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‘Kingdom’ seeks to bring dramatic reality of MMA to television

May 27, 2016

The mixed martial arts-themed television series “Kingdom” returns Wednesday on the Audience Network, aiming to present the reality of the fighting lifestyle in a dramatic form.

The drama , created by Byron Balasco and available exclusively on DirecTV and AT&T U-Verse, centers around the story of an MMA gym owner known as Alvey Kulina portrayed by Frank Grillo, best known for his work on “The Purge and “Captain America.”

“It’s similar to ‘Friday Night Lights,’ because it gets inside to what it’s like not just to be a fighter, but the people around the fighters,” Grillo told The Times at the show’s premiere this week. “That’s important because without those people, there are no fighters. You need the support, and sometimes it’s not easy to support the fighters because they can be a little crazy.

“The authenticity of the show is what makes it so great. We strive so hard to make sure that everyone that is in the fight game is represented.”

Grillo’s character is the owner and head trainer at Navy St. Gym, fictionally based out of Venice. He runs the gym with his girlfriend, played by Kiele Sanchez, and his two sons, played by Nick Jonas and Jonathan Tucker.

Grillo also had a supporting role as a trainer in the MMA-centered film “Warrior.”

“I wasn’t planning on doing this show because of ‘Warrior,’ but after I read the script, I just had to do it.  I love MMA so much, so I just knew I could do this in a way that really justifies the sport,” Grillo said.

Grillo’s character is a retired former MMA fighter who trains fighters, including his two sons.

One of the other main characters in the show, played by “Friday Night Lights” Matt Lauria, was a great fighter until he was sent to prison. After completing his sentence, Lauria’s character returns to the gym to try to resurrect his fighting career.

The show’s producers went to great lengths to make the fighting scenes authentic, hiring well-known MMA trainer Greg Jackson to train the actors.

Jackson is the co-owner of Jackson-Wink MMA Academy, home gym to UFC fighters Jon Jones, Carlos Condit, Holly Holm and Diego Sanchez.

Former UFC fighter Joe “Daddy” Stevenson also works on the set and helps the actors with their preparation for the fight scenes and also appears on the show, playing a trainer named “Daddy.”

“I didn’t teach them how to act, I coached them. I taught them footwork and the basics,” Stevenson said. “We did a 50-hour camp and I got each of them a private MMA student to work with them. I had them do slipping drills, boxing, muay thai, and kickboxing drills and then we put it all together.”

Stevenson owns a victory over Nate Diaz and confessed that working on the show brought out the competitive fire in him. He plans to compete again later this year in San Bernardino.

Stevenson is one of the few who actually wants to see Conor McGregor fight against Floyd Mayweather.

“I would love to see that fight! Conor has more of a chance in a boxing match than Floyd would ever have in an MMA fight,” Stevenson said.

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