Image Entertainment // 2007 // 840 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // December 18th, 2010
Before you fight your way out, you have to fight your way in.
If you're unfamiliar with the world of mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting, or the clothing company TapouT (yes, that is how it's spelled), which makes most of the gear for such MMA companies as UFC, you might dismiss TapouT as just a reality series about a bunch of screaming, violent lunkheads screaming and doing violent, lunkheaded things. Which, well, it is, to a degree. If, however, you can look past the screaming, violence, and lunkheadedness, you'll find that underneath, TapouT is a surprisingly affecting reality series. It may be a bit testosterone heavy for some viewers (though, honestly, what else would they expect?) but considering the subject matter and general lack of restraint, it's surprisingly non-manipulative, even truthful. That's no small achievement for a series that features grown men who wear face paint and ridiculous outfits and sport nicknames like "Skyskrape" and "Punkass."
TapouT, which aired on the cable channel Versus, follows the aforementioned Skyskrape (nee Tim Katz), Punkass (Dan Caldwell) and Mask (Charles Lewis), the founders and owners of TapouT as they travel the country looking for up-and-coming MMA fighters to sponsor and promote. Relying on their network of friends, including trainers, promoters, gym owners, and other MMA fighters (including MMA superstar Chuck Liddell), they study each fighter during training, they take the fighter on a journey to a fight involving some heavy training and, on occasion, some goofing around, and then each episode climaxes with a climactic bout in which the fighter gets to prove his (or, in one episode, her) worth in front of the TapouT crew. This five-disc set compiles all twenty episodes from the show's two seasons.
The heart of the show, of course, is the TapouT crew. Mask (so named because of his penchant for face paint) is the boss and makes all the decisions and gets most of the camera time, but Punkass, his laconic right-hand man, is the real unsung hero. He may not talk much (or at all) but he's the one who makes the phone calls, picks up the equipment, sets the schedule, and drives the team around. As for Skyskrape (who's a dead ringer for South Park's Matt Stone), well, he's apparently nothing more than the court jester. All he does is play jokes, wear goofy wigs, and scream at the top of his lungs. Even during the fights and post-fight analysis, Punkass and Mask both have knowledgeable comments to make while Skyskrape just cracks wise. Of course, you can also expect lots of frat-boy aggression and boisterousness. Mask and Skyskrape compete for who can bellow louder, Punkass glowers sulkily and proclaims anything that's not macho as "totally gay," and the fighters all brag about how much ass they'll kick and the many ways they can kick it. Also, hearing the TapouT guys, all of whom are as white as snow, spouting hip-hop lingo every other syllable grows tiresome after, oh, five or six minutes into the first episode.
Nonetheless, if you're patient, you can find that the show is surprisingly affecting and entertaining. For all his bluster, Mask is a levelheaded and generous type. When one fighter is homeless and bouncing from couch to couch, Mask pays for him to have an apartment. When one fighter trains in a pair of third-rate gyms with less-than-challenging opponents, he offers to pay for a membership in a professional MMA gym that offers the best in equipment and people. When he spots one gang member who shows promise as a fighter, he takes the young man to a professional fight to show him what the pro fight world looks like and promises to pay for his training and equipment on the condition that the young man stays away from bad influences and is disciplined about his workouts. These acts of generosity aren't just to make TapouT look good -- Mask makes it clear that they benefit his company by ensuring that the fighters he backs are always focused and at their best. It's also intriguing that not all the fighters TapouT backs win their big fights. Most do, but don't expect that any fighter is safe from disappointment. Watching the way the fighters and the TapouT guys react to these losses is the most fascinating part of the show. There's no yelling or screaming; instead, we see how the TapouT guys stick by their fighters and urge them to treat the loss as a learning opportunity. For all that Mask, Skyskrape, and Punkass wear goofy clothes and act like obnoxious clowns, they also demonstrate surprising levels of maturity and thoughtfulness. That's more than can be said of many other reality show protagonists. Sadly, Mask was killed in a car crash in 2009, a few months after the last episode of this series was shot, so the DVD serves as a fitting tribute to his memory and accomplishments.
Ultimately, what makes TapouT worth watching isn't the fighting -- though there are still plenty of fights for MMA fans, they're not the focus and you can get better fights elsewhere in greater detail. It's not the macho antics, either -- watching guys set off fireworks, fire guns, and pose with scantily clad models is fun but insubstantial. It's the personalities and behavior of the people seen here. Watching how they react to triumph, failure, adversity, and even redemption is more interesting than most scripted shows, because there's nothing here that seems contrived. Sometimes fights end up in a loss, sometimes things go wrong, but through it all, the TapouT guys are there for their fighters and for each other. TapouT is, at heart, a show about how humans react to situations by coming together and working to resolve them. In other words, it's about lively characters and good stories. As far as reality TV, or even TV in general, goes, you just can't ask for more than that.
Audio and video quality is standard for reality TV: full-screen transfer, stereo sound mix, both acceptable. There are no extras.
Review content copyright © 2010 Victor Valdivia; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 840 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated