Wrestling and MMA have never come together in cinema before. In Cagefighter: Worlds Collide, Reiss Gibbons (actor and CONTENDERS MMA fighter Alex Montagnani) is on the cusp of cementing himself as the greatest to ever step inside the LEGENDS cage. But when a savvy promoter Max Black (Gina Gershon) pits him against pro wrestling superstar, Randy Stone (AEW World Champion Jon Moxley) in the company’s first-ever cross-promotional event, Reiss finds himself in the toughest fight of his life.
Adding to the star-studded cast are UFC Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell, two-time World Heavyweight Champion, Jay Reso, aka Christian in WWE, and former UFC Middleweight and Strikeforce Champion, Luke Rockhold. Jesse Quinones is a huge fan of both wrestling and MMA and already filmed the world of MMA in his previous works. This movie is a way for him to show the collision between these 2 sports can provide something great, a true moment of entertainment and sportsmanship.
Before the May 16 premiere on Fite TV, VultureHound Mag had the chance to talk to Jesse Quinones, writer, and director of Cagefighter, and Alex Montagnani, his lead actor a few weeks ago about the movie but also about what it represents for both MMA and wrestling business.
Tell me about the process of making this movie.
Jesse Quinones – “I’m the writer and director of the film, and I’ve been developing it for a number of years. It was initially going to be set in London, England, and then I met the producers Shayne Putzlocher and Sara Shaak, and they’re both from Canada, and that’s what kind of took it to Regina, Saskatchewan. We shot it in November of last year, and it’s been an amazing experience.”
It took you a little while to put this together, we’ve heard about this movie for a year or two now.
JQ – “With any film, the hardest part is raising the money. I needed to kind of partner up with the right people, Sarah and Shayne, who brought the finance together. They kind of pulled all the pieces together, and then once that happened, we were shooting within about a year, so it took a lot of pitching the project and developing it, getting the script right and all that phone buzz and so that’s how it came.”
I noticed that four or five years ago you did a short movie about the cage fighters.
JQ – “My first ever film was about an MMA fighter back in 2006. Also, I made a short documentary called Secret Lives of a Cagefighter.I love the world, it’s full of very colourful characters, and all the way back from the first time I made, I thought there’s something here for a feature film, and that’s what led to this.”
Why talk about the world of MMA?
JQ – “There are a few movies about wrestling, but there’s not a movie about MMA in wrestling. I think it’s two worlds colliding, that’s what happens in the movie, that’s kind of why we called it like that. In the title, you have the world of MMA, you have the world of wrestling, you have Reiss’ character played by Alex, he’s an MMA superstar, and he’s on the cusp of being like the next big thing. Then this promoter Max Black, played by Gina Gershon, says, “I want you to do a cross-promotional fight, MMA versus wrestling, in a LEGENDS cage, in an MMA cage, because the opportunity is going to be massive for our fans.” I think that’s kind of the thinking behind the movie as well, we really want to give fans of MMA and of wrestling a really exciting experience. What I think is really important is we are respectful of both sports. Both sports come off really well. Jon Moxley’s a massive star, and he’s incredible, and it was great to kind of work with people like him or Jay Reso (Christian). Jon Moxley came on board because of Jay Reso, who is the executive producer of the movie as well as playing a key role in. Jay was the component that brought Moxley to the table. It was an amazing task we had, but that will make both MMA and wrestling fans happy.”
How did Jon Moxley enter the project?
JQ – “It’s down to the producers. Shayne reached out to Jay Reso, who is the executive producer of the movie, and Jay reached out to Moxley. He then set up a meeting with us over a call, we all kind of talked. Mostly he liked the project, he liked the script, and he said, “Yeah, I’m in.” From then, we had our kind of big opponent in the movie, and all the other pieces started falling into place.”
When you shot the movie, Jon Moxley was already in AEW?
JQ – “We shot in November of last year, and we did the core of the shoot in Regina, Saskatchewan. We also did some second unit stuff in London. We didn’t necessarily have problem with AEW. The only tricky thing was that obviously AEW has events every Wednesday, so we had to kind of work around his events. Moxley came to Regina, shot for a few days, then left and then came back, so we could work around so he didn’t have to miss any of his AEW events. Obviously, him being in AEW was really important to him, so we didn’t want to interfere with his schedule at all.”
MMA fighters coming to wrestling is something that has never been more in the news. The very first MMA fighter that came into the wrestling business was Ken Shamrock in the 1990s but ever since, we have had Cain Velasquez, Ronda Rousey, Shayna Baszler, and Bobby Lashley before too. Was it in your mind when you started to work on the movie?
