Monday, 24 August 2015

Dawg Fight

Title: Dawg Fight
Director: Billy Corben

Released: 2015

Plot: Documentary looking at the highly illegal world of backyard fighting


Review: West Perrine, Florida is a ghetto in the Southwest Miami-Dade County, whose population is 73% African-American, with more than a third unemployed, while most of the male population are expected to end up either dead or in prison before their 30th birthday. It is also home to Dhafir “Dada 5000” Harris, who runs from his mother’s backyard, highly illegal let alone brutal bare knuckle fights which are filmed and put onto youtube, with the fighters hoping that it will provide a gateway into the big leagues of MMA.

Directed by Billy Corben (Cocaine Cowboys, The U, Broke) who spent two years following Dada who prior to becoming the Don King of Backyard fighting, spent a year as MMA fighter and former fellow backyard fighter Kimbo Slice’s bodyguard and whose manager refused to release footage of Dada’s fight for fear of overshadowing Kimbo’s career. Now he organises fights were the winners fight for as little as $200 and were the fights take place in a homemade 12”x12” ring, with fighters having no protection other than a mouth guard and fights using ending in knockout or a fighter quitting. Unquestionably this is brutal world which Corben chooses to focus his lense on as he fully immerses himself in this ultra-violent world, which from the outside might seem like just senseless violence, but to Dada he see’s it as a way for the fighters to support themselves and help the failing local economy. More so when a large percentage of the fighters have criminal records which prevent them from finding more traditional means of income.
It’s a belief that the local police also seem to share as they continue to allow these the fights to continue as despite the basic setup still manage to attract large crowds of not just fight fans, but also equally fired up groups of mothers and children, who climb the surrounding trees and buildings when they can’t afford the entrance fee. The fights unintentionally perhaps serving as moral boosts for the local community as they get behind their favourite fighters, while strangely unfazed by the brutality of these fights. Meanwhile grudges which might have previously have been settled on the streets are now settled in the ring, while for many the fights give them a purpose to aim for and a reason to stay away from the temptations of crime or gang life which so many fall into.
Despite his imposing size at 6’3”, 270lbs, Dada is very much a gentle giant, that’s of course as long as you’re not facing him in the ring. At the same time he is probably the last person you’d expect to be a community leader, as he commands respect from everyone around him, while proving himself a natural showman with his funny and charismatic attitude, though more surprisingly he isn’t making large amounts of money from these fights as most of the money being made is given back to the fighters, while he is shown even ensuring that an injured fighter gets paid despite not being able to finish his fight.  Of course Dada eventually by the end of the documentary he has to decide if he is to take his own shot at a professional MMA career when it is offered or to stick with his current path of running his backyard fights which appear to benefit everyone bar himself.
While Dada might be the main focus here, as the documentary progresses, several fighters also work their way into the narrative, such as the brash Treon “Trees” Johnson who are all looking to go pro though as we see the threats of the world which they come from remain ever present as seen when two of these fighters are tragically killed.
Shot with a gritty eye for detail, the fights are shot from multiple angles while Corben frequently adds artistic elements to emphases the damage these fighters inflict on each other, while even slowing down the noise of the crowd during some of the more intense moments, so that it almost seems like they are speaking in tongues, as they shout on their encouragement. Even outside of the fights there is a wealth of interesting scenes, from a group of ladies excitedly talking about their favourite fighters, kids singing along to the profanity heavy rap music which soundtracks the events through to Dada and his team giving pep talks to fighters here he manages to truly emerse the viewer inside this world.
The documentary comes with perfect timing, especially with these fights now being cracked down on let alone heavily frowned upon by the MMA world as they risk the sport being banned as a by-product of these fights, despite a number of fighters such as Kimbo Slice and Tank Abbot being recruited from the backyards leagues after their fights caught the interest of fight promoters.
An engaging documentary which limits its audience due to its gritty violence, while perhaps not looking at the conflict between the professional MMA leagues and the backyards they frequently pooled talent from. Still for MMA fans they may find much to enjoy here, while the training montages and dedication these fighters show is nothing short of inspiring, much like their fight to escape the streets which they come from and for that it is worth giving it a watch for an alternative to the usual tales of life on the streets.
**Author Note: Review originally published on The Armchair Sociologist

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