I've always been super skeptical about MMA movies and TV shows. They are usually super cheesy, not accurate to the lifestyle and just plain dumb. So I avoided watching Kingdom (even though the teasers were pretty badass). I just assumed it would suck.
But I'm reluctantly happy to announce... I was wrong! Quick screenshot that, it won't happen again.
Champions.co was invited to the set of Kingdom this week to preview a few unreleased episodes, tour the set, as well as speak with the actors and some of the professional MMA talent behind the scenes. The experience was incredibly eye-opening and here's what I think you should know about my new favorite show.
1. The actors actually know what the hell they are doing
One of my biggest complaints about MMA movies and TV is authenticity. The actors never seem like they know anything about technique, but when speaking with Natalie Martinez (Alicia Mendez on the show) I realized that maybe all these years I've had it wrong. Martinez was training in Muay Thai and boxing for almost six years before filming began and she says that her experience has actually been a bit of a problem.
"When I am filming, I go full throttle," she said. "I've even gotten hurt."
But it's not just the passion finding its way through, but the technique she wants to use that isn't appropriate on set.
"We try to do the best technique we can," she said. "We know that you want to turn your punches, and block your face. But if I am shooting something then the camera can't really see me. So we've had to drop our hands which feels weird."
So all those years I criticized the actors for not being authentic I never took into account how different things might be for filming!
"All of us, every single cast member on the show that has anything to do with fighting does fight on their off time," she said.
I don't think you can get any more authentic than that.
And if you doubt her talent check out this Instagram of her throwing some massive Muay Thai kicks.
2. The set is an actual full-service, working gym
When we first entered the set I was blown away at the gym. Every single detail was planned out, right down to the white board schedule on the wall. There was every machine you'd see in a real gym, and everything worked. In fact, multiple cast members said they worked out on the equipment in their down time. There were weights, heavy bags, grappling dummies and mats.
They even had a full service locker room, complete with a kitchen, bunk beds, showers and lockers. And even though this gym is meant to look run down and dingy it's a lot nicer than some of the places I have been inside!
When can I move in? And will Nick Jonas be there?
3. The UFC is digging it
Not that the UFC is Siskel and Ebert or anything, but having the stamp of approval from the largest MMA promotion is a pretty big deal. In fact Jonathan Tucker (who plays Jay Kulina) says that when he is at UFC fights he gets approached by fighters complimenting the show.
"When someone like Cowboy Cerrone comes up and says 'I love that show Kingdom,'" he said. "It's like... it's fantastic. It's such a humbling gratifying experience."
If Cowboy puts his seal of approval on it, how could I not?
We've also been told that the UFC may be involving the show in it's International Fight Week festivities this July, so stay tuned for that!
4. Greg Jackson and Joe Daddy Stevenson are keeping it authentic
When I first arrived on set I was greeted by Stevenson and Jackson. They handed me the fight syllabus that all actors are given and expected to learn before filming.
But first, let me rewind a bit... in case you don't know who either of these guys are, Stevenson is a former UFC fighter, who has been competing professionally since 1999. He runs a successful promotion (California Fight League) as well as a blossoming MMA gym (Cobra Kai). Jackson is arguably the most well-known MMA coach of all time. He currently co-owns Jackson-Wink which is home to Jon Jones and Holly Holm.
This show could not be in two more experienced hands.
Ok, back to this syllabus. I have included only day one of it here, and wow is it tough. I train both in Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu and I got winded just reading what is required!
I dare someone to tell me this show isn't authentic. No, scratch that. I DOUBLE DOG dare someone.
The show is available exclusively on Audience Network, which can be seen on DIRECTV and AT&T U-Verse.