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American Kickboxing Academy founder Javier Mendez had an epiphany as the cameras rolled for the new "Fight Factory" TV show: He was going to have to sit back and let the show's producers capture everything: the good, the bad and the ugly.
From a public relations perspective, of course, Mendez wants his gym, which is the home to the likes of former UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, Strikeforce heavyweight tourney champ Daniel Cormier, and Strikeforce middleweight titleholder Luke Rockhold, to be shined on in the best possible light.
But if the reality series, which premieres on the Latino-themed Nuvo TV on August 15 with a two-hour special at 10 p.m. ET/PT, is going to be an authentic representation of what goes on at a world-class mixed martial arts training facility, then Mendez understands it needs to offer a warts-and-all glimpse into life at AKA.
"There have been times where, something happens in the moment, or you say things in the heat of the moment and then you look over and you see the camera," said Mendez. "And your first instinct is to want to have them shut the cameras off. But you stop and realize that, even if its not something you want out there, you have to let them show the people what the place is all about, the good and the bad."
That's the idea behind the latest entrant into the MMA reality TV show genre. While "The Ultimate Fighter," the show which put the modern-era UFC on the pop-culture map, is considered the standard by which others are judged, those involved with the "Fight Factory" see their show as a breaking the mold.
Agent DeWayne Zinkin, who represents AKA, says the notion that this simply isn't a rehash of the "TUF" theme and is a big part of the reason why the gym become involved with the project.
"The thing with ‘TUF is,' that's a situation where you're taking fighters at random and putting them into a house, then seeing what happens," Zinkin said. "This is the first time you've taken a true team, where everyone's working toward the same goal, and given viewers a glimpse at how the pieces are put together. You're not just taking a look at these guys training for their fights, you're also getting a behind-the-scenes look at their day-to-day lives."
That means while there's plenty of face time for the stars at the top of the food chain, like Velasquez and Cormier, there's also a look into the lives of fighters who are trying to make their name in the business, like Gabe Carrasco.
Carrasco is a decorated amateur kickboxer with a 19-1 record, but he's still learning MMA, winning his first two amateur bouts. "Fight Factory" follows Carrasco around both in the gym and out, as he holds down a job at a local auto body shop during the day to make ends meet while working toward his dream.
As a rookie, Carrasco admits that having Nuvo TV's cameras around as he trains for his Aug. 18 bout at Dragon House 11 in Oakland against Giovanni Encarnacion has been an experience.
"It's different, man," said Carrasco. "It's good though, because I know this is something I'm going to have to get used to if I'm going to make it as a fighter, so in a way it's better to have something like this now."
One fighter who didn't need to adjust to the cameras was veteran welterweight Jon Fitch. Between his personal documentary "Such Great Heights" and having the UFC's crew follow him around when he's headlined major events, Fitch is a veteran at this sort of thing.
He's enthused about "Fight Factory" because he feels it will portray to viewers the little things that make AKA unique.
"The thing about AKA is that no one lets anyone slide," said Fitch. "If you're not giving your best, if you're half-assing it, we're going to let you know. Training with AKA means working as a unit and functioning as a team. ... I think that sense of team unity is what makes AKA thrive and I think it's going to show through to the viewers on ‘Fight Factory.' It's everyone. It's not just Cain and Daniel, but it's guys like Gabe who are up and coming and working hard, and guys like Phil Baroni, you get to see how much work he's putting into keeping his career going when so many people are counting him out."
"That's the sort of thing that gives the whole team a sense of pride," said Fitch. "You've got someone who went through everything he went through. Mike's smart, he's a businessman, but when you turn on the fights on TV you don't see that side of him. When you watch the show, though, you get the whole picture. You know that he's going to be OK one way or another because of what's going on in the rest of his life, but at the same time, when he makes the commitment and decides 100 percent that he's returning, you see how we're there to help push him, through his ups and downs."
And if "Fight Factory" succeeds in that regard, says Mendez, the show will achieve its goal. "It's about giving the fans a look at the way things really are," said Mendez. "Its not just about hardcore fans, it's about the person flipping through the channel who might see it and doesn't know what MMA fighting is all about. We want to break down some of the preconceptions."
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