Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton took on a brutal training regimen for the MMA drama.
With three World MMA Awards to his name, and having been named the 8th Most Powerful Man in MMA by Fight! Magazine, the legendary Greg Jackson was a technical advisor for the film. Jackson has trained many successful fighters, including current UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. He is also the trainer of former King of Pancrase Nate Marquardt, who appears in the film. On WARRIOR, he would be entrusted to run both lead actors through their grueling training regimen.
Production of the fight scenes went on for six straight weeks, with over two hundred hours of footage ultimately shot for the film, much of it extra fight coverage. As the shoot began, training transitioned from Jackson’s Albuquerque, New Mexico facility to the Pittsburgh Fight Club, which played dual host to the production, both as a setting for the film’s gym scenes and as the cast’s off-camera training center. While both actors did have stunt doubles, Edgerton and Hardy themselves eventually completed at least 85% of the fight work seen on screen.
Observes Jackson, “I was incredibly impressed with the quality of the actors on this project. They were dedicated to really understanding what it takes to be high-level fighters and trainers. They partook in heavy training and the results speak for themselves. I was honored to be a part of such a significant project for our art. The script positively shows the great impact MMA can have on individuals and families.”
Filming mixed martial arts fight scenes presented a unique set of challenges. For one, the gloves used in MMA are four ounce gloves – far thinner and less padded than boxing gloves – and fighters’ chests and legs are exposed. Describing how little room for protection there was,
Perry says, “If we do a fight scene in a nightclub and you’re wearing clothes, I can use knee pads and elbow pads. We can cheat a lot of things.” Though small concessions were made, like replacing the gloves’ thin padding with equally thin but higher density padding and installing a special gymnastics style spring floor in the bottom of the cage to help absorb impact, at the end of the day, both actors had to literally throw themselves into a physically precarious shooting environment.
They also had to face real fighters, some of the best in the world, from across a multitude of specialties. The film features Olympic champion wrestler and Pittsburgh local hero Kurt Angle as Koba, the Russian wrestling champion who is expected to win Sparta. Though his screen time is limited to one match, his shadow hangs over the entire film as a fearsome opponent. In fact, the shadow of Angle himself, as well as those of fellow world class martial arts professionals who make appearances in the film, from Nate Marquardt, Erik Apple, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, and Yves Edwards, hung over the set as forces to be reckoned with.
It was a challenge not just to train the two lead actors as credible fighters, but train real fighters who have spent a lifetime physically crushing opponents to the ways of stunt fighting, or “selling” punches versus actually throwing them. In other words, Perry’s challenge was to train the fighters “not to wreck the actors,” as he puts it.
Despite his best efforts though, the occasional punch did accidentally connect, and there were a handful of “comes with the territory” injuries on set, including Hardy’s personal tally of a torn ligament, broken foot and cracked rib, and a serious injury to the MCL of Edgerton’s right knee that jeopardized the shooting schedule. Despite doctor’s warnings, the Australian toughed it out and finished the shoot despite the tear in his knee. Perhaps the steepest learning curve for each of the film’s real fighters, however, was to go against the grain of everything they’ve ever learned and accept that they would ultimately lose the bout in their filmed fight.
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