The Smashing Machine review by Matt Fuerst


I was a high school kid around the time when the Ultimate Fighting Championship was first created and began it's rise in popularity. I was very much addicted to the the concept and really looked forward to each video release to see who was winning the tournaments. For those of you not familiar, the Ultimate Fighting Championship was an idea to bring together fighters from separate fighting styles and match them up to see who was the ultimate fighter, and who had the supreme fighting style. It was amazing to watch Royce, who weighed probably 160 pounds, take on fighters literally twice his size and consistently win. As high school ended I shuttled off to college and lost track of the UFC and the world of "no holds barred" (or NHB) fighting competition.

It's fortunate to me then, that The Smashing Machine provides an excellent look at the history of "no holds barred" fighting along with the main focus on fighter Mark Kerr. Mark was a wrestler at Syracuse throughout his college years. Afterwards, he continued to wrestle but realized there was never going to be any money in Olympic style wrestling. Wanting to use his athletic skills, Mark signed up for a no holds barred fight (Ultimate Fighting Championship is the most popular no holds barred competition based in the United States) in Brazil, where NHB fighting draws strong roots. We meet Mark in 1998, he is already one of the most popular fighters in the UFC, but he recounts not being able to hold down a dixie cup of water minutes before his match. He has no personal anger against his opponent, but realizes he is going to hurt him, or is going to be hurt himself. Through a whirlwind 3 years, Mark has never lost a NHB fight, an amazing accomplishment since he is still strongly rooted in his wrestling background.

As we join Mark we find him to be likeable and surprisingly literate. With a job title like "Fighter" we expect a talking buffoon, but Mark is able to convey his feelings about the sport and his place in it amazingly well. He is training for a fight against Igor Vovchanchyn in Japan. Igor is a very strong standup fighter with lots of experience, making him Mark's toughest opponent to date. All is not well in Mark's life as we find out however, he is relying heavily on opiates to numb himself of the pain, both physical and emotional, and his girlfriend Dawn Stapleton isn't always a positive force in his life. Mark travels to Japan and receives a disappointing result in his match against Igor. Returning home, Mark begins a downward spiral of drinking and drugs that lands him in a coma.

This is a true human event, with real people, so we don't really know: Will Mark Kerr be able to recover? Will he fight again? Will he keep Dawn in his life? Mark begins a long and difficult struggle to fight, both literally and figuratively, his way back to the top.

As a counterpiece to the Mark Kerr story, we spend some time with Mark Coleman. Coleman and Kerr actually wrestled at rival high schools and Syracuse together. Coleman is at what many consider to be the downhill side of his career. With a wrestling background, Coleman was able to dominate in the early days of NHB fighting, but with an influx of younger, cross trained fighters (fighters began studying many styles to be prepared for submission and striking types of fights) Coleman lost several fights in a row and had his knee destroyed. Coleman finds himself with a hottie momma wife and two kids to put food on the table for as a gladiator. Coleman's stable, healthy family life is the counterpoint to Kerr's scrambled lifestyle.

The Smashing Machine got a fairly wide release, I even have seen copies at Blockbuster, but had read some poor reviews of it from the NHB message boards. I have not really watched a NHB event in several years, and didn't even know who Mark Kerr was, though I had seen Mark Coleman fight back in the day. What convinced me to get a copy of the film was hearing Mark Kerr talk. While Kerr has not fought in an event since 2001, Kerr is an excellent communicator for NHB being funny and interesting at the same time. The documentary is very well put together and unlike anything else I know of that is available. Filmmaker John Hyams receives remarkable access into Kerr's personal life. We see Kerr fight with Dawn, shoot up drugs and in the hospital after his coma. We as the audience like Kerr from the get go, and watching him out of control becomes painful quickly. It's interesting that when Hyams follows Kerr to Japan, there are always additional video cameras in the shots. In Japan, where NHB fills baseball stadiums with 40,000+ people, this type of backstage access is a regular thing. But in American it's a different tale.

The Smashing Machine works well because it follows allows for a fairly traditional fictional movie storyline to play out in real life. All the twists and turns and drama of a scripted movie are present and accounted for. The film is presented letterboxed in it's intended ratio. From watching the film I believe it was probably shot on Digital Video (DV). DV allows for some shots to be painfully clear, it will test the limits of your television while some shots are blurry and noticeably "not film". Given the nature of the movie it's hardly a big distraction but the thought did pop into my mind more than once.

In the end I was hoping for both Kerr and Coleman to ride off into the sunset as happy and fulfilled warriors. The true end of the story has yet to be written, but I am hoping.

8 out of 10 Jackasses
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