Stabbings, shootings and boxing: Dana White's new reality TV show is here
It was 24 hours away from the first day of filming on a new reality show that would eventually be titled The Fighters, and executive producer Craig Piligian was just waking up from a good night's rest, ready to tackle the South Boston boxing scene for his latest project with UFC president Dana White.
Piligian and White had worked together to help build The Ultimate Fighter into one of the biggest and longest running reality shows on television, but their latest work brought them into the boxing ring and a neighborhood known as 'Southie'.
That summer morning, Piligian awoke to a phone call from boxing coach Peter Welch, who helped develop the show alongside White. Welch may best be known to MMA fans as a mainstay on the first few seasons of The Ultimate Fighter while also working with several notable names over the years including Kenny Florian and Jorge Rivera.
“He just stabbed a guy in a bar, he's got a $10,000 bail and we're trying to get him out.”
Unfortunately, Welch's call to Piligian that morning wasn't filled with exuberance and excitement about the new show starting production.
"Pete calls me in the morning, early in the morning and I go, 'Oh it's f**king Pete' and I go what's up and he goes 'well we've got a bit of a situation.' I go what situation, we're starting to shoot and he goes 'not with the one (coach), he just stabbed a guy in a bar, he's got a $10,000 bail and we're trying to get him out," Piligian revealed. "I go well we got a new guy on the show."
Yep, one of the coaches who was a gym owner in Boston and personal friend of Dana White for 25 years stabbed someone in a bar just hours away from filming a reality show that will debut tonight at 9pm on the Discovery Channel. Why would he throw away a golden opportunity to get his face on national TV and exposure for his gym full of boxers?
"It's real people in the real neighborhood they live in. This is what they do everyday," White explained.
The gritty world of the South Boston boxing scene takes center stage in the new show called 'The Fighters', which features both Piligian and White as executive producers. For MMA fans, this will be a much different experience than the one they've had watching The Ultimate Fighter for the past 18 seasons, but as White says, this show was never meant to be a complementary piece to the premiere MMA reality show out there.
"This isn't The Ultimate Fighter. Completely different than the Ultimate Fighter," White said.
The key to this series are the fighters themselves, more than the actual bouts that take place. Each person showcased on 'The Fighters' has a story that portrays the real struggles and hardships that the fighters trying to make their way into boxing goes through. In the pilot episode, one fighter is currently living in his car while another deals with a painful addiction to alcohol and drugs.
To hear White tell it, these are the kinds of things going on every, single day in the South Boston boxing scene and while they aren't unique to just that one area of the country, it's putting them on display for the first time ever that he believes will draw people to the series. Whether you are a boxing fan or not, it's hard not to be moved by some of the stories of tragedy to triumph that you'll witness.
"If you love the sport of boxing, you'll enjoy the show. If you've never seen boxing before and could care less, you'll love the show. It's character driven, it's completely different than The Ultimate Fighter or any of the other shows out there and we believe it had to be. It had to be completely different," White said.
Piligian laughed when talking about how the show came together in an Italian restaurant deep in the heart of South Boston as Welch pitched the idea of using some of the fighters from his gym and neighboring boxing establishments from around the city. The long-time reality show producer was immediately interested, although finding the cast for the show required a little more patience than normal.
"We did their background checks, most of them couldn't pass, but we used them anyways," Piligian said. "If I saw another 'stabbed a guy in a bar' background check that couldn't get through I was going to die, but we got it done."
One fighter was actually shot in the neck after the show filmed.
The violence isn't glorified in any way on 'The Fighters', but instead used as a cautionary tale to show what these guys live with each and every day as they walk through the streets in Southie. For some fighters, boxing serves as the only escape from a world marred by blood soaked nights and a constant barrage of funerals.
“It's completely different than The Ultimate Fighter.”
It's one of the reasons White scoffs at the idea that fighting, whether boxing or MMA, is looked upon by some people as a violent sport and barbaric in nature. Fighting often times serves as the only escape for some kids desperate to leave an impoverished life they feel destined to lead.
"People that don't understand fighting don't know what fighting really means to some people and what the alternative might have been to fighting," White said. "You'll see a lot of that this season."
The best description of 'The Fighters' probably comes from Welch himself, who was the real foundation for the series and the lead coach featured throughout the show. He understands better than anyone what boxing means to South Boston, and it has nothing to do with gold belts or million dollar purses.
"It's for the love of the sport," Welch said. "For neighborhood pride."