Private Project

The Rukus

The Rukus chronicles one man’s attempt to attain his lifelong dream of becoming a UFC fighter and documents the shattering consequences of achieving his wish. The UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) is the self-acclaimed “most violent sport in the world,” and Brandon “The Rukus” Thatch is among the tiny percentage of childhood fans who actually have the skill, drive, and luck required to succeed in this sport. He is tall, young, handsome, chiseled, at the top of his game with an 11-fight winning streak, but he is completely lost when he’s not fighting.
This isn't Rocky. It's a subversive take on the classic fighter film. Rather than getting lost in the tropes of “trying to win the big game” and “good guys vs bad guys,” The Rukus dives into the gray zones. Sometimes Brandon is an admirable sportsman, kneeling out of respect for his injured opponent after a big win. Other times he's lost, confused, and drowning out his thoughts with booze.

We follow Brandon as he learns who he is. We watch as Brandon falls from the top of his game, struggling with injury, losing his first major fight, and eventually losing his UFC contract. This presents him with a choice: keep up the tough guy facade and continue to identify as a fighter, or do the uncomfortable, unglamorous work of self-reflection and growing up.

  • Andrew Ackerman
    Chasing Coral DP
  • Tim Kaminski
  • Jeff Orlowski
    Consulting Producer
    Chasing Ice, Chasing Coral, The Social Dilemma
  • Davis Coombe
    Consulting Editor
    Newton, The Social Dilemma, Chasing Coral
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 20 minutes 55 seconds
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Shooting Format:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Andrew Ackerman

Andrew is a documentary film Director, Cinematographer, and Producer. He was a Director of Photography for the Sundance Audience Award-Winning film and Netflix Original Documentary, Chasing Coral. Andrew’s work has appeared on Disney+, Netflix, National Geographic and SommTV.

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Director Statement

When I was 22 years old I signed up for an amateur cage fight in order to find out my own relationship to violence. I made a film about it and that was my first documentary. Now why the hell would someone do that? I played football from middle school through college and, while I never got in fights in real life, the brutality in football was so glorified for me that it was my single favorite part of the sport. Then I read an essay by writer and activist James Baldwin that made me question everything I thought I knew about being a man and my relationship to violence. Because of the fight and film I was invited to an elite wrestling practice with some of the best UFC fighters in the world. I expected to get my ass kicked by the baddest group of dudes on the planet. I expected hazing and shit-talking, but instead the athletes were kind and taught me techniques. It changed my life and I knew, then, there was a story to be told about MMA fighters.

The UFC encourages millions of young fans to romanticize the violence of the sport, and it does so in order to sell tickets. I realized these men could actually have something to teach people about violence, discipline, masculinity and sacrifice. They are far from perfect, but at that first practice, I met Brandon who I saw as someone struggling with the same identity crisis so many young men face. Who am I? And what am I worth? UFC athletes are heroes to millions; it's one of the fastest growing sport’s leagues in the world. I knew I needed to make this film to highlight and question the toxic masculinity that goes unquestioned by mainstream sports media. Men and boys can be vulnerable and honest; we have worth even when we don't win the fight, the game, the promotion, or the dream job, but that is not a message that is communicated often and I think it desperately needs to be.