Jun 17, 2012 - The International Fight League (IFL) never made it as a competitor to the UFC for a variety of reasons, but it did openly advocate a novel premise: mixed martial arts was not a competition between two individuals, but rather, a team sport. Among other errors, the IFL took this premise too far, believing fans wanted to think of and see fighters compete as teammates based on semi-geographic location and mutual interest. Naturally, MMA fans only have interest in fighter outcomes and could never be concerned with the teams' well-being. All they care about is the eventual fighter product. The IFL eventually went under.
If the new MMA documentary 'Such Great Heights', a film about the run up in Jon Fitch's life to his title fight with Georges St. Pierre at UFC 87, proves anything, it's that the IFL may have been onto something.
Consumers of MMA don't care about the welfare of American Top Team (ATT) or American Kickboxing Academy (AKA). They only care that said teams produce the kind of world-class talent they're accustomed to enjoying watch compete on Saturday evenings. Fighters, on the other hand, are deeply invested in their team, needing each member to buoy their own career and self-esteem. From fulfilling prosaic training responsibilities to assuaging personal insecurity, fighters live and die as a function of their team's health.
'Such Great Heights', therefore, is not about Jon Fitch (the welterweight offers almost no testimonial insight). His 2008 fight with GSP serves as the central focus of the team's time and resources, but the real takeaways of the movie are two-fold. First, as fighters live it (particularly in the early stages of their career), the team's importance in MMA is utterly paramount. Second, a fighter's life is often an irrational sacrifice, a pursuit in trying to convert imagined greatness into real life.