Mixed martial arts (MMA) has captivated the world with the skill, technicality, and showmanship of its fighters.
But while the theatrics, striking, and grappling provide the immediate thrill of the sport, the characters of the series Kingdom show us that there’s more to these fights than just the outward spectacle. In the show, we see that the internal battles of fighters are just as important as their five rounds in the cage.
Nate, ably played by actor/singer/popstar Nick Jonas, wants to prove that he is still one of Navy Street’s strongest despite a brutal street beat down and his reserved personality.
Ryan (Matt Lauria), a lightweight division champion meanwhile is fighting to overcome the mental toll of an injured body as he prepares for a title defense.
Fearless and extraordinarily-talented Jay (Jonathan Tucker) is a master of sowing fear among his would-be opponents, while ambitious Alicia (Natalie Martinez) would stop at nothing to be a star fighter.
All of these characters show that for all their fierceness and bravado, MMA fighters have to confront inner fears that are just as dangerous as their opponents.
A conquest of fear
Before entering the cage, MMA fighters conduct rituals that condition their minds. This is according to a study by the Social Psychology Quarterly which explored how MMA fighters coped with their fears, the greatest of which include injury and defeat.
One such way to manage fear is called scripting where an MMA fighter develops a game plan and puts it in “bodily memory” through combat rehearsals. In the locker room for example, a fighter would repeatedly hit pads while listening to their trainers talk to them about their game plans.
By resorting to such a ritual, fighters put their fear under control especially during the heated moments leading to a fight.
Identity and domination
These unseen mental battles provide much of the drama for the most committed fight fans, and we see this play out on Kingdom as well.
Despite his struggles with his identity, Nate nonetheless assumes a persona where he is at his most masculine. Like every other MMA fighter, Nate is challenged to define his superiority to his opponent, both in the mental and the physical sense. He is forced to act out the cultural norms of manhood so he can be successful inside the cage.
It is this internal dynamic that makes the sport as compelling as it is. Many analysts say that fights are often won even before the first bell is rung – which shows you how important the psychology of combat is.
When facing off at weigh-ins, fighters often give deathly stares to their opponents, signaling their dominance. Inside and outside the cage, they use aggressive body language and openly display their capacity for rage– all in a bid to win the mental side of the fight.
Nate and his fellow fighters in Kingdom are well aware that the key to victory in the cage is rousing an opponent’s fear while suppressing one’s own. Ambition drives both Nate and Ryan but their bodies’ limitations give them a common fear to suppress—that they might not be good enough to win inside the cage.
Among Kingdom’s fighters, Jay is perhaps the master of intimidating his opponents, who tend to back out minutes before the fight. And will Alicia prove that can be just as tough—perhaps even tougher— than any man in the cage?
While it is yet to be seen who will emerge as the king—or maybe the queen—of Navy Street, one can tell that Kingdom’s characters face challenges outside the cage as big as those inside.
Catch Kingdom Season Two’s finale will air on August 11, 10p.m., first an exclusive on RTL CBS Extreme HD.