‘The Proving Grounds’ Captures Family Atmosphere, Future Stars at Jackson's MMA

By: Tristen Critchfield
Jul 11, 2013

In an early scene of the documentary “The Proving Grounds,” a 22-year-old Jon Jones explains why he was compelled to make the trek from his home in upstate New York to Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts in Albuquerque, N.M.

“I was training really hard there [in New York], and I was doing really well, but I was always second guessing myself,” the UFC’s current light heavyweight champion said. “I was always wondering if I was getting what it takes to be a top-tier fighter.”

Such footage of Jones -- before he captured UFC gold, before he appeared on ESPN, before he received his own Nike apparel line -- is part of what makes the film worthwhile viewing for the MMA fan some four-plus years after it first began production in 2009.

“The Proving Grounds” recently became available on Hulu.com and is scheduled for a transactional release on platforms such as Netflix, iTunes and Amazon in December.

In addition to the rare Jones content, the approximately hour-and-a-half long documentary features many of the faces that are still synonymous with success of the world-renowned gym today, including Carlos Condit, Diego Sanchez, Julie Kedzie and Donald Cerrone, to name a few. And like Jones, many of the aforementioned fighters, who were already successful at the time, have gone on to reach even greater heights since the film was in production.

“When we were shooting the film we tried to shoot in a fashion that made it timeless and still tried to capture the essence of Jackson’s -- whether it was [the gym] in the early days or Jackson’s when this film was shot,” said director Landon Dyksterhouse, who currently lives in Las Vegas and works as a DJ under the alias The Mash-Up King. “[At the time of the filming] a lot of the people from the camp are still on the verge of becoming superstars.”

“The Proving Grounds,” which is produced by Shandon Dyksterhouse, Nick Shuster and RD Whittington, also focuses on the structure the camp and why it works as well as it does. Not surprisingly, much of that story centers around the atmosphere created by co-founders Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn.

“We wanted to capture the essence of the family. That’s the big theme in the movie, and Greg’s mentorship for everybody and what he’s done with that gym,” Dyksterhouse said. “This guy’s drawn from all the greats and his idols, and brought it into the gym and made it a place where learning and family and helping one another are the important things.”

Jackson, who outside of his current stint as one of the coaches on the Bellator “Fight Master” reality series is known to shun the spotlight as much as possible, allowed “The Proving Grounds” crew virtually unprecedented access to his team because the focus of the film was exactly that -- the team. In the past, other filmmakers had come to Jackson with more sensational pitches and failed. The end product, which initially premiered in Albuquerque at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino -- one of the primary financial backers -- in March 2011, seems to have satisfied Jackson -- for the most part, anyway.

“I thought it was interesting, but that [Greg Jackson] guy was in it way too much,” the trainer quipped. “The documentary was fun to make.”

So what took the film so long to be ready for public consumption? According to Dyksterhouse, there were plenty of suitors, including the likes of Mark Cuban and Fox Sports, but uncertainty regarding the interest in a full-length MMA documentary delayed the release.

Eventually, “The Proving Grounds” signed a five-year deal with Filmbuff , which serves as a liaison of sorts with the various mediums that stream films and other content. In the time since “The Proving Grounds” was finished, a number of MMA documentaries have surfaced via online streaming platforms including “Such Great Heights,” “Like Water,” and “Fightville,” among others.

“The reason it took so long is a lot of people were still wondering about MMA. Is MMA important enough to put on a major medium like iTunes or Hulu?” Dyksterhouse said. “A lot of people started to figure out there’s a huge audience for this.”

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