JQ – “For sure. I did think like when I was writing it, that the worlds still have a lot in common. People are either AEW or WWE fans, or Bellator or UFC fans, but I feel like there’s a lot more in common between the two sports than people realise, and I thought it was an exciting way of looking at it, to see how they can blend into the same movie. I love both sports. I grew up as a big wrestling fan, and then as I got older, I got into MMA. Now I’m back into wrestling, and I watch it with my kid. The thing that’s really cool is that the passion for both sports is really authentic behind, with the team. Shayne is probably one of the biggest wrestling fans I’ve ever met, in addition to being one of the producers. This man’s got like an encyclopedic knowledge of wrestling, I kind of feel like I represent MMA in that way, and I really know my sport, even if I don’t practice. I think we really wanted to root ourselves into a world and make sure that we did things authentic.”
What is your thinking on this cross-branding from wrestling to MMA? MMA fighters in wrestling develop a way different repertoire. Alex, you were a fighter who became an actor, and you’re now playing a fighter in a movie.
Alex Montagnani – “I was a fighter before I became an actor about 6 or 7 years ago. I think the worlds of wrestling and MMA crossing together is amazing, and it’s happening a lot now, like in AEW, Jake Hager fights in Bellator, Brock Lesnar went to the UFC, so it’s happening a lot more. I think that’s good because it’s bringing all the fans together. Now Jessie has brought it into the film, and it’s going to be insane.”
JQ – “I think it makes perfect sense. I’ve noticed that as I’ve been watching wrestling in the last few years, and I’m seeing a lot of really good level of grappling. In Moxley versus Jake Hager, there were some really sophisticated grounding sequences there, and it’s just incredible watching. The two worlds have a lot in common, and I feel like there are really good things in both. Wrestling, I mean the way they develop characters and the way they have storylines, I think it’s really like they are so masterful at it. I used to grow up a huge fan of The Rock, and I mean no one did it better like the way he would kind of like rip a promo. In MMA, they have Chael Sonnen or Conor McGregor, but I think MMA can learn a lot from the way that wrestling promotes itself and the way that they build characters and build storylines. People fall in love with stories and with characters, and that’s what we’re trying to do, to tell stories. We’re using the amazing spectacle and sport of wrestling and MMA to tell a really good story, that’s what they’ve been doing for years.”
AM – “I agree, I totally agree. Watching The Rock or Stone Cold as a kid, they just blew me away and had me glued to the TV. There are exactly the same people in MMA. Chael Sonnen, to me, is one of the best trash talkers. He’s only the best when it comes to promos. If I see his name come up, I will click on that press release just to watch him speak because he just flows, it rolls off his tongue. Then bringing them together is inevitable, it’s going to happen, more people going over, and the movie as well I think is going to push more people to do it, for sure.”
Jon Moxley has never been in MMA even if he’s well known in the wrestling business as a brawler. Was it easy for him to fit the MMA style?
AM – “I think he did. We did some rehearsals beforehand, me, Jesse, and Jon, and he literally picked up in five minutes.”
JQ – “He definitely has a base like he’s a wrestler, and he knows the whole thing, the ground and pound, the grappling. It wasn’t like somebody that was completely new to it, I mean, he definitely had a strong base to work with, and I mean he looks like a badass in this movie, for sure.”
AM – “For sure.”
The cast unites Gina Gershon, who is a renowned actress in Hollywood, Alex is a fighter turned actor, Jon Moxley did maybe one movie before this one, Chuck Liddell is an MMA Legend, Jay Reso had a great wrestling and now a great acting career. How was it for you, Alex, to work with this group of very different people?
AM – “For me, it was amazing because, as you said, one thing we all brought was we’re all hard workers. We all wanted this project to be something special. Like Jessie said, from himself to Shayne, Sara, me, Chuck, Jon, everyone just brought a little flare, and it was amazing we just mixed up in a pot, and now we’ve got this magic. It was fun and good.”
Alex, when you were in the MMA business, would you say you feel the idea that people have of MMA may be biased because of way too related to money?
AM – “People think, when you’re an MMA fighter, you’re super-rich, it’s a fancy lifestyle. It’s not. It is hard work. It’s early mornings and late nights. It’s a tough road. To get big money, you got to fight hard and get on the big shows, otherwise, you’re just making peanuts. Literally all the small shows, you gain nothing, so it’s really tough, most people are working double jobs They’re fire-fighters or PTs. People think it’s a luxurious life, but it’s not until you’re someone like Conor McGregor.”
Do you feel like with this movie you can make people from the wrestling business come to MMA because currently, we see more MMA people coming to wrestling?
JQ – “I think it’s pretty cool. I would probably give it a go. I think Alex would love to give it a go.”
