Occupation: Fighter Movie Review: The Story of a Contender

An inspirational, though not completely objective, look at one man's dedication to mixed martial arts.
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Occupation: Fighter chronicles eight months in the life of Chad “Savage” George, a veteran in the world of mixed martial arts, as he embarks on a journey filled with both mental and physical hardships while training in preparation for an upcoming fight.  Featuring interviews with friends, family, and fellow combatants, the film seeks to shed light on the domain of full-contact sports by dismantling stereotypes and emphasizing the sacrifice and dedication required to survive and thrive as a fighter. 

occupation-fighterWhen Chad George moved to California, it was in the hopes of becoming a successful artist.  After a few sessions with an MMA trainer, George found another calling and hasn’t looked back.  When we meet him, he’s fighting for WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting) and seems to be on the verge of becoming a major player in the bantamweight division, depending on the outcome of his next fight.  If the movie from this point on had to be summed up in one word, it would be “sacrifice.”  We follow George as he details his intense daily training regimen and diet in order to get into fighting shape.  A visit with his chiropractor reveals a nagging injury that will one day slow George down, but can’t be dealt with (not that he’s got the insurance or money to take care of it anyway).  Partying and indulgence are cast aside and working through injuries - and even fighting while injured - become a way of life.  While interviews with his comrades-in-arms offer insight into the mindset of a fighter, perhaps the truest look behind the curtain is given by George’s girlfriend.

The old fighter’s cliché of “no sex before a fight” comes to mind as George’s girlfriend speaks of what she sees as the “selfish” side of fighting.  Family and friends are forced to play second fiddle to training.  Seeing Chad George as an artist at heart, she speaks of a self-deprecating personality that leads him to push himself to be the best.  In fact, as proud as Chad is of his combative skill set, when he and another fighter showcase their artwork and photography in a gallery showing, the two men seem truly happy to let the world see their “sensitive side.”

The other fighters (and George himself) tend to speak in a variety of platitudes and clichés.  “No pain, no gain” and that sort of thing.  At times, I wondered if they were trying to convince me of their dedication to the sport or if they were attempting to convince themselves that what they were doing was worthwhile.  However, when we are introduced to three students George is training, it’s clear that at the very least, he has inspired these people to better themselves through a similar (though undoubtedly far less intense) form of training and positive mindset.  Realizing that the vast majority of fighters don’t earn anything even close to resembling a decent paycheck and witnessing the workouts documented in this film, I admit that I found myself inspired by this gentlemen and his unwavering desire to succeed at all costs.

Another interesting insight revolved around George’s hairstyle.  Earlier in his career, he was known as someone with a variety of crazy hairstyles, but upon signing a WEC contract, he was pushed to “brand himself” with a distinctive look and a signature style.  Feeling a bit too much like a product, George ends up shaving his trademark dyed Mohawk in an attempt to take the focus off the gimmicks and emphasize his skill as the fight day looms.  It was a very minor portion of the movie, but it was actually quite interesting and an aspect I wouldn’t have minded seeing the director expand upon a bit more.  With so much focus put on the fighter’s dedication, I think the film might’ve been a bit more well rounded had we been given the opportunity to see more of the business side of MMA.

If fault is to be found in Occupation: Fighter, it is that the film lacks any objectivity whatsoever.  While I love a good inspirational sports story and want nothing more than to cheer the underdog who truly deserves to win, I couldn’t help but notice that no one in the entire course of the movie has anything negative to say about Chad George or mixed martial arts.  In fact, no one has anything less than a glowingly positive review to give the man and it often feels like we’re just watching a promotional film for Chad “Savage” George made by Chad “Savage” George.  Sure enough, I found Chad George’s name listed as a producer of the film. 

Which is fine - somebody has to make the movie, right?  And while I do not in any way, shape, or form wish to cast doubt on the dedication and talent of the men who fight in MMA contests or the day-to-day dangers that they face in their chosen profession, this lack of objectivity makes it hard for me to call the film a true documentary.  It feels a lot more like a commercial.  A propaganda piece designed to paint a pretty picture regarding the true nature of full-contact sports. And that’s fine too.  I enjoyed Occupation: Fighter and would recommend it to fans of mixed martial arts as well as folks who like an inspirational story about a guy working hard to achieve his goals. 

Personally, I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more focus on other aspects such as the marketing side of the business, the health risks, and potential negative repercussions of dedicating one’s life to a profession which offers so little in return, or even a more in-depth look at a fighter’s training regimen and the briefly-touched-upon “muscle memory” involved in fighting.  A more grounded and informative approach might’ve made the inspirational side of the story that much more galvanizing; instead, it rang a bit hollow and forced.

And maybe someday someone will make the movie I want.  Occupation: Fighter wasn’t exactly that movie, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth watching.  It was an entertaining and eye-opening film about a man dedicated to the quest to prove something to both himself and his peers.  Nothing wrong with that.

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