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A good film keeps your brain churning after the credits roll, sets off conversations and debates between friends, and piques your curiosity to research further on the topic. Fight Church, a documentary by Academy Award winner Daniel Junge and Bryan Storkel, does those things by posing a single question: Can you be a pastor and a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter?
The film introduces viewers to four muscled pastors who are MMA fighters, with all but one starting MMA training ministries at their churches. They argue that the sport’s popularity creates a way to introduce the gospel and that MMA is comparable to other competitive sports like wrestling. Yet even as they tell the camera that they’re fighting solely for the glory of God, the film cuts to cringe-worthy scenes from the cage fights: a fighter pounding another man’s head, limbs twisted in unnatural angles, flecks of blood flying from a fighter’s face.
Fight Church provides a variety of perspectives on the controversial topic, including an older pastor lobbying to keep MMA illegal in New York, a burly pastor from Tennessee with a handgun tucked in his jeans complaining that “mainstream Christianity has feminized men,” and a former MMA fighter who felt convicted that training others to knee opponents in the chest contradicted his faith. They all show an earnest devotion to the Word of God but come to different conclusions.
There’s an interesting overlap between the two communities as a number of the top MMA fighters, such as Jon Jones and Ben Henderson, are outspoken Christians. Fight Church pastors often use illustrations from the cage in their sermons—our lives are a fight, we must persevere, and Jesus didn’t tap out.
In a pivotal scene, two MMA-fighting pastors battle it out in the cage, complete with skimpily dressed ring girls and the usual pummeling and grappling. Although the two pray for each other the next day at church, it’s uncomfortable to see two men who claim to be shepherds trying to destroy not the wolves, but each other.