Forgotten Gem: Champions (1997)

Plot: William Rockman was the ultimate gladiator in the outlawed sport of extreme fighting. But his peaceful retirement plans are shattered by the news of his brother’s death in the underground arena. Now, Rockman vows to avenge his brother’s death by re-entering the modern day Coliseum for the ultimate showdown.

This is a movie I never hear anyone discuss anymore and it’s a shame as Champions deserves to be rediscovered as it’s a quality fighting tournament movie with Louis Mandylor in one of his best roles.

In Champions Mandylor plays William Rockman, a fighter who used to take part in the Terminal Combat tournaments but when he kills someone, he leaves that world behind and trains kids in martial arts in his dojo. His brother appears on the scene and wants William to be in his corner to help train him as he is now fighting in Terminal Combat (which really should have been the movie’s title). William declines but when his brother is killed, he vows revenge and joins the tournament, but things aren’t quite what they seem.

I won’t say anything else in terms of story as I don’t want to spoil it, but Champions isn’t quite as predictable as you first think which is why it still stands out as a quality fight flick.

Danny Trejo is at his sleazy, villainous best here as corrupt fight promoter Max Brito who will stop at nothing to get what he wants as long as it makes him money. He is truly hateful here and you’ll be throwing things at the screen at various points until he gets his much-deserved comeuppance.

Louis Mandylor certainly has the moves in the fight scenes and William is badass while still being sympathetic. I love the fight where the religious fighter is on the ground and he says, “Whom shall I fear?” to which William responds “Me” then knocks him out.

The film doesn’t skimp on violence with a few surprisingly shocking moments, but it also doesn’t go more than 10 minutes before there’s some gratuitous nudity which is another point in its favour.

In terms of flaws there is some clunky dialogue like “so it begins…” and “there’s nothing between us but friendship” which is a little jarring and there are also a few to many “Yeeeeaahhs” during the fights which is unintentionally funny.

It moves at a breakneck pace coming in at just under an hour and 40 minutes and there are nicely choreographed fights although it always bothers me in fighting movies where people stand around and wait when their opponent is on the floor rather than just moving in to finish them off but I guess it would make for a shorter and less dramatic tale.

Keep your eyes open for Paco Christian Prieto (Only the Strong) who plays Largos; it’s not a huge role but it’s still awesome to see him in another action picture as he didn’t have many acting roles.

Ken Shamrock is a far more interesting character than you’d first expect as The King and I liked how this movie did something a little different with him.

In terms of action the film mostly consists of hand-to-hand fights but for the finale the guns come out and it’s thoroughly satisfying.

Overall, Champions is an entertaining fight flick and one of my personal favourite Louis Mandylor roles with plenty of brutal beatdowns and nudity to keep any action fan glued. It’s hardly an original concept and has its flaws but it’s still a lot of fun.