Kevin James' new movie may be a comedy, but the sitcom star from "The King of Queens" is quite serious about his MMA.
"In getting the UFC's blessing and using their name, I think their big concern was they didn’t want this goofy guy, this Paul Blart guy coming in the ring and falling all over and making a mockery of it," James told host Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of "The MMA Hour" of his film, "Here Comes the Boom," which opens in theatres next Friday, Oct. 12 — the day before UFC 153.
"I never wanted to do that. We wanted it to be realistic and wanted to be able to make it look like we knew what we were doing. They (UFC) don't need me. They were very reluctant to give that name out to anybody. (But) they knew the passion I had for the sport and how emotionally attached I was to it. The Fertitta brothers were fantastic, as was Dana. They knew that I wanted to do it justice and be as true to it as I could in the best way possible."
James, who stars alongside Salma Hayek and Henry Winkler, plays a high school biology teacher who takes up MMA in an effort to raise money for his struggling school that is being forced to cut extracurricular activities.
"I wanted to make it realistic that an every day guy, a teacher like me in this movie, could enter, after training and training and training, … the lowest level of an undercard fight due to a fallout. And take it from there," says James of the movie he calls an "inspirational comedy."
James — a longtime MMA fan, who is real-life buddies with former UFC champ Bas Rutten and UFC commentator Joe Rogan, who both have roles in the film — says he got the inspiration for the film several years ago after watching the first few UFC events and meeting Rutten.
"I've been a fan from back in the day in 1993 from the first inception of it all. My love for the sport grew (from there). I also became a big fan of Bas Rutten back then," James said. "Just watching this crazy guy with these knee-high boots doing the splits after knocking people out. When he actually came and fought in the UFC in America, we said how cool would it be to actually get to know this guy and maybe even train with him? And that's exactly what happened.
"We just became friends and it was an awesome friendship. Through him we met so many other fighters, and meeting all these fighters the cool story to me was just about how these guys aren't just gladiators fighting in a cage like animals, but they're just everyday people fighting for different causes. Whether it was fighting to put food on the table for their kids or fighting for another family member. That's what really inspired me, just kind of to see how these guys were just regular people and kind of friendly with each other and in the community too. I thought that was just really, really cool."
Naturally James said the fighters in the film, which include Jason "Mayhem" Miller, Krzysztof Soszynski, Mark Munoz, and Chael Sonnen, were obviously super cool, but actually better than average actors.
"'Mayhem' Miller was unbelievable at that (turning from fighter to actor)," James said. "They all were. Krzysztof was amazing. In the fight scenes I would hit them, and I would feel horrible about it. But they didn't even notice it. 'I didn't even feel it, don't worry about it.'
"They were all such professionals. Mark Munoz was great and Chael Sonnen was fantastic. They all played their part and they all got the comedy of it. There was just no ego in it and I loved it."
But James admitted there were several occasions where he took a few shots on the chin from his co-stars.
"I got tagged a lot in the film. I got to be honest, I got punched a lot," James joked. "What you're basically trying to do is teach these guys who have been taught their whole lives to hit this target, what they've been born to do, and now you're asking them right before we shoot a scene to miss the target by a couple of inches.
"I wanted the fight scenes to be sloppy with me in there, I didn't want it all (to be about) technique. It's not like that in a fight. You're plans kind of go awry, you're getting thrown around, out of breath, not in the same position. (And because of that) I definitely got my fair share of getting punched in the face."
James — a decent wrestler growing up in New York, who actually wrestled on the same high school team as former WWE champ Mick Foley — said he enjoyed his preparation for the role, which saw him drop from 285 pounds to 218.
"About 14 months out or right around there, we were just like we got to change everything," he said. "I started drinking greens and really getting into shape. I had an organic diet and was training with all these guys from the UFC. Really started to working with them and taking it real serious."
So too did he take his role of making sure hardcore MMA fans would believe the fight scenes were realistic.
"We put in endless attention. We wanted to show it as real as we could, and not only just in the UFC, but building up to the UFC in these lower-end fights," James said. "These arenas these guys fight in can be these backyard chicken-wire things. It's pretty horrible setups, but they all are realistic to what is out there.
"And not only do the events get bigger as I progress, but the talent does. In order to do that we had to make sure that when you're moving up the ranks and you get in the UFC that the speed and the power and the intensity of the fighting is amplified. It was very important for us that I couldn't just walk in there and be this hero guy and knock people around. It just doesn't happen. We made it really, really intense."
James says a similar kind of back-and-forth battle for legitimacy that still takes place in the modern MMA world would likely occur with moviegoers.
"It's still not sanctioned in New York and it's still a battle out there. And the battle with this film is the actually the fighting," James said. "It's obviously an asset with some people: 'Ah I want to go because it's a fight movie.' That same thing can hurt, because some people aren't into it because it's a fight move.
"What I'm trying to do is a little bit more of putting the aspirin in the apple sauce for people and show them (MMA) can be inspiring. What I'm finding out most, which I love, is people who weren't fans who have seen screenings of the movie are like: 'I thought it was just going to be two barbarians cockfighting in a cage going crazy. But it's not. You turned me on to the sport of it because I got inspired by it.''