Let's face it, before the dawn of MMA, fight scenes in movies were either over-the-top and unrealistic or just plain awful. All you need to do is look at a bar fight in any spaghetti western to get a feel for how bad early films were at showcasing even a simple punch.
Sorry John Wayne, but if Mike Tyson hit you with his hardest uppercut, your head still wouldn't flop back like that.
While one would expect the rise of kung fu and action movies to have elevated the art of throwing down on screen over the years, sadly, they only made movie brawls more outrageous, but with high-flying kicks and flips.
Except for flicks starring the legendary Bruce Lee, whose style was flashy yet grounded in reality, even "good" fight scenes have traditionally erred on the ridiculous side. There always seems to be a lot of jumping around, winging of punches, and overreactions to getting hit. In other words, things you would never see in an actual fight.
The good news is that MMA has revolutionized the way filmmakers approach big screen beatdowns. Sure, some movie moves are still over-the-top (blame parkour), but the majority of film fights nowadays look better than ever because they focus on realistic techniques that fighters frequently use in the cage.
Martial arts flicks like Ong Bak and The Raid deserve a ton of credit for implementing real, yet still pretty badass moves, mostly stemming from Muay Thai. When done well, the use of elbows, knees, and the Thai clinch makes kickboxing-inspired fight scenes look both exciting and bone-crushingly true to life.
MMA-style submission moves from grappling arts like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu have arguably had an even bigger impact on the realism of hand-to-hand fighting in cinema. These slick ground techniques have been proven in the crucible of combat, which is why people don't scratch their heads when they see things like Paul Walker putting his legs around Vin Diesel's head for an armbar.
Aside from single techniques, though, the way fights flow on screen has also improved greatly. Films, for the most part, no longer use clunky scenes of one guy getting hit, reacting in a ludicrous manner, then throwing a punch back.
Movie brawls now progress much like a real fight would. There's a lot going on in each millisecond as participants are playing defense and offense at the same time.
Especially when the long take is used, on screen beatdowns can flow in ways that still mimic reality while also being compelling for the viewer to watch. Case in point, the epic hallway scene from Daredevil on Netflix.
Not only has MMA made movies better, but the reverse is also true.
A lot of fighters have credited their favorite flicks for inspiring them to pull off what many would consider to be impossible moves in the cage. For example, former UFC champion Anthony Pettis' "Showtime kick" drew inspiration from techniques used in the Ong Bak movies.
Since there seems to be a symbiotic relationship between real fights and fantasy brawls, beatdowns in the cage and on screen can only get better as time goes on.