“All true sports are just watered down versions of war,” claims Chad George. As a former sports writer, I have to disagree, but you get the mentality here. Men on a testosterone high trying to beat each other to a pulp and in a way beyond the boxing format. This 2011 85-minute documentary, “Occupation:Fighter” is about George as he attempts to win a major title in World Extreme Cagefighting.
Director Andre Enzensberger gives us a good mix of archival (George’s first fight which was against Mexican Daniel Vasquez in 2005), talking heads that include George’s family and girlfriend and his coaches, conditioning workouts, physical therapy and actual fights. For a mixed martial arts fighter, it’s “do or die time,” George explains. Two losses and he can be released from his contract.
Eight years ago Chad “Savage” George moved to Los Angeles from Sacramento in order to pursue a career in art, but he had been a wrestler in junior high for a year and for three years in high school. Enzensberger interviews George’s high school wrestling coach.
George is not a big guy. At 5-foot-6, he’s 135 pounds and classified as a bantamweight. The process doesn’t sound healthy. First we hear from his doctor that he’ll likely have problems when he’s older from herniated discs. From George himself, we learn that all fighters eat light and dehydrate themselves for the weigh-in and will even resort to using an IV in order to re-hydrate before the fight.
At this point, George has been in 16 professional fights and the movie follows him for eight months before his big 2010 fight against American Antonio Banuelos in Colorado. How does one make a living while training in a sport that doesn’t have an Olympic legitimacy or high profile sponsors? George earns money by training other people–not just men, but women at PKG. George, like many other fighters, doesn’t have insurance except on the day of the fight.
For the record, my father watched boxing and my brother took martial arts (judo). He once bought two pairs of boxing gloves and took us through the strategies of boxing. As far as I can remember, none of us ended up with black eyes or bloodied noses. None of use followed through to wrestling or any kind of contact sport. My brother competed in tennis; I took gymnastics. I don’t think my father would have been disappointed. All three of us finished college.
Enzenberger shows an enormous amount of respect for George, but not without acknowledging the contradiction between George’s healthy eating and fitness for a sport that damages every body involved. Even the winners. You get a sense that these people aren’t long-term planners. “Occupation:Fighter” is a good companion piece to Frederick Wiseman’s “Boxing Gym” or “China Heavyweight.”