AM – “I’d love to give it a go for pro wrestling, maybe in WWE or AEW, wherever, let’s see where my career takes me and what offers I eventually get.”
Wrestling works a lot on the heel/face confrontation. In MMA, it seems like we only have bad guys and bad girls, am I wrong?
AM – “In MMA, you have good guys and bad guys.”
JQ – “Stipe Miocic, the current UFC heavyweight champion, is definitely a good guy.”
AM – “I think Daniel Cormier is also a good guy.”
JQ – “For a long time, fans said DC was boring.”
Alex was also the stunt choreographer of the movie.
AM – “It was amazing. Jessie had a backbone of the fights to watch, and we just put it together for everything now to look cool. Especially when I heard Moxley was getting involved, that just gave us more freedom, I guess. We could go to town, making the fights look amazing, and then when Moxley came in, he added his flair as well.”
JQ – “He’s a real genius. Moxley in terms of just storytelling within the choreography, that’s something that was really fascinating to watch, and to be kind of creatively put together. He can kind of create emotions and build emotions with choreography. It was really amazing to just be a part of that.”
Do you feel like Moxley was like, maybe I could try myself in MMA?
JQ – “I think if he wants it to, he is trained. He’s a physical specimen at 6’2 or 6’3, 235-pound man. He’s a massive guy. He’s a powerful guy. He seems like the kind of guy if he put his mind to anything he would probably do it well.”
When did Fite TV enter the process?
JQ – “Fite TV were kind of like partners on some level even while we were at the production stage. The conversation started to get really serious when we were entering post-production. Us putting it out on Fite TV isn’t necessarily to do with the whole fact that we are in a pandemic, it’s kind of a nice convenience, the fact that everyone is at home, and they can watch the movie. Fite TV were always kind of partners and that was something again that the producers sort of worked a deal with and did the negotiations. What I want to stress is that this isn’t the only screening the movie is going to have on May 16th event. It’s just like a special event, which will involve post-screening Q&A. Myself, the cast, and the producers will be there to answer questions from fans, but after that, we are going to have a more traditional release planned in the United States and the rest of the world. It’s just something we thought would be really special for fans as a replacement for a traditional premiere because we don’t have one at the moment. We will have very exciting plans for the rest of the year, and we want this movie to be seen as wide as possible and really give fans something that they wanted something to be excited about.”
What kind of message do you both try to give to the people through this movie? Through the character you play, Alex, and the different characters you wrote, Jesse?
AM – “I think for Reiss, I don’t want to say too much as I don’t want to give away anything. I just think for Reiss, the message is for everybody you can achieve whatever you want to, put your hard work in and you believe in yourself. I think that’s the main thing, believe in yourself, and you can achieve anything.”
JQ – “When I wrote this, I wanted to address a couple of themes, no fear, anxiety, that can be applicable to any situation in life, and I just wanted to put them into this world. I think it’s a story about a guy who is at a certain level, he gets knocked down by circumstances, and he has to learn how to really dig deep and find that strength within. I think it’s about overcoming fear really so that, to me, is what the film’s about. People could take that message from it. We’re all in our own respective ways, I’ve had to learn how to be comfortable with uncomfortable situations, it’s interesting like even as a martial artist, you learn you can be in a bad spot, but if you kind of wait and hold and be patient, you can’t find a way to get out of it.”
What can we expect from this movie, do you think you can touch all kinds of people, even people that are not fans of MMA and wrestling? Do you think you can make people be together around it?
JQ – “I think so. I think MMA and wrestling fans would definitely like it. I think they’ll enjoy it, but I do think it’s for everybody. I mean, ultimately, it’s about overcoming adversity, overcoming obstacles, finding strength within, and I think that’s something that anybody can relate to whether they’re a fighter, a wrestler, a doctor, or a nurse. We’re all just battling, as a society, we’re battling something, so I think it’s something that people can really kind of plug into and take inspiration from.”
AM – “Like Jessie says, I think it’s a film for everybody, for sure. I think the fighters, wrestlers, MMA fighters, MMA fighters, Karate fighters, everyone is going to love it. Also, the drama that’s mixed into it, the story behind is going to be for everybody. Everyone will love it because it’s a great film.”
“Cagefighter: Worlds Collide” will be available for streaming purchase on Saturday, May 16 outside of the US exclusively by FITE at 7 PM BST. This unique pay-per-view movie premiere will be promoted like an actual PPV sports event, complete with a free preshow countdown and a live roundtable post-show included with the movie purchase. Three separate time zones will each feature a live Q&A session with stars of the film and a live fan chat, immediately following the conclusion of the film on FITE.
Very special thanks to Kim Hurwitz and Fite TV. All pics and videos courtesy of Fite TV, IMDB, and Jesse Quinones