Takedown looks at the fighting DNA of Georges St-Pierre

Unless you’re familiar with the worldwide phenomenon known as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) you’ll have no idea how large looms the figure of Georges St-Pierre or GSP as he’s known to legions of fans. He’s considered by many to be the greatest fighter (or mixed-martial artist; the sport involves a mixture of boxing wrestling and various martial arts) the sport has ever seen.

The documentary Takedown: The DNA of GSP is hagiography in its purest form and as such will be like alter worship for the converted and a non-critical dull wank-fest for haters. Anyone else with an interest in the UFC or just curious as to why it’s such an overwhelming cultural phenomenon (and it is) will find a lot of the doc interesting and the dramatic arc will sucker anyone with a love of sports movies. Just don’t go looking for any thoughtful probing questions.

St-Pierre was born in small-town Quebec and according to his parents had a love of karate and wrestling from an early age. Like any ascending hero he had his share of setbacks: he was a sensitive and diminutive child a perfect target for bullies. How he became a world champion isn’t really explained; he quickly goes from post-high school trainee to UFC champ seemingly within a matter of months. (The timeline in the doc isn’t always clear.)

GSP and the film finds an antagonist in Nick Diaz a foul-mouthed fighter whose face looks like it was quickly put together by an angry hurried sculpture with the attitude to match. GSP has a score to settle — Diaz defeated him early in his career. The two are set to challenge for the title when GSP is sidelined by a knee injury. The remaining film follows GSP’s road to recovery and the resultant bloody and vicious rematch.

Grainy black-and-white footage of snarling wolves tries to up the testosterone-fuelled bro-ness of the whole thing but it’s unnecessary. Even St-Pierre’s occasional aside that he’s kinda sorta wild and crazy is barely believable. He’s clearly a nice respectable guy. He thanks his opponents and is good to his folks. Well according to what this doc shows anyway. The footage of fights is appropriately harsh and bloody thuggish and powerful. The slower moments showing the grace and strength of the fighters are balletic and occasionally homoerotic.

When it comes to trying to solve the GSP mystery — why is the guy so damn good at pounding people into submission — the doc offers few answers. As one of his trainers says (more than once) “I have no idea why.” Most sports reportage is similarly enlightened but I’ll offer one reason: because he’s smart. Unlike a lot of the energy-drink chugging nutcases he squares off against he’s smarter calmer and more disciplined.

The doc skirts around the bigger questions about the how and why of the UFC briefly acknowledging that it struggles for legitimacy in the world of sports and suggesting that people watch it for the violence and drama. I guess the criticism is that “mixed martial arts” means “grab bag of ass-kicking whatever” to most people. Cultural doubt probably bothers fans and fighters but that’s just insecurity; money in this world is always the bottom line and the UFC makes it hand over fist.

Like wresting fans probably do enjoy the drama and skill of the fighters though I suspect seeing someone get a thorough beating is the real reason why it draws such a crowd. And of course the culture it has spawned: beloved by many thoroughly repulsive to everyone else. For casual viewers it’s hard to see past the plumes of AXE body spray hideous clothes and ugly aggressive maleness. Takedown ’s greatest success is in showing the dedication and power of someone like GSP endlessly crafting his body like a work of priceless commercial art. Whether you find that pejorative or not will depend on your love of sports. If the UFC is looking for more legitimacy and a wider audience Takedown is a step in the right direction.