Miami Dade County, West Perrine is nothing like the neon and pastel city that we've been culturally brainwashed to conjure when we hear 'Miami.' Welcome to a suburban ghetto where three quarters of the population are African-American; one third of the population is unemployed and where it seems that to reach adulthood you're all but required to be incarcerated. Documentary filmmaker Billy Corben (Cocaine Cowboys) follows the Dhafir "Dada 5000" Harris, former bodyguard of MMA/YouTube sensation Kimbo Slice, who is the promoter/organiser/referee of a bare-knuckle fighting league from his mother's backyard. The fights and the swagger are the least interesting things about Dawg Fight; it's Corben's subtle construction of the Miami Dade's petri dish with a singular escape route. The rise and rise of Kimbo Slice, which was a result of its own special set of conditions (YouTube as currency, the transition phase from the early 'car crash' spectacle of the UFC's early days and the modern age of legitimacy) seems to have provided the archetypal hero's journey for the community. Dada 5000 is the witness, coming back to his 'homeland' to recreate the conditions that saw one of their own make a new life for himself. He's had a legend attached to his fighting that gives him the 'street red,' to be Don King in a 'do rag.'
Corben takes an objective stance. It's almost as if you can feel him trying to not apply his cynical or pessimistic perspective on these men struggling to will themselves toward a better life down this rough and brutal road. You keep imagining that a voice from behind the camera is going to emerge to ask the tough question, to challenge the bravado. In such abject poverty, you don't have the luxury or the opportunity to test yourself under the supervision of professionals; it's a tactful approach to excruciating subject matter. Corben allows the subject of the documentary, Dada 5000, guide the direction of the film, so you get somewhat blindsided when you begin to flesh out the day-to-day experience of the fighters, the families and the community involved in this unsanctioned fighting. Corben chooses the best possible chorus of fight analysts to deconstruct the match-ups. Gone are the bright lights of Fox Sports or ESPN's Sports Centre; instead, it's four fold out chairs and in them, four middle aged African-American women from Dada's mother's backyard. Not only do you get some wonderful trash talk about the fighters and almost always correct predictions, but they give you an insight into how much fighting in a controlled environment ultimately helps to reduce the violence in the area.
The prevalence of drugs, incarceration and reflexive violence is a symptom of the surroundings; and I'm not sure whether we the audience are meant to kind of stew over it from a comfortable enough distance to examine it or if the filmmaker's are staying on the outside of the ropes of some tough issues.
Dada 5000 is a fascinating character. He's the neighbourhood tough guy that was so prevalent in the years preceding the dominance of the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) or MMA (Mixed Martial Arts). He claims that while he was fighting on the circuit at the time of Kimbo Slice, and was recruited as a bodyguard, that Kimbo's promoters shelved his fight videos because they were so "explosive" that it would have taken away from their efforts promoting and exaggerating their newfound talent. This kind of once prevalent bravado has all been made extinct in the post UFC world. The great equaliser of MMA though is that all you have to do is go down to a gym, train and earn the right to step into a cage. Perhaps, thanks to the attention of the fights, and Corben's documentary, we see Dada get a chance to prove his metal.
Behind the self-aggrandising, gangster rap style and human meat tenderising is Dawg Fight's quandary: controlled violence seems to make this community better.
Score: 3.5 Stars
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Director: Billy Corben