Never Give Up…Chasing Money?
Born A Champion is the perfect example of why you never watch a trailer before the final product. Hats off to the editor for the trailer above though, the movie there looks intense, fast-paced and chock full of action. In reality, Born A Champion boasts a predictable, cookie-cutter story that fails to sting like a bee and fly like a butterfly.
As someone who absolutely loves sport movies, Warrior remains one of the better MMA-specific movies. The dual focus on the brothers, the excellent acting and the emotional pay-off at the end made it one of the bigger surprises when it dropped in 2011. Born A Champion looks to follow suit – especially after an explosive trailer – but ultimately fails to step out of mediocrity.
The film opens with a heavy-handed exposition dump about Mickey Kelley, lavishing praise surrounding what a great fighter he is. Our narrator here is Kelley’s best friend Taco, who continues to talk intermittently throughout the film about his friend but specifically talks about what’s happened for the first 35 minutes or so.
There are a lot of time jumps here and these all stem from the beginning, set in the late 80’s as Mickey flies across to Dubai. On the way, he becomes infatuated by a girl called Layla and ends up at the same hotel as her. After angering some pretty important businessmen, he whisks Layla away under his wing and takes her back home. He even marries the girl too.
Fast forward to 1994 and Mickey is summoned back to Dubai to take part in a tournament for a tasty $25,000. Unfortunately things go horribly wrong in the ring as he goes toe to toe with a prolific fighter called Blaine. Mickey eventually hangs up his gloves and tries to live a normal life. Unfortunately Jiu-Jitsu is in his blood and a lucrative offer sees him plunged head-first into another tournament – and face to face with Blaine again in a hotly anticipated rematch.
There’s a lot of melodrama between that opening fight and the obvious rematch, with a lot of it hitting the usual beats you’d expect from a film like this. There are training montages, a big life lesson (more on that in a minute) and plenty of patriotic nods toward America reigning supreme throughout. While it’s not quite as heavy-handed as Rocky’s intent on punching communism in the face, there’s still an element of that here which turns this into a somewhat guilty pleasure at times.
The ideas presented in this movie unfortunately do feel a little conflicted at times. At the center of all this lies the ideas of honor and fighting to be the best. While both of these alone are great ideas, they’re muddied by the real motivating drive of Mickey which is money. Mickey returns to the ring for money. He flies out to Dubai for money. His later return to the ring is for a big cash pay-out. All these instances give off the impression of a man desperate to make a big payday which confuses the actual message of the movie.
Born A Champion does get some brownie points though for the positive light it shines on MMA. While the sport is brutal and incredibly violent at times, the tactics that go into this are usually unknown to those watching from the outside. Whether it be Conor McGregor’s shocking 6 second knockout of Jose Aldo or Holly Holms humbling Ronda Rousey, there’s so many memorable moments from this sport that show how unpredictable and absorbing these fights are to watch.
That, along with its predictable and dramatic storyline, is where the praise ends. Born A Champion has a myriad of problems, ranging from that aforementioned melodrama to incredibly light characterization. The narration does this film absolutely no favours either while the story feels recycled and nothing we haven’t seen before.
There’s absolutely no chemistry between Blaine and Mickey either, who have less than 15 minutes screen-time and barely have any dialogue exchanged either. This ultimately makes that final fight between the two that much more obvious while Warrior’s split focus made it a much more intriguing match as you genuinely didn’t know who would win.
Born A Champion has all the ingredients to be a sporting knockout but instead it steps into the octagon and taps to a predictable submission. While enjoyable as a rental, this is not a sport movie you’ll return to in a hurry.