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Review: Fightworld an absorbing if flawed exposition of fight culture

“Everyone who fights has to have a reason why. I think that, in the end, most reasons are the same.”

When you strip sport of all its frills, you are left with fighting, perhaps the most original and authentic sporting phenomenon. Man’s desire to prove their superiority in physical combat is one that stretches back for millennia, and one that still holds as much significance today. Be it street fighting in Thailand, or Anthony Joshua’s sold-out bout at Wembley, combat sports boast a unique appeal that very few things can match.

Fightworld is a five-part Netflix documentary series which explores fighting cultures in five different countries: Mexico, Thailand, Myanmar, Senegal, and Israel. Actor and martial arts enthusiast Frank Grillo, best known for roles in Liam Neeson’s The Grey, and Marvel’s Captain America franchise, guides us on this journey through the underworld of combat sports.

We discover the art of boxing in Mexico, where Grillo explores the city of Tepito, described by one coach as “the rough neighbourhood of champions.”

We learn about Muay Thai in Thailand — the art of eight limbs as it’s known — and indeed the sport of Lethwei in Myanmar, the art of nine limbs whereby the head-butt completes one’s personal arsenal.

We’re thrust into the colourful and atmospheric world of Laamb wrestling in Senegal, and discover in brutal, graphic terms the reality of hand-to-hand combat in Israel. It’s a twisting and turning journey through the eye-opening actualities of fighting styles around the globe, and of the values held by their purveyors.

Grillo pad

While Fightworld offers a breathtaking exposition of a wide variety of fighting styles and subcultures, it must be said that Grillo’s presence begins to grate very quickly. You can understand the idea behind having him as the show’s navigator — the privileged American with a sharp haircut and designer stubble having his eyes opened to the stark and often grim world of these fierce sports.

However, it often feels as though Grillo is simply in the way as far as the viewer’s experience goes. His ham-fisted, clumsy attempts to communicate with the documentary’s subjects only serve to paint him as a brash, headstrong tourist. To see him buckle and whimper during his tutorial with an Israeli combat instructor in the final episode is somewhat satisfying.

While this type of programme certainly warrants the need for a central personality to link each episode together, perhaps the role would have been better served by a former boxer, someone who can truly appreciate the struggles and successes of those he meets. While Grillo’s intentions are good and genuine, the divide between him and the fighters means there is little common ground between them.

Whatever gravitas is lost through his presence, though, is made up for in the documentary’s stunning visuals. Each shot finely reflects the struggles and mood of its subject, each close-up a glimpse into the fighter’s inner thoughts. The different settings are beautifully portrayed, from the harsh streets of Tepito to the humid grasslands of Myanmar.

Life and death

Fightworld offers stunning cinematography

The real stars of Fightworld are its subjects. They offer a unique insight into the ins and outs of their varying sports. The harshness and brutality of some of these sports are laid bare, like the outdoor Muay Thai bouts or the sheer physical aptitude of the Senegalese wrestlers.

Each fighter featured paints a picture of why they believe in fighting, be it the pursuit of fame and stardom, or simply to support their impoverished families.

The most absorbing part of the series is the final episode in a besieged Israel, which is in many ways a departure from the theme of the previous four. Here, we see the kind of fighting that goes beyond mere sport, and becomes a matter of life and death.

The intensity and passion of the Israeli combat specalists are striking, not least Eitan Cohen, an armed forces instructor of Krav Maga, a unique form of hand-to-hand combat. His presence is captivating, his motives worn proudly upon his sleeve. The combat skills he possesses are as terrifying as they are mesmerising. The nine minutes for which he is on screen are unforgettable.

Scratching the surface

Perhaps the area where Fightworld most misses the mark is in its undying glorification of every aspect of these different combat sports. The various downsides for many of these fighters — and there are undoubtedly many — are swept beneath the carpet, deemed insignificant against the riches and spoils, tangible or otherwise, of fighting.

‘In the end, perhaps the main reason we fight is simply because we like it’

The potential for injury, or for lasting damage mentally and physically to those who practice these sports with little protection, are largely ignored. One of the lasting images of the documentary is of a young Burmese fighter, no more than a young teenager, staring down the lens of the camera. His face is bloodied and bruised, a look of sad defiance just discernible beneath the puffs and scrapes.

