Hollywood has hijacked mixed martial arts. Think
"That stuff just doesn't happen in real life," says
For dedicated MMA followers, the film is a double-edged sword, cheaply, and inaccurately, promoting a sport that's growing but still struggling for acceptance. And Razak understands first-hand the battles the sport has endured -- in and out of the cage.
As a former MMA fighter, he not only admires the sport, but also has beared the sport's die-hard regimen. Judo, boxing, martial arts, ultimate fighting -- he's done it all and probably seen it all. And as an independent filmmaker, he's also put it all on screen.
His first documentary,
Warning: there's nothing comparable to "the Iceman" in
Razak recently inked a deal with Time Warner, the parent company of SI.com, to put his latest mixed martial arts reality series
While Razak's other films were popular among the MMA enthused, it wasn't until recently that the sport itself took off across multiple platforms and outlets. In February, CBS signed ProElite's EliteXC fight division to a primetime slot, and, a week later, NBC signed
And, of course (and certainly not surprisingly)
Still, to many, MMA is simply a legalized form of bestial bloodshed -- brutal, bloody, and just downright disturbing. An act Sen.
"The sport isn't brutal at all," he says. "You have two professional individuals who are agreeing to fight and they're doing it within the realm of competition and finance. It's like the canvas of the blood -- very beautiful, poetic. Like two people engaged in a dance."
So Chuck Liddell equals
"I'm the director, so I'm probably being excessively poetic about it," he says. "But I want the viewers to go inside the minds of the fighter, feel what he's feeling and then go on the journey with him."
Razak's fighting journey brought him to America from Tottenham, England. Introduced to judo by his father at the meager age of 5, Razak made the rounds from many types of fighting. But 1999 marked the start and end to his professional MMA career. After earning a two-round decision against
"I came here to keep pushing my goal of boxing," he says. "But I had two simultaneous dreams: to be a filmmaker and to be
It's the "unknown" that keeps a man swinging while his entire face is bruised and smashed in -- that's what will win a fight, according to Razak. A fighter's mental toughness will determine his longevity. The sane one standing will get the belt.
"I think a lot of fighters are kind of insane, not Joe Schmo personalities," he says. "I mean, they're sweethearts but they have a switch. I try to see what makes the fighters tick, and, yeah, [Underground Kings] is really candid. There's some really off-the wall stuff because I'm really exploring the mental aspect of MMA. A lot of people don't realize that the physical aspect of MMA is really a mute point because if you aren't mentally strong then you're going to break down in the fights. And that's something that's always really fascinated me."
The required mental tenacity and the inevitable personality clashes. If the Real World incorporated ultimate fighting, you telling me you wouldn't be interested?
In Razak's series, it's the meshing of the bad-asses with the do-gooders, the
"The last guy that we filmed was butting heads with his trainer pretty hardcore, to the point where he was having a physical and mental breakdown," Razak says. "It was a combination of me badgering him, and his trainers badgering him, and I could see he was breaking down. My style is to see how the fighters are mentally, because I think that's the mark of a champion."
The real kicker, though, may be the anti-drama sides of the fighters. As contradictory as it may seem, the fighters' humble and soft-spoken demeanors set the sport apart from the
As MMA continues to grow, surprises may continue to pop up for the non-followers -- within the sport and especially within Razak's new series. Having just finished filming
"It's a beautiful art, but if you are not educated in the sport, then I guess you can perceive it as brutal. I want to educate people."