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'Fightville' Shows American Dream Through Eyes of UFC Star Dustin Poirier

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

There are two separate worlds in professional sports. The one with the money, bright lights and headlines, and the one that lies beneath it all, where the true talent separates itself from the pack while the wannabes try to hold on to a dream.

The latter is a proving ground, a necessary stop on the way to stardom or an unwanted roadblock on the way to obscurity. It is also the landscape examined by the new documentary "Fightville," which was recently given a limited release in US theaters.

Beyond that, it is a portrait of two lives in flux, centered on the careers of a pair of aspiring MMA stars. To fans of the UFC, the star of the movie is Dustin Poirier, the fast-rising featherweight who happens to be fighting in the main event of Tuesday's UFC on FUEL 3. In the film -- shot over the course of one year from mid-2009 to mid-2010 -- Poirier is depicted as a hard-working kid from a hard-scrabble background, using his talent to overcome a rough start in life and head to the bigtime. All the while, the filmmakers tell the parallel story of Albert Stainback, a 20-something with a tortured youth and a dream of a worry-free future.

The contrast between the two is subtle but striking. They both have the same goal, they both come from similar backgrounds, they both end up at the same gym, Gladiators Academy in Lafayette, Louisiana, but that's where their paths separate.

While Poirier illustrates unwavering dedication to his personal improvement to go with his natural talent, Stainback seems to spend more time talking about his goals than putting in the time necessary to achieve them.

The brutal truths about success or failure in the sport are immediately brought to the forefront by their trainer, UFC veteran Tim Credeur, who notes that the current MMA movement represents the natural evolution of martial arts. After years of outrageous claims from practitioners of various disciplines, MMA has managed to separate the legitimate from the pretenders.

"To make it for everyone is to make it not what it really is," he says.

The same holds true for individuals, as Stainback learns.

The Kentucky native comes across as a complex and sympathetic character. Early on in the film, he recalls his father beating his mother senseless. Later, when he was nine, his father committed suicide.

"I honestly attribute me wanting to fight, if I had to give some kind of Freudian guess at it, is I wanted to be a defender," he says.

Stainback is clearly intelligent. He is introspective, well-spoken and it seems, well-read, since he clearly harbors a fascination with Alex from the 1960s novel "A Clockwork Orange."

Yet as bright as he is, he can't keep from getting in the way of his own success. After winning his pro debut, he is booked for a rematch, but because of relationship issues and stress, he loses the desire to get into the gym to train. As a result, he is forced out of the fight.

"It sucks knowing that I let something like this go by," he says. "It might be small, it might be big, but it was there."

All the while, Poirier is seizing the moment, training for the same show, his determination unwavering. We see him making sacrifices in his diet to make weight, and we see his work ethic, and it's clear what the difference is between the two.

The most powerful shot in the movie comes when Poirier goes off to Canada to fight. He wins in a flash, and as he celebrates, the scene cuts to Steinback watching video of Poirier's win while back home. As Poirier basks in the glory of a victory that sends him to his dream job -- he soon after signed a contract with Zuffa -- Steinback has literally and figuratively been left behind.

While MMA enthusiasts are no doubt Fightville's most likely audience, it's biggest importance is to non-fans, for a look at the dedication it takes to succeed as well as the real people and real ambition behind an often-misunderstood sport. MMA is ultimately both simple and complex; a fight with many layers of depth. Because of that, it will never be for everyone. But as Fightville teaches through Poirier's resolve, once you get past the sport's proving grounds, it can lead to a little slice of the American Dream.

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