The UFC is a niche market. While it’s currently at the height of its popularity, it is still niche. Not everyone knows what it’s about, and not everyone cares. Most people look at it and think these are just a bunch of brutish boars, and deny it as a sport. But it is asport, like any other, and it takes training. And that’s one of the beautiful things about this documentary. It brings the discipline to the foreground.
Takedown: The DNA of GSP allows a niche market to appeal to a larger demographic. It doesn’t alienate, or pander, and it showcases the sportsmanship involved. Takedown keeps you at a fever pitch the entire time, and not just because of the fights or the score. It’s because of who GSP is. It’s about what he does, and how he does it; his training, his childhood, and his rise as a champion.
The documentary follows the life and career of former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre. From his youth as a scrawny kid, bullied and beaten in school in rural Quebec, he took to Karate to learn how to defend himself. He eventually ventures to New York to train with the best in the industry, with no money and while barely speaking English. Takedown takes you through his steady climb to victory, over his losses and mistakes, and takes a close look at what it takes to be a champion. It culminates with the March 2013 fight where St-Pierre defended his title against the ruthless Nick Diaz.
While the film avoids vilifying St-Pierre’s opponents, it’s a difficult task for those who malign themselves by virtue of being unsportsmanlike. Every good story needs a villain, and in this particular instance, that villain is Nick Diaz. While they’ve not necessarily created a villain for the purpose of the film, they’ve amplified the very real, negative public image of an opponent to suit the GSP mythos.
As a documentary, it has its problems. Using him as the focus is a calculated effort to shed the brutish association with MMA. And while the film does discuss St-Pierre’s youth in Saint-Isidore, Quebec, and go on to discuss his career, it neglects other, more pertinent issues. There’s barely any discussion, for example, of his briefly mentioned OCD, or the suggested mental illness supposedly prominent amongst MMA fighters. Even the juxtaposition of St-Pierre with Nick Diaz is a calculated move to give the audience a very clear-cut definition of heroism and villainy.
That being said, they’re not trying to take you through the history of the sport, or the problems behind the athletes. They’re trying to show you an exemplary fighter, and his relationship with the sport. They’re attempting to use St-Pierre as a vehicle to better the image of the UFC and MMA as a whole. And in that regard, they’re successful. They’ve taken an excellent athlete, and shone a spotlight on him in a way that will appeal to a larger demographic than the UFC currently reaches. Quite like what Fame did for the arts, I think this could really encourage a lot of young adults, men and women alike, to explore martial arts.
What struck me the most about this documentary is how much St-Pierre is positioned as a real-life Rocky Balboa. Similarly, Nick Diaz is depicted almost as Clubber Lang (Mr. T). He just wants to tear people down. It’s a natural connection to Lang, whose motivation is rage and a desire to cause pain.
You can’t align the persona of Rocky with just anyone. It would take a lot of manipulation. But it’s easy to see St-Pierre as Rocky. He has so much heart and respect, for himself, his fellow athletes, as well as the sport. It’s not so much Rocky, the character – he’s not fighting for his girl. It’s the ideology. It’s what Rocky represents. He’s the ultimate inspiration. All you ever associate with Rocky is heart, passion, and dedication. With Rocky, it’s all about going the distance. It’s not about being the champion; it’s about being the best, and not quitting. It’s precisely because St-Pierre is the best that they wanted to make Takedown in the first place. To shine a light on this champion, and bring him into a broader social consciousness. In so doing, they’ve also managed to elevate the sport of mixed martial arts.
Takedown: The DNA of GSP will play in 100 theatres across Canada on February 20th, 22nd, and 24th.