By midlandsmovies, Apr 17 2018 09:24PM
Directed by Richard Butterworth
Shootfighters is a 30min documentary by Richard Butterworth that showcases the Leicester Shootfighters Mixed Martial Arts School circa 2011.
The school trains young men in the art of MMA, which to the uninitiated (i.e. me) looks like two people in a cage smacking the hell out of each other. Through the course of the documentary, it's made clear that there's much much more to the sport than this image.
As someone who has never practised a martial art and has little interest in sport (I know, I know), I wasn't at all sure how to approach this review before watching the film. I'm a big believer in opening your mind and letting in new experiences, though, so I thought it would be interesting to watch - and it certainly is!
Right away, I learned that there are over 50+ MMA clubs in Leicester alone, and that the sport originally had very few rules before it evolved into the form it enjoys today, as exemplified by the UFC. Then we get into the meat of the documentary.
We're introduced to Aiden Hayes (though I admit I was a little confused as the first person we see is actually his brother Andre), a 20 year old fighter who's determined to be the best mixed martial artist.
The documentary touches briefly on his troubled past as his father describes Aidan's struggles in school and how joining Shootfighters gave him focus and purpose. We're told how angry and aggressive he was before discovering the sport, and how he was able to channel this into his training. There's a real sense of the competition that he and his brother feel, the need to compete and dominate and be the best.
It's not easy. MMA is a remarkably technical sport, a melding of several disciplines and styles, and it takes a huge commitment. As one of the doc's talking heads puts it: “these guys are athletes, they're not thugs, not anyone can do this.” I think it may be easy to forget this when caught up in the showmanship of events like UFC matches. These are serious athletes pushing themselves with series training regimes.
Butterworth has a good eye for dynamic shots, mixing it up so that it never feels static no matter how many talking heads we cut to. I did find myself wishing this was a feature length documentary as I would have loved to follow Aiden's journey more closely, showing a more in-depth look at a typical training day perhaps, or seeing him interacting with his brother and exhibiting the competitive relationship we're told about. On the whole, it feels almost like more time is spent on learning about the nature and the psychology of MMA than about Aiden himself, though in fact about equal weight is given to both.
If you're interested in MMA and the mindset of someone who practices it, this documentary would be a good place to start to give you a sense of how important the sport is to the fighters. It's clear that the athletes are as passionate about this as any Olympic athlete is about their own sport. I think this documentary has chipped away at some level of snobbery I didn't even know I had, which is as good a reason as any to check it out!
Some light googling reveals very little information about Aidan Hayes' career after this was filmed. Hopefully he recovered from his injury; there is a video on YouTube that suggests he was fighting as recently as 2014 if the upload date is anything to go by. Leicester Shootfighters is of course still going strong.
I wish you luck, Aidan, I hope you're out there knocking 'em dead. But not literally, because I'm pretty sure that's illegal!