Cagefighter: Worlds Collide may look like just another redemption story set in the squared circle, and in a lot of ways it is, following the well-worn Rocky model. But what separates this film from the rest is right there in the title; the colliding of the MMA and pro wrestling worlds has rarely been depicted with this level of intensity and authenticity on the big screen. Much of the reason for that success goes to writer/director Jesse Quinones, but also the in-your-face knockout performance by AEW World Champion and ex-WWE superstar Jon Moxley.
Moxley, who shot this film just as he was making the leap to AEW, brings his rage-fueled persona from the ring to the screen. While his character is pro wrestling champion Randy Stone, this is 100% pure Moxley and fans will recognize it immediately. Nobody can write a character that sounds like Moxley, it has to come straight from him and I’m sure he was given that amount of freedom. A smart move by Quinones, a fan of both MMA and wrestling, to not only do that for Moxley but to surround him with a cast of veterans from both worlds.
The film centers around 5-time MMA Legends champion Reiss Gibbons, played by real-life fighter Alex Montagnani. This is a familiar tale of a champion who has everything, loses it, and must fight to get it back. Reiss has a beautiful and loyal wife (Georgia Bradner), a best friend and manager (Elijah Baker) who looks out for him, plus fame and everything that comes with it. But like so many at the top, he starts to get cocky. Accepting a deal from shady Legends owner and promoter Max Black (Gina Gershon) for a big-money fight against Stone that promises to bring in a massive audience, Reiss looks past his opponent for being from a “fake” sport.
Cagefighter really excels in capturing the friction between MMA and professional wrestling. While that has smoothed over in recent years as athletes from both crossover regularly, it wasn’t always the case and certainly there is still some feuding that goes on. Stone’s rage at being disrespected, for being dismissed because he’s a professional wrestler, is real and his rage is scary. Faces from MMA and sports entertainment (Tommy Dreamer, Bubba Ray, Matt Hardy and more) add gasoline to the fire, with the heat between Reiss and Stone burning so hot it had me dying to see the fight happen.
When it does, of course it goes down the way these things do in underdog stories. Reiss loses everything he once held dear, but Cagefighter, to its credit, takes some notable detours on the way to his big comeback. Of course, movies about singular combat are a microcosm of life. Can you take the punches life hits you with and get back up? Reiss hits rock bottom, not just as a fighter but as a man, before there’s even a hope of getting another shot at gold.
Unfortunately, here is where Quinones takes some shortcuts. Reiss doesn’t so much earn his shot as it’s handed to him on a silver platter, taking away from the redemptive arc considerably. While Reiss is a character you want to root for, he also comes across as weak and whiny far too often. When across from Stone, he is overpowered in just about every way. You want the story to follow Stone and that massive chip on his shoulder, rather than Reiss who is far less compelling. There are some really good supporting performances, as well. Gershon is in top form as the savvy Max Black, basically a female Dana White, using her long history in dominating roles to her advantage. WWE Hall of Famer Jason “Christan” Reso is surprisingly key as an MMA radio show host who likes stirring the pot, and Chuck Liddell is strong in a rare dramatic role that doesn’t ask him to choke anyone out.
Inside the cage, fights are bloody, brutal, and shot to emphasize the wounds each fighter carries. Quinones is smart to use the combat scenes to hide the movie’s budget limitations, which you can see during entrances and crowd shots in the arena. The grittiness helps in other aspects, however. The London-based film carries with it a street sensibility that reminds of Guy Ritchie’s early work.
But it’s Moxley who really elevates Cagefighter: Worlds Collide. Having seen him back when he starred in 12 Rounds 3: Lockdown back in 2015, there’s a world of difference between the actor he was then and now. Like many of these sports dramas, a sequel is all but readymade to happen, and if so, bringing Moxley back for a rematch is a must.