'The Hurt Business': Film Review

THE HURT BUSINESS - Still 2 - Michael Chandler celebrating victory after Bellator 157 -H 2016
Courtesy of Vladar
For the sport's fans only, though few will learn much from it.

Kevin Costner narrates a look at the state of mixed martial arts in America.

Outsiders hoping to understand what the phenomenal success of mixed martial arts is all about might wait for a better guide than Vlad Yudin's The Hurt Business, a scattered intro that offers some history and introduces a few of the players who are currently big on the scene, but hardly inspires a disinterested viewer to drop everything and set the DVR for the next UFC bout. Some faithful fight fans may rally for the doc's theatrical bookings, but even on VOD, it promises to underwhelm most for whom the names Jon Jones and Sara McMann mean something.

Former UFC light-heavyweight champ Jones was disgraced early last year, when he was arrested for fleeing the scene of a car wreck that injured a pregnant woman. But Yudin is loath to re-edit a movie that appears to have been in the can for some time: Apart from a tacked-on coda acknowledging his fall from grace, the movie proceeds with Jones at its center, as a rising star who took the title from Rashad "Suga" Evans and loves to talk about his straight-arrow upbringing. ("There's no shortcuts to greatness," says the man who a few months ago tested positive for banned substances.)

Yudin interviews many of the current big names in MMA, but sticks with only a few long enough to be invested in their personal lives. Even then, as with Michael "Joker" Guymon, who battled depression during his long years trying to become a star, the effort seems cursory.

Still, Yudin spends long enough in fighters' living rooms and physical-therapy sessions that he can't devote too much time to charting the rise of MMA. With Kevin Costner narrating, the film gives just a few minutes to how modern MMA fighting descended from the ancient Olympic event "Pankration." As far as Hurt is concerned, the story starts with the Brazilian Gracie family, who adapted Japanese judo techniques into Brazilian jiu-jitsu; Rorion Gracie appears here to explain how (with help from filmmaker John Milius) he developed the Octagon cage now associated with UFC bouts.

The shapeless doc is halfway over before it starts touching on any negative aspects of this notoriously brutal sport. We visit with former fighter Gary Goodridge, who attributes his brain damage to the many concussions he suffered in the ring; we hear from New York legislators who fought to keep MMA illegal in the state (and eventually lost). For the most part, though, the fighters we meet complain only about the paltry share of the sport's income that makes it their way. With an average career lasting just nine years, most fear for what they'll do in retirement. After all, there's only room in Hollywood for a certain number of ring-to-screen crossover figures like Randy Couture.

Production company: The Vladar Company
Director: Vlad Yudin
Producers: Vlad Yudin, Edwin Mejia
Executive producer: Jim Czarnecki
Director of photography: Kevin Israel Castro, Kristin Mendez, Eliana Alvarez Martinez
Editor: Matthew Adams
Composer: Nate Kohrs

110 minutes