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Film / Never Back Down

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"If you want to be the best, you have to take down the best."

Never Back Down is a 2008 martial arts film directed by Jeff Wadlow and starring Sean Faris, Amber Heard, Cam Gigandet, and Djimon Hounsou.

Jake Tyler is your average boy from Iowa. Except that his dad is dead and as a result, Jake is angry all the time and expends his excess energy by beating the crap out of anyone who makes the slightest comment involving his lack of ongoing male adult influence. His kid brother is a budding tennis star who gets a scholarship to a good tennis school in Florida. As Jake is in severe trouble at home in Iowa, this is a good move for all involved. Once he arrives in Florida, he finds something new and unexpected: Mixed Martial Arts. Seemingly the entire school is involved in an unofficial MMA club. Yes, the whole school, even the ladies, has a singular obsession with MMA.


As things progress, Jake gets beaten senseless by Ryan McCarthy, the school's resident Jerkass, in a fight that was unwanted by Jake and instigated by Ryan's innate ability to sense his opponent's Berserk Button and proceed to mash it repeatedly. This fight is Jake's first lesson in MMA. His friend then gets him into formal MMA training, where Jean Roqua teaches Jake how to defeat any opponent. Many matches later, Jake ends up facing Ryan in a one-on-one fight to determine, once and for all, who the better fighter is.

The film was followed by two sequels, (Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown and Never Back Down: No Surrender), both directed by and starring Michael Jai White as ex-MMA phenom and martial arts master, Case Walker.


