“Warrior” Actor and MMA Fighter Erik Apple Talks His Lucky Break, Preparing Other Actors For Battle On Camera and MMA vs UFC
“The UFC is a brand, not a sport. The sooner the layman understands that, the better it will be for the sport.”
By Joshua Molina
In the dangerous world of mixed martial arts, the difference between winning and losing often comes down to something as simple as timing.
A fighter who stays in a bad position too long can find himself knocked out or submitted. And a fighter seemingly on the brink of defeat can turn it all around in a split second just by being in the right spot at the right time.
For MMA fighter Erik Apple, the ultimate moment of fortuitous timing came outside the cage, in the form of a telephone call when he least expected it.
“I was contacted by the VP of Lionsgate,” Apple said. “I was really caught off guard.”
But when Lionsgate calls on you to play a key role in a big-budget film, you don’t turn them down.
Almost overnight, Apple found himself training; not for a big fight, but to appear as Pete “Mad Dog” Grimes in the film Warrior, playing in theatres across the country. The movie stars Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, as brothers who must fight in a battle that is about more than just cage-fighting.
The film has helped further expose the sport of MMA to a mainstream audience, and Apple is thrilled to be part of the sport’s first big film on the silver screen.
“I didn’t expect the movie to be this good,” Apple told FCF. “The fight scenes are the most realistic of any film I have ever seen.”
Much of the film’s appeal is its authenticity. From the work in the cage to the fighters’ emotions leading up to their bouts, Warrior captures the combat and the compassion of the human spirit.
“(Director) Gavin O’Connor really went out of his way to make everything look legitimate,” Apple said.
Apple spent about six weeks helping train the actors in the film in the disciplines that comprise MMA. Apple said Edgerton, who plays “Brendan” in the film, is a natural athlete, who picked up on the sport quickly.
Hardy, Apple said, is not as naturally athletic, but is such a great actor that he pulls off a masterful performance.
Apple also trained Olympic Gold Medalist and former WWE champion Kurt Angle in the film.
“Even though Kurt Angle is a gold medalist, he doesn’t know how to throw his hands,” Apple said. “He doesn’t know submissions.”
The entire cast worked hard to make every moment feel realistic, explained Apple.
“It’s like they had to have a beginner’s course in MMA. We spent weeks training them.”
Apple worked alongside the film’s star Hardy, whose character “Tommy” he fought in the film, and acclaimed actor Nick Nolte.
“Nick Nolte is a legend and an icon,” Apple said.
Apple has experience on the business side of the sport as well. He worked as a marketing representative for Rockstar Energy Drink before recently moving over to its competitor Monster Energy Drink, where he said he plans to create an MMA fight team that will carry the company banner.
He hopes the movie helps legitimize MMA in the eyes of those who see the sport as barbaric.
“I really believe the film with help open the eyes of women and other people who have not seen MMA,” Apple said. “The film humanizes the fighters for people who might look at us as gladiators or human cockfighters.”
The movie hit theaters at a time when MMA popularity is at its peak. The name “UFC” has become synonymous with MMA, yet oddly, the presence of UFC, the top promotion in the sport, is absent from the film.
Although the company name is mentioned several times, UFC branding is visually absent from the film. Warrior is about mixed martial arts, not the UFC, Apple made clear.
“This is an MMA movie,” Apple said. “The UFC is a brand, not a sport. The sooner the layman understands that, the better it will be for the sport.”
Apple said no one on the set cared whether or not there was a UFC presence inthe movie. He said that he had heard that, in the early stages of pre-production, Lionsgate had approached UFC about having a presence in the movie, but that the UFC turned the offer down.
Such a response would seemingly fall in line with the UFC’s modus operandi. The company tends to shun anything that it can’t control.
Apple, who has fought for Strikeforce, said it’s unfortunate to see what has happened in the world of MMA over the course of the last year. Zuffa, LLC, the parent company of the UFC, purchased Strikeforce in March, essentially eliminating any of its remaining competition.
Apple doesn’t expect Strikeforce to last much longer.
“I think the UFC just wants to keep one brand,” Apple said. “They are probably going to let Strikeforce go in February (when the Strikeforce contract with Showtime is said to expire).
“It’s terrible,” Apple said. “It’s not that UFC is bad, it’s that competition is good.”
For now, UFC’s biggest competition may come from Hollywood and others, like the people behind Warrior, who are daring enough to take a risk and portray mixed martial arts as a sport, not a promotion or a brand.
Apple may be a big part of that change. He’s already received several offers for movie roles. And he is excited about creating a union between MMA and Monster.
Apple said people have recognized him on the street since the release of Warrior.
“I am so thankful I had the opportunity to be a part of this project,” Apple said. “I am so blessed.”
Although he’s thrilled with the film, there’s only one criticism Apple has of the movie.
“I wish I would have won more fights,” Apple said. “I wish the bad guy would have won.”