‘BORN a Champion’ is about a mixed martial arts fighter, Mickey Kelley (Robert Sean Flanery, best known for playing the lead role in the TV series “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles”), who is a veteran of the war in Iraq. Flanery is a real life black belter in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the fighting method shown in the movie, and he also wrote the film’s screenplay.
The film is narrated by his friend, the heavily tattooed Rosco (Maurice Compte), who tells how Mickey rescued him from thugs who tried to mess him up in a parking lot. They then become good friends with Mickey giving him the nickname Taco.
Mickey is on a flight to Dubai to teach Brazilian jiu-jitsu to the children of a rich sheikh. He agrees to exchange seats with an elderly woman who was seated far from her husband. He then gets transfereed to be seated beside a beautiful woman, Layla (Katrina Bowden), who says she works as a legal secretary. They strike a conversation and it’s clear there’s some attraction between them.
In his hotel, he meets the sheikh in the dining room and later sees Layla being compromised by a powerful businessman who wants to make her a prostitute. Mickey rescues her and Layla later follows him back to Los Angeles even if she’s really based in a far state, North Carolina.
They eventually get married and have a kid of their own. They’re living a pretty peaceful life, but Mason (Dennis Quaid), a sports manager who wants to legitimize mixed martial arts as a combat sport, persuades Mickey to fight a well known champion, Blaine (played by real life fighter Edson Barboza), in an unsanctioned match.
The odds are against Mickey as he’s an aging fighter but he fought hard. Still Blaine gets to beat him up and he ends up with a damaged retina in his eye that makes him incapable of ever fighting again. But some years later, a video that goes viral on the internet shows that Blaine actually just cheated him in their previous bout.
Mickey is convinced by Mason to have a rematch with Blaine, which fans of the sport also demanded for him to vindicate himself. His wife Layla is against it, as any further damage in his eye might leave him permanently blind.
But Mickey wants to give it a shot as the big prize money will ensure that his son will have a good future. Flanery’s script and Alex Ranarivelo’s direction capably lay well all the groundwork on how the story will go. They are able to sustain the suspense all throughout the match and Mickey as the underdog gets our total sympathy and we root for him.
This is not exactly “Rocky” but, as a sports drama, all the violent and visceral fight sequences resulting in bloodied and bruised faces will please fans of the genre. Quite well acted, the love story between Mickey and Layla is also engaging and Mickey’s love for family and devotion to his child will no doubt touch some viewers.