Have you ever wondered how a mixed martial artist could thank God after a fight? Or have you ever found it a little strange that an athlete could enter the cage adorned from head to toe in Christian t-shirts and hats just as he or she is preparing to fight another human being?
Those are the questions that the makers of "Fight Church" are addressing. The movie's co-director, Daniel Junge, decided to take a look at how MMA and Christianity mix after "The Hammer" writer/producers Eben Kostbar and Joe McKelheer pitched the idea to him.
"I learned of this subject through Joe and Eben, who just finished a film called 'The Hammer,' which is a narrative MMA film," Junge said. "In the process of making that film, they ran into a pastor, Paul Burress, who helped them out a lot with the MMA scenes and by donating both time resources to the project. He is a former fighter himself, not in the UFC, but in the early days of MMA."
"I've been nominated for two Oscars and recently won one for my film 'Saving Face,'" Junge said. "I get a lot of friends saying, 'You should do a film on X, Y, or Z,' and invariably it's not very interesting. But Joe and Eben said, 'We know this guy who is a preacher - he's a pastor, and he teaches mixed martial arts in his church. Do you think that's interesting?' And I said, 'Well, yeah, of course that sounds great.' So our first shoot was there in Rochester with Paul, and we shot with a lot of different subjects around the country who are in this world that is a confluence between Christianity and mixed martial arts."
Burress's story was particularly appealing to Junge and his crew because the pastor has been able to not only maintain a Christian lifestyle while taking part in the MMA world but also grow his faith in the process.
"I was filming 'The Hammer,' and Paul was such a huge support," Kostbar said. "He's such a nice guy who has this separate lifestyle with his fighting, and then he mentioned that he had this church. And it was just interesting, not only because he lives in both worlds as a fighter and he trains fighters and being strong in his faith, but he is also such a nice, genuine guy. I came to this with some cynicism for sure, about whether these two worlds do overlap and whether they are appropriate to overlap. Meeting Paul - I knew we had to film with Paul because he's such an earnest and likable guy, and he fully believes that the two worlds can co-exist."
Burress was the first person that the "Fight Church" crew filmed, but he hasn't been the only one. Junge and his team have traveled across the country and filmed fighters such as UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson and middleweight Jared Hamman. The crew plans to film at least 20 fighters and pastors, while following three or four of them over a period of time in hopes of finding out how well they live out their answers to questions about faith and MMA.
"We're not coming with a strong point of view whether this is right or wrong," Junge said. "We want viewers to come to their own conclusions, but we want to tell an intimate story with the people in this world and let viewers decide how they feel about it."
Junge and Kostbar both look at this film as an opportunity to investigate a contentious topic that few people have addressed. They want to understand how fighters can enter an MMA cage and do everything in their power to knock someone out or submit them. It's important for them to look at how fighters have dealt with this on a daily basis. It's also important that people don't expect "Fight Church" to be a movie filmed from a Christian perspective. For Junge, it's about the issues, not the actual religion.
"To be frank, the film isn't being made for Christians, nor is it being made for atheists or agnostics," Junge said. "The film is for anyone who is intrigued by these seemingly contradictory worlds overlapping and coming to their own conclusions about how they feel about it."
Derek Ciapala is a Yahoo! Featured Contributor for MMA. He has been published on GatewayMMA.com, UltimateApocalypse.com and multiple other websites. You can check him out on Facebook or on Twitter @dciapala.
Source: Personal Interviews