This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Ryan's father.
  • Always Someone Better: Roqua mentions he had a younger brother named Joseph, who was a professional fighter like him but "Joseph was truly great"
  • Arc Words: "This is my fight. Everyone's got one."
  • Attack Its Weakpoint: Jake is on the receiving end of this after taking a kick to the ribs from Dak-Ho. This injury gets exploited by Dak-Ho and Ryan.
  • Berserk Button: Mentioning Jake's father or the events surrounding his father's death are two ways to make Jake leap at you with fists raised.
  • Blood Knight: Everyone who participates in the Beatdown.
  • Boxing Battler: Jake in the beginning knows how to throw some punches but is quickly outclassed by more versatile mixed martial artists before he too learns to "mix it up"
  • Camera Fiend: Max just can't resist the urge to break out his camera when a fight breaks out. In fact, when Jake gets into a street fight, Max films the fight and uploads it to YouTube instead of helping him.
  • Chekhov's Skill
    • After Jake learns the Triangle choke, he uses it successfully against the more experienced fighters Miles (in the gym), Dak-Ho (in the tournament quarter-finals), then against Ryan with less success.
    • The combo Jake first learned at the gym and repeatedly practiced becomes his finishing move against Ryan.
  • Complexity Addiction: The acrobatic fighter who faces Ryan gets a solid one, in more of a sense. The guy spends most of the fight giving an elaborate but utterly useless exhibition of Capoeira and predictably gets knocked out with a single punch.
  • Cool, but Inefficient: The Capoeira fighter shows off with fancy flips and spinning kicks apparently forgetting he is in a fight, so Ryan finishes him with a single punch.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: Jake claims his injuries are due to him "running into a door." Lampshaded by Roqua when he forbids Jake from fighting outside the gym, "no matter how big the door."
  • Deadly Sparring: Ryan invites Max to his house under the guise of hanging out. Ryan proposes a friendly spar which he uses as an opportunity to beat Max brutally as a message to Jake. This is what prompts Jake to finally accept Ryan's challenge to settle their rivalry in the tournament.
  • Defeat Equals Friendship: Ryan shows respect to Jake at the end of the film.
  • Designated Girl Fight: Played With. We first see two girls fighting it out at a party. Moments later, we see "The Battle of the Exes", with a girl kicking the crap out of a guy twice her size.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Jake finally defeats Ryan, earning his respect and going steady with Baja. Meanwhile, Roqua closes the gym to go back to Brazil and reconcile with his estranged father.
  • Easily-Distracted Referee: Averted. Ryan cheats by using an eye gouge on his opponent. The ref notices the resulting injury a few seconds later and disqualifies him on the spot.
  • Eye Scream: Ryan performs an eye gouge on an opponent during the semifinal match at the Beatdown.
  • Florida: A nauseating example for someone actually familiar with it. The film takes place in "Orlando," but in the loosest of terms. Filming locations are on the far edges of Orlando or in a different city/suburb entirely, such as Sanford or Clermont, several miles away. In keeping with most outsiders' knowledge of Orlando, it is a lazy, cartoonish portrayal of the city that any real native or local would piss laughing at. MAJOR points though, for not bringing up Disney World (however also unrealistic).
  • Fanservice: Lots of barely-clothed men and women in Florida, especially during the pool scenes
  • Graceful Loser: Jake's first Beatdown opponent gives him a handshake after losing.
  • Heroic Second Wind: Jake multiple times when he manages to break free from a grappling hold.
  • Honor Before Reason: Roqua will not allow any of his students to fight outside the gym, whatever the reason. He kicks out Jake the first time and lets him back in after he apologizes. Before the Beatdown, he threatens to throw out Jake for good but relents after Jake explains his reasons for going.
  • I Have No Son!: What Roqua's dad told him after his brother was killed as a result of a brawl when they were out at a bar, leading to their estrangement for at least 7 years.
  • Inevitable Tournament: The Beatdown is mentioned, but Jake says he doesn't want to fight in it. Guess what he ends up doing. However, it's subverted when Ryan ends up disqualified and Jake taps out intentionally from his own semi-final having nothing to prove. When a fight between Jake and Ryan happens outside at the parking lot, the crowd is more interested in their fight than the actual final.
  • Instant Web Hit: Jake becomes the talk of the school (twice) after videos of him getting into fights go viral.
  • Jerk Jock: Ryan.
  • Kick the Dog: Ryan doesn't simply just believe in beating his opponents in a fight. He believes in kicking them when they are down.
    Ryan: And now for the bad news. It's gonna end with you looking like a bitch in front of everybody.
  • Klingon Promotion: A non-death example, but all of the characters in the movie see fighting this way. The only way to be the best is to beat all the rest.
  • Make an Example of Them: After Jake declares that he's not going to the Beatdown, Ryan beats up Max to show what will happen if he still doesn't go.
  • Moment Killer: Charlie, Jake's little brother, walks in on Jake and Baja making out on his bedroom floor. Baja lamely claims that they were "wrestling."
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Played straighter than Robin Hood's arrows.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: After Ryan is disqualified, Jake forfeits his semifinal match because he was only in the tournament to beat Ryan.
  • Privileged Rival: Jake lives in an apartment with his Struggling Single Mother. Ryan drives a Cool Car and lives in a Big Fancy House complete with a swimming pool.
  • Raw Eggs Make You Stronger: Played for Laughs. Jake and Max are shown drinking eggs during a training montage, but Max immediately chucks them back up.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The referee at the Beatdown. He checks on Jake after he is injured during a match to make sure he is alright before going into the next round, and disqualifies Ryan on the spot when he uses a forbidden eye gouge during the semifinal match.
  • Serious Business: The description above isn't exaggerating much about how obsessed the kids at Jake's new school are with MMA. To be popular with a majority is one thing, but it strains Willing Suspension of Disbelief when the movie makes it seem as though a second common interest simply does not exist among the student body.
  • So Last Season: In their first fight, Ryan weakens Jake with kicks to the legs before finishing him off. He tries the same on his opponent in the Beatdown who brushes it off and during their final fight, Jake successfully defends against it.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The film is basically a Whole-Plot Reference to The Karate Kid, only with MMA instead of Karate.
    • Max mentions Roqua having trained with the Gracie family, the main developers of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and the force behind the creation of Ultimate Fighting Championship in real life. This also serves to make him even more badass to the eyes of those who know about MMA history, because back then the Gracies rarely went to learn under outsiders to their family (and still rarely do; Georges Mehdi was possibly the only martial arts trainer that could boast of having taught the mainstream Gracies, and he was a veritable 74 year Old Master at the time of the film). Realistically, Max might be specifically referring to the Carlson Gracie branch, whose members' fighting style also closely resembled Roqua's.
    • The main character entering a tournament to get a revenge and forfeiting at the semifinals after learning his rival is not anymore in the card draws parallelisms with the real life run of Ken Shamrock at UFC 3, where he forfeited at the end when he learned Royce Gracie had forfeited too. Also, with his blond hair, hot girlfriend and Jerk Jock attitude, Ryan echoes Tito Ortiz, Shamrock's most famous nemesis aside from Royce.
    • According to Hounsou, he based Roqua's demeanor on Royce Gracie himself.
    • Jake's English class is studying The Iliad and it's brought up several times to discuss whether Violence is the Only Option.
  • Title Drop: Delivered by Roqua during his Rousing Speech.
    Roqua: Keep going! Never give up! Never back down! Come on!
  • Training from Hell: The Combat 365 gym. Jake is a football player and finds himself struggling to keep up (at least until the second Training Montage).
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Ryan.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Lampshaded by Baja as she suggests that her parents smoked a lot of weed.
  • Workaholic: Roqua keeps the Combat 365 open every single day, all year long. This is because he is running from his life issues.