Fight Church is, without a doubt, one of the more controversial documentaries ever released in regards to MMA. Not just for the subject matter, but also for the fact that it would later come out that one of the churches chronicled allegedly has a history of covering up the sexual abuses of its pastors. Still, that’s not what Fight Church is about. This film is about four pastors of protestant churches of different denominations attempting to perform their ministries through mixed martial arts. Some of the preachers come off well, some don’t – Both as fighters, and as people who are supposed to be stewards.
The four pastors that are focused on are Paul Burress, John Renken, Preston Hocker, and Nahshon Nicks. All are or were MMA competitors at some point, with Burress, Renken, and Hocker all participating in training younger fighters as well. You hear mostly from these men, and they are given the opportunity to make their cases and to succeed or fail on their own merits. UFC fighters Jon Jones and Benson Henderson both make appearances to discuss their faith, while dissenters towards the intersection of faith and fighting such as Father John Duffel (a Catholic priest in New York) and retired kickboxer Scott “Bam Bam” Sullivan are given a chance to provide an opposing viewpoint.
Fight Church itself is well-shot, well-paced, and generally well-produced. Unlike some MMA documentaries, there is no sense of this being slapped together. Great care was obviously taken to create an engaging, informative piece that would make the viewer think. My only real complaint was that the only Catholic voice heard was that of a priest who was against combat sports. I don’t know if any of the numerous fighters who are a part of the Roman Catholic Church were contacted to appear in the film, but it would have been nice to have heard from someone on that side of the Martin Luther line.
Overall, Fight Church is worth your time. It’s a thought provoking look at a segment of mixed martial arts that some fans, especially message board keyboard warrior-types, are quick to disregard. If you’re in the mood for an insightful look at one of the larger sub-subcultures within MMA, definitely pick up the DVD.
Fight Church was released on DVD and to Video on Demand services by Lionsgate Films on September 16th, 2014.