Mixed martial arts fights set for 'Knockout'

Director Steven Soderbergh has committed to next direct “Knockout,” a spy thriller that will mark the screen starring debut of Gina Carano, the mixed martial arts circuit fighter.

Relativity Media will fully finance, and Soderbergh plans a late January production start. Domestic distribution should be secured quickly.

Soderbergh locked in the film just as his Warner Bros. comedy “The Informant!” makes its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival before the Matt Damon starrer opens Stateside on Sept. 18.

Scripted by Lem Dobbs, “Knockout” casts Carano as a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who is given a second chance to use her skills for constructive purposes. The film is a closer cousin to “La Femme Nikita” and “Kill Bill” than “Million Dollar Baby,” in that it doesn’t take place in the fighting ring. Soderbergh considers the film as a flat-out actioner in the James Bond mold and will shoot in locations around the world that include Ireland, Turkey and the U.S.

The MMA circuit is where Soderbergh discovered Carano, a lightweight division slugger with movie star good looks. The Muay Thai-trained fighter suffered her first loss in a title fight last month, but she is considered the face of the fledgling women’s mixed martial arts fighting circuit.

Dobbs previously scripted “Kafka” and “The Limey” for Soderbergh.

The film will be produced by Gregory Jacobs, Soderbergh’s longtime collaborator. Relativity topper Ryan Kavanaugh will also be a producer, and Tucker Tooley is exec producer.

Soderbergh waived his upfront salary under the terms of his deal and will share an ownership stake with Relativity Media.

Soderbergh, who earlier this summer exited a plan to direct “Moneyball” for Columbia Pictures, most recently directed “The Girlfriend Experience,” a film that starred porn star Sasha Grey in her first performance in a legit film.

Carano so far has appeared as herself in the docu “Ring Girls” and the Oxygen reality series “Fight Girls.” She also served a stint as Crush on NBC’s “American Gladiators” and had a role in the upcoming Michael Jai White action film “Blood and Bone.”

Soderbergh is repped by manager Michael Sugar at Anonymous Content and attorney Michael Adler.

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