There is no show on television like Kingdom. And that's not hyperbole.
Not only is it a show about mixed martial arts, but it is also about family, tragedy and everything that goes into the fight of life that takes place both in and out of the spotlight. For two seasons, Kingdom has created a powerful narrative that any fan of exceptional television would appreciate while doing a tremendous service to the MMA community with it's realistic approach to capturing the pulse of the fight.
As the show enters its third and final season, the stakes are higher than ever as the cast deals with new challenges while addressing the aftermath of past challenges.
For the uninitiated, Kingdom follows Alvey Kulina (Frank Grillo) who runs a mixed martial arts gym out of Venice, California called Navy St. Gym with his girlfriend Lisa (Kiele Sanchez). Among the fighters who train at his gym are his two sons: Jay (Jonathan Tucker) and Nate (Nick Jonas). Jay has a troubled past with drug and alcohol abuse that he must tame in order to reach his fighting potential while Nate has his own unique set of skeletons trapped in his closet that are spilling out into his life as an MMA fighter. Also training at Navy St. Gym is Ryan Wheeler (Matt Lauria) whose career was derailed after being imprisoned. But now that he's out, he is looking to right the ship of his life while getting his MMA career on track.
The ups and downs (which, honestly, are more downs than ups) are chronicled throughout the show as life's challenges are regularly infiltrating the sport. The critically acclaimed show has had viewers invested in what happens to these characters in their fights and the fallout from their mistakes.
And if you aren't a diehard MMA fan, don't worry because the cast wasn't either. But once they began to live and breathe the life of an MMA fighter, their admittedly uneducated perspective was flipped on its ear.
"I thought MMA was a complicated, a complete mess, a blood sport," Jonathan Tucker explains to Champions. "I thought it was the most deprave form of human violence that we have in a public society. And I thought it was like cock fighting. For men and women. And I thought people who watched it and were fans of it were equally as base level as the sport itself. I wouldn't even have called it a sport."
Matt Lauria agrees with Tucker's sentiment.
"I hate to admit it. I thought, 'Where are we headed? Back towards Roman times? This is barbaric and, you know, savagery,'" Lauria says. "I would watch every once in a while to see an Anderson Silva highlight, or whatever. But generally it wasn't much. So Not really a big fan. It wasn't for me."
Although not as opposed to MMA like his fellow castmates, Nick Jonas also didn't view the world of mixed martial arts as something he'd be entrenched in.
"I was aware of the sport and watched bits here and there but I wasn’t a huge fan," he says. "I’ve seen much more boxing than MMA."
But as seasoned actors, Tucker, Lauria and Jonas all dove into the role and upon meeting fight choreographer and MMA fighter Joe Stevenson, they learned that the wonderful world of mixed martial arts is much more than punching and kicking someone until they are unconscious.
"Once I met Joe Stevenson and learned more about the art of fighting, I became a huge fan," Jonas says while citing the intrigue of learning about the intricacies of MMA. "I’ve been to about 12 UFC fights." All three explain that getting to know Stevenson outside of being a fighter truly helped them understand the psychology of an individual who indulges in MMA.
The tipping point for Lauria was that he attended one of Stevenson's fights. But it wasn't the fight itself that sucked him in, it was what happened after the fight that changed his entire perspective on MMA. Lauria was at the hospital as Stevenson was getting patched up and he met a 18-year-old that would hit him with the biggest gut punch that he had felt outside of fighting.
"I found out that he went to one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the country, in California, was accepted to Harvard, decided not to go because he wanted to be a professional player, Lauria reflects. "I said, 'Dude, go to f*cking college and fight later. What is your problem?'"
The response from the unnamed fighter floored him.
"He said to me, 'Because I never, ever developed the type of comradery and fraternity and family and brotherhood and love and acceptance that I feel when I'm in the gym with my boys.' He's like, 'It was a feeling that I couldn't live without. That I didn't want to live without.' That's profound. You know?"
Although the fight scenes are excellently choreographed and bring a realism to television that is rarely found for combat sports, it is exactly what Lauria encountered that makes Kingdom a show that is recommended viewing, even for those who have never watched an MMA card.
"Kingdom is a show about family and the struggles of this particular family and the complications that come with committing your life to becoming a fighter," Jonas says. "People don’t see that. They see what happens on the main stage and they miss out on the details of these people and their lives."
With the third and final season premiering on Audience, the show will continue to peel back the layers of the characters with the past and the present clashing as each individual is forced to make difficult decisions about their future as not only a fighter, but as a brother, son, friend and father.
"Season 3 is about being settled into these people, their lives, the struggles they’ve faced and the challenges they have overcome," Jonas says. "It’s strange when really awful circumstances become normal but in this world, that’s what it is. For a new fan, it’s going to be exciting to see people actually knowing how to cope with these circumstances whether its healthy or not. Family is the core that drives this narrative and it’s exciting to watch for the action and the punches that both literally and emotionally."
Stevenson, who is currently part of the TUF: Redemption cast, personifies what those who have never watched the show can look forward to.
"Those that watch the show will understand that a fight is more than 15 minutes," he says. "It's about going into a fight with an injury and having to fight because you can't afford the insurance or having something happen dramatic in your life and you having to fight through all this no matter what, because that's what you do.
Why do people love fighting champions? Because they persevere. Everyone's a champion if you look at it, just for living and getting up and breathing after the sh*t that we do. 10% of our lives, we're messed up and we can't do anything about it. It's what we do with the other 90%, like how we let it affect us that's going to define where we end up."
Kingdom airs on AT&T Audience Network Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET and is available on DIRECTV, DIRECTV NOW and U-verse.