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Jon Fitch Documentary Director Jonah Tulis: Aspiring to Great Heights

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Jon Fitch such great heightsThere are many dynamic and groundbreaking MMA documentaries that have helped propel the sport further along, capturing such enigmatic stories as Rickson Gracie in Choke, Mark Kerr in The Smashing Machine and Renzo Gracie in Legacy. Top-shelf UFC welterweight Jon Fitch has gotten the star treatment in the documentary ‘Such Great Heights (www.imdb.com/title/tt1447482),’ released this month through Flying Penguin Pictures.

Jonah Tulis, the film’s director, explained the deep appreciation producer Philip Frank had for the sport of MMA, which led to discussion about doing a project.

“It wasn’t specifically an idea about Fitch,” says Tulis of the original seed for the movie, “Phil came up with the idea of following several MMA fighters, and pulling it all together. There was certainly no huge idea behind it.”

A chance encounter between Frank and Jon Fitch at an airport led to the discussion that would set the stage for what followed.

“Jon called in when he got the title shot, and was like ‘Hey, let’s do this!’”

Jonah relied on his industry experience to finance the film, but no amount of planning could predict or even influence the hectic shooting schedule.

“You don’t know what you’re getting into. It’s scary, it’s very scary, because you’re running on other people’s schedules. I’m used to knowing exactly what I’m going to do. We would end up going to Fresno for the day—and not even know, until that morning.”

The film’s trailer, which has notched over 100,000 views, is a heartwarming montage of scenes from the film. Not only does it include footage of the biggest and best stars from American Kickboxing Academy like Josh Koscheck, Cain Velasquez and Mike Swick, but there are many other fascinating stories from the myriad of smaller-name fighters at the gym.

“I think a movie like this is all about character. With ‘The Smashing Machine,’ it’s all about this character that is amazingly open about the negative things in his life,” says Tulis of ill-fated MMA fighter Mark Kerr, who reveals an addiction to painkillers, as well as the dysfunctional dynamic of his relationships in the 2002 film. “Getting beneath the surface of the character is the essential thing.”

To this end, Jon opened up quite a bit to the filmmaker about the difficult conditions that younger fighters face. From living on people’s floors to earning next to nothing for fights, Fitch worked his way up from the very bottom.

“You see these younger guys, and you see Fitch in them—because Fitch went through the same thing. These guys are fighting for $1000 every three months, and working in bars, and living in RV’s, just trying to scrape by.”

The story of Jon Fitch as a UFC fighter is well-known throughout the MMA community. After racking up eight straight wins, he was granted the biggest opportunity of his career through a title shot with Georges St-Pierre at UFC 87 in August of 2008.

In the first round of Fitch’s fight against St-Pierre, Fitch went for a leg kick and GSP countered with a straight right hand that dropped the challenger. That moment spelled disaster for the entire venture—Georges nearly finished the fight right there, but after five hard-fought rounds, Jon was still standing.

“He is battered, and bruised and crying,” says Tulis of the film’s dramatic conclusion, “but you still see hope. This is a guy who never quits.”

There is no fight footage from Fitch’s UFC fights—including his title shot versus St-Pierre—in this documentary, something that delayed the release of the film due to the necessity to re-edit the material. It’s a shame decision-makers at Zuffa didn’t see the value in promoting MMA to new audiences through this documentary, even if it was produced independently without Zuffa dictating creative control.

Losing isn’t the worst thing that can happen to someone. Often, it helps to differentiate between the people who were along for the ride, and the ones who actually care. When the fair-weather friends, fame-whores and assorted hangers-on have moved on, the fighter is left with the true people.

“In the end, he’s wearing sunglasses to cover up his bruises, smiling, and there with his friends,” says Tulis. “This AKA group is really like a band of brothers. And that’s sort of the essence of the movie.”

*According to a news article on MMAJunkie.com, Such Greats Heights is available On Demand through most major cable carriers, including AT&T, Cablevision, COX and Time Warner Cable in the U.S., as well as Rogers and Shaw in Canada. Broadband options include Amazon, Blockbuster and Zune, as well as the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 networks and Apple iTunes. A DVD version of the movie is also expected to become available for release soon.

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Brian J. D’Souza is a Canadian writer who has covered Mixed Martial Arts for ESPN.com, FoxSports.com, Sportsnet magazine and FIGHT! magazine.

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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