Creator/EP Byron Balasco talked about how his MMA fandom, even before the sport approached mainstream popularity, helped inspire the show.
“I’ve always been interested in the world (of MMA), I’ve been a fan of the sport for years going back to 12 or 13 years ago,” Balasco said. “What fascinated me most is that fighting and violence is something we all run from 99 percent of the time. So I was really interested in what makes these guys do this, for relatively little financial reward, and little safety net.”
Balasco emphasized that the series is not a fight-a-week show, and that while the physicality and violence of the MMA world sets the stage for the drama, the episodes are driven by the characters and family drama. Star Frank Grillo, who practices the sport on his own and previously appeared in MMA flick “Warrior,” talked about his character, Alvey Kulina, and the conflict Alvey faces in the show.
“I predated the UFC so I never really got the fame or the glory or the money, so now I have this gym and I train fighters and I try to stay relevant,” Grillo said. “I got a couple of sons that are fighters and I’m looking for that one guy to get me through to the next level.”
That one guy is Matt Lauria’s Ryan Wheeler, whose arrival stirs up an already tense situation.
“In the pilot alone you’re presented with these two extremes in terms of how the character’s depicted,” Lauria said. “You’re seeing a guy who’s broken and humbled coming out of jail, just trying to survive and put his life back together. You’re hearing about a character from other people who is a savage and a killer and a champion and a king.”
It may be a show filled with strong men who beat each other up, but don’t count on the women to be weak, said Kiele Sanchez.
Her character, Lisa, “is incredibly strong, complex,” Sanchez said. “I think that in this whole world of brutal men who get in a cage and fight each other, she’s actually the biggest bad ass in the room.”
The training regimen to prepare for the show was reportedly intense, and required the actors to learn a number of MMA techniques. There were conflicting reports among the cast, however, when asked which fighter would triumph in the ring.
“Me,” Grillo said with confidence.
Balasco agreed. “Probably Frank Grillo. Just because he’s the oldest.”
“Frank knows some stuff, but he’s also a hundred years old,” Lauria said. “I would never dream of (fighting everyone) though, I love them all too much.”
“The very last day of the show we did a big kind of royal rumble, and not only did I beat every single person on the show including all the key grips and Joe Stevenson, our fight trainer, and Greg Jackson, but then I took all of them at the same time,” said Jonathan Tucker. “You can ask Nick Jonas about it, he tapped out pretty fast.”
“He’s a liar,” Jonas said. “Frank has actually been fighting for real for 25 years, so he would probably do the best, just from the experience. But of the three of us who did our training together, I think I’d definitely win. No doubt about it.”
After the screening, DirecTV hosted a party just off Venice Beach that included food and drinks, but also a Paradise cookies and ice cream truck, cotton candy machines, punching bags, a green screen photo booth to get a photo taken as if you were in the show’s Navy Street gym, and, fittingly, an MMA octagon, where real, live action fights took place throughout the evening.
(Pictured: Matt Lauria, Kiele Sanchez, Frank Grillo, Joanna Going, Nick Jonas and Jonathan Tucker at the “Kingdom” premiere in Venice, Calif.)