It’s a shocking image, but one that represents the juxtaposition between the pride of physical combat, and its devastating affects. Perhaps a more thorough exploration into such themes would have made Fightworld a more rounded project. After finishing the series, there is a sense that the documentary, while rich and enjoyable, has only scratched the surface.

The overarching question throughout Fightworld is why do we fight? The words of Artur Saladiak, a Lethwei boxer originally from Poland, are stark: “people like violence.”

While it’s a crude and simplistic reduction of the myriad reasons for which people fight, in many ways Saladiak touches on a key truth, and one that perhaps transcends the motivations the documentary seeks to promote — those of survival, of bettering oneself, of pride in one’s family and heritage.

In the end, perhaps the main reason we fight is simply because we like it.

Rating: 7/10

Review – Paratodos


Following the best Brazilian Paralympic athletes post London 2012, Paratodos takes an uplifting and eye-opening look at the successes and struggles of these stars. 

“At times, people believe in me more than I in myself…”

So says Daniel Dias, a 14-time Paralympic gold medallist swimmer. A man who, despite having over 24 Paralympic medals since his first entry in 2008, still struggles with self-belief and the perceptions of others in his day-to-day life.

Paratodos (translated as ‘4ALL’) is a documentary that, right off the bat, aims to inform the audience that success may not always breed confidence. Of the seven Paralympians that director Marcelo Mesquita focuses on, not one lives life as though he or she is a superstar.

The medals and the fame mean little when, on a daily basis, people look at you differently.

Yet what Dias simultaneously does is allow these troubled Paralympians a chance to voice their issues with society while also discussing their sporting successes.

It stands as a documentary, sure, but it thrives as a drama too, dealing with societal issues, the perception of disabilities and economic disparity in Brazil.

The athletes

In addition to Daniel Dias, we also follow the journeys of: Susana Schnarndorf (swimmer, ex-triathlete), Fernando Fernandes (canoe rower), Alan Fonteles (sprint), Yohannson do Nascimento (sprint), Terezinha Guilherminha (blind sprint) and Ricardinho (futsal).

“In my mind, I am not disabled. God took my eyesight away and gave me the strongest legs possible. Who am I to complain when I have won gold medals for my country? I may not be able to see the gold but I can smell it, feel it. That, to me, is success” – Terezinha Guilherminha

Every story is one that evokes admiration from the audience. Mesquita allows his subjects the time and chance to talk about their past, how they became disabled, and how they fought against that to represent their country on the most elite of stages.

Take Guilherminha, a woman with a heriditary condition that caused five of her 11 siblings to be born blind. Despite living with that condition, Guilherminha went on to run in the Paralympics and win three golds in the last three tournaments.

How about Schnarndorf? A mother of three, world champion triathlete, aged 38, who lost both her legs in a car accident. After dealing with serious bouts of depression, she and her trainer decided it was time to get her competing again. This time, in the Paralympics as a swimmer.

These stories are exhilarating, touching and uplifting. There are moments where you cannot help but admire these individuals and how, despite their disabilities, they are still able to succeed in life.


From a purely technical and visual standpoint, Mesquita achieves excellence with his direction.

Terezinha celebrates winning Gold. [Image via Baredebatom]
Terezinha celebrates winning Gold. [Image via Baredebatom]
The production value is something quite unseen in Brazil, as documentaries tend to lack funding from the government. This is due to the fact that most documentaries focus on the apparent corruption of said government.

Mesquita, instead, has his criticisms of the government and society, but covers it behind the veil of sport. It is intelligent, nuanced and impressive direction for a documentary.

The Brazilian-born filmmaker also looks at Brazil’s relationship with disabilities: how hospitals deal with them, how the average person views someone with a disability.

It makes for shocking and upsetting discoveries yet, if one juxtaposes the stories of success with this, it becomes a tale of duality and redemption.


By focusing heavily on the stars, the film loses track in its commentary of empowering disabilities.

It never focuses on upcoming stars, or other Paralympians, rather those with the most success. This is why it falters drastically in parts and operates as a celebratory piece of elite sporting figures rather than a celebration of disability in every Brazilian Paralympian.


That being said, Paratodos is a strong and powerful documentary – one that requires viewing from every fan of sport.

It shows that there is more to sport than your staple physical specimens (Cristiano Ronaldo, LeBron James etc.) and that there is a lot to celebrate in the successes of those physically impaired in some way.

It does not make them less of a star; if this documentary is anything to go by, they shine brighter than any other type of sporting figure.

Paratodos is available on US and UK Netflix

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