I was not a fan of the recent fantasy movie Jiu Jitsu starring Nicholas Cage. It was not because it was a bad movie, but because I knew that there was a much better movie out there waiting to be made that would be more deserving of that title. One that would show the techniques and tenants of the martial art known as Jiu Jitsu and the character and tribulations of those who practice it. Well, that movie has finally been made and it’s title is Born a Champion.

UAMC Reviews ‘Born a Champion’ (2021)

The movie stars and was written by Sean Patrick Flanery, who himself is a black belt under the greatest fighter in Jiu Jitsu history Rickson Gracie. The movie plays out as a fictional but accurate  history of early mixed martial arts in the 1990s. Flanery plays Mickey Kelley,who is a master of a martial art nobody has ever heard of called Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Because of his obscure knowledge, he receives an invitation to be flown to the Middle East to teach a seminar to the children of the oil sheiks. 

Along the way, he meets a fellow American Layla played by Katrina Bowden and uses his particular skill set to save her from a creepy businessman and his entourage. Layla will eventually become Mickey’s wife when they return to the states and start a family. So impressed was the shriek by this new martial art and Mickey’s skills in it, years later he invites Mickey to return to Dubai and fight in a tournament for a sum of money that could prove to be life alternating for Mickey and his family.

The Setup for an Ultimate Showdown

Mickey cruises trough his first two bouts using the grace and technique of his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. His final fight is against up and coming contender Marco Blaine played by UFC fighter Edson Barboza. Blaine is an expert in the fighting art of Vale Tudo, which translates into anything goes, and if you know your history of martial arts, it is the heated rival to Jiu Jitsu in its native Brazil. Blaine lands a cheap shot on Mickey as he attempts to bow in and then administers a hellacious beating that leaves Mickey broken and bloody with the permanent disability of losing his sight if he ever fights again.

Mickey and Michelle return to the United States where they become devoted parents to a son as Mickey eats out an living as a bouncer and teaching private classes in the corner of a McDojo teaching traditional martial arts. Then one day, a VHS copy of the fight is uploaded to this new thing called The Internet. Blaine is by know a well known MMA champion and fans are outraged after viewing the fight and demand a rematch. And there just happens to be a promoter that’s willing to put up the prize money and set in back in the Middle East so Mickey can get around the medical restrictions. Mikey needs the money for his family’s future, so que the trading montage and back to the Middle East we go.

But How Ultimate is it?

Up until recently, martial arts always got the short shift to boxing as far as sports movies go.  History has finally caught up with the rebooted Cobra Kai, 2010s Warrior with Tom Hardy and Joe Eggleston or the three season Netflix show The Kingdom with Frank Grillo. Here is a martial arts themed movie that is more The Champ than Rocky with a healthy dose of history thrown in.  The final fight is not the point of this movie but it’s about the heart of a true champion and the love for his family that forces him to get back in the ring. You would have a hard heart if the final scene of the movie doesn’t make you want to go train.

And who is this Sean Patrick Flanery and why does he look so familiar? Well, as far as his action credentials, he was the lead in the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles back in the day and was on of the MacManus Brothers in The Boondock Saints. Check out his A-list acting chops where he played an outcast albino who could channel electricity in Powder or holding his own against Christopher Walken in Suicide Kings.

He has always worked steadily but instead of becoming an A-list actor and all that would entail, he concentrated on starting a family and earning his black belt. He appeared on the last season of The Boys, numerous action movies trough the years, wrote and directed the recent movie Frank and Penelope and has another movie out next month called Nefarious where he plays a convict with a secret. But this is the perfect movie to rediscover one of my favorite actors that I’ve enjoyed trough the years.