones and the bad ones. Films like Redbelt, Warrior, and the first Never Back Down, has the sense to mesh MMA action scenes with emotional drama to help set up the action set pieces. This film, co-written and directed by Alex Ranarivelo, falls in that exact department. The idea of the film comes from lead star Sean Patrick Flanery, who is real-life is a black belt in the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and this can be said to be his vanity project.

As mentioned, the film is more than a typical MMA film. It’s the story of an aging fighter who risks a lot for the love of his art. The film is told through the viewpoints of two of Mickey’s friends, Rosco, played by Maurice Compte; and Terry, played by Reno Wilson. As for Flanery, he scores an impressive performance with a meshing of emotions with skills. We see Mickey attempt to balance between his love of his family, especially his wife Layla, played by Katrina Bowden, and his love of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The latter comes whether he is teaching, bouncing, or fighting, and this means that this is a man dedicated to his style of martial arts.

Flanery not only serves as star, co-writer, and producer, but he actually choreographed the fight scenes in which Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is highlighted. We get to see Flanery roll with the best of them, during the Dubai tournament but Edson Barboza does a good job of playing the man who derailed Mickey’s career, up and comer Marco Blaine. Dennis Quaid comes in late in the film as a MMA promoter who sees Marco as his meal ticket only to see his man nearly derailed due to his actions at the Dubai tournament. However, there are some major twists and turns in the third act that amps up the emotional level of the film and leads to a rematch between the two fighters.

Born a Champion is Sean Patrick Flanery’s ode to Jiu-Jitsu, delivering an excellent performance in the role of an aging fighter on the road to redemption. MMA aficionados will want to see this. One of the best since Warrior.

WFG RATING: A

Lionsgate presents a WSOR Film Group production. Director: Alex Ranarivelo. Producers: Ali Afshar, Paul J. Alessi, Kevin Asbell, Daniel Aspromonte, Ava Rettke, and Josh Webber. Writers: Alex Ranarivelo and Sean Patrick Flanery. Cinematography: Reuben Steinberg. Editing: Brett Hedlund.

Cast: Sean Patrick Flanery, Katrina Bowden, Maurice Compte, Reno Wilson, Edson Barboza, Dennis Quaid, Charlie Flanery, Currie Graham, Costas Mandylor, Ali Afshar, Jonathan Kowalsky.

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