Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A new documentary brings Acadiana’s MMA pugilists to the fore. By Anna Purdy

20110316-livingind-0101“I grew up watching men who work hard, who party hard. And on Friday or Saturday night, they weren’t scared to fight hard,” goes the voiceover to the opening of the trailer for FIGHTVILLE, a documentary created by husband and wife team Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein (jointly called Pepper & Bones Productions), which premiered March 12 at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. While filming their last documentary, How to Fold a Flag, the couple became interested in focusing on Gladiators Academy in Scott when that film’s subject, Mike Goss, fought in Acadiana. They returned, and quickly the focus of Pepper & Bones locked in on one young up-and-coming fighter named Dustin Poirier.

“I first saw Dustin fight at Blackham Coliseum,” says Tucker. “At the time, I knew nothing about the sport of MMA, but that night, when I saw him fight, I knew that he was something special. He has presence, he’s humble and he has a lot of heart.”

MMA, or mixed martial arts, came to the states in 1993 in the form of Ultimate Fighting Championships. Two fighters employing different styles for a bout is an ancient sport, and the start of UFC was no different — the idea was seeing how two fighters would react in a street fight, or a real world situation. Over the years MMA has gained rules (not just for the safety of its fighters but to gain a more public following, as initially it was so brutal most people were turned off), but it remains a full-contact combat sport.

Most cities have unofficial names for certain neighborhoods, and one of Lafayette’s is Fighting Ville (it’s by the train tracks around Simcoe Street). “[O]ne day Dustin Poirier’s mom, Jere, was driving me around town, and she turned to me and said, ‘Now we are entering Fighting Ville,’ and I was stunned by the dumb luck of it all. What other place in the world has a neighborhood famous for fighting?” Tucker says.

Poirier, a native of Lafayette’s northside, became interested in fighting as a teenager. Now 22, he hopes to continue as long as he can, which for MMA fighters is usually their mid-30s. “When I was younger I used to wrestle for a little bit. I’ve always been a competitor, so really when I had a chance to train mixed martial arts it just kind of snowballed from there. I was in the gym every day, non-stop training. I worked boxing but just recreationally.”

Poirier got the chance to train as an MMA fighter at Tim Credeur’s Gladiators Academy in Scott. This sort of training in no way guarantees ever being good enough to do anything other than spar with your fellow fighters at the gym and training every day, but Poirier has evolved to fighting far outside the state. He’s had 19 bouts so far, with the next being in Vancouver in June.

It would be naive to dismiss how this documentary could reinforce inaccurate perceptions of Acadiana: The “raging Cajun” stereotype — three teeth, iron fists and a second-grade education — has been popularized by Hollywood. (Ever see Wilford Brimley doing a Cajun accent in Hard Target?) Yet Tucker insists this film is different. It’s peering over the edge of the water glass and down into an area that, according to him, is “not the city you expect — on the surface, in many ways, it’s like many places in America, but once you dig a little deeper you see a unique way of life and outlook emerge. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a place that embraces life and maybe with that adversity.”

What does all this attention mean to Poirier, a young man who is already a seasoned fighter? “It’s incredible,” he gushes. “It’s a great opportunity for people to see the way I train, the way I prepare for fights, and how seriously I take this sport. Just to have these moments of my life captured on film. ... 20 years from now I show my kids this movie and what I used to do, and how I built an empire for them.”

FIGHTVILLE is currently making the festival rounds, so if you want to see it, you’re going to have to wait a while. “A major deal is in the works,” says Tucker, offering no details. Check our blog for updates.

 

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