The Undisputed establishment is a phenomenal MMA-driven arrangement, however of the four, which Scott Adkins drove hand to hand fighting film is the genuine champ?
Among straight-to-DVD action franchises, the Undisputed series has set the bar high. Though 2002’s Undisputed would get the ball rolling on the big-screen, it’s really been the three sequels that have come to define what fans of the series love about it. The action at the heart of the Undisputed movies would also evolve too, going from boxing in the first film to mixed martial arts, or MMA, in the sequels.
Numerous big names that many action fans regard as nothing less than royalty have been a part of the Undisputed franchise over the years, but it’s really been Scott Adkins whose been at the center of the series. Adkins plays the Russian prison fighter Yuri Boyka. Following his debut in Undisputed 2: Last Man Standing, Boyka has been a staple of the series ever since, while Adkins has gone on to be one of the most respected and recognizable martial arts action stars in the world. Though the series has seemingly wrapped up with the fourth movie, Boyka: Undisputed, there has also been talk in the years since of a TV series, as well.
Any place the Undisputed establishment heads later on, there’s no rejecting that it discovered its furrow with the appearance of Boyka, whose story has taken him from a decided foe to a more focused screw-up to a totally sacrificial hero. To finish it off, the Undisputed continuations likewise every now and again put big screen activity to disgrace with probably the most entrancing hand to hand fighting skirmishes of the cutting edge age. For an arrangement committed to oneself announced “Most Complete Fighter in the World,” it absolutely hasn’t neglected to satisfy that gloat.
The franchise got off to an inauspicious start with the 2002 original; while Undisputed is by no means a terrible movie, it doesn’t have the impact of the later films in the franchise. When world heavyweight boxing champ George “Iceman” Chambers, played by Ving Rhames, arrives at Sweetwater prison, his efforts to establish himself as the top dog among the inmate population leads him to set his sights on the penitentiary’s boxing champion Monroe Hutchen, played by Wesley Snipes.
In the role of Chambers, Rhames channels a megalomaniac who never passes up the chance to punch someone in the face, while Snipes is his polar opposite as the cool and centered Hutchen, relishing a good fight on its own terms without any real concern for whether he comes out on top or not. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t do much to flesh them or their conflict out past that, with Chambers especially being little more than a reprobate who doesn’t have much on his mind besides the next inmate he plans on slugging.
The ring-based boxing fights largely bookend the film and they’re relatively decent; the Chambers and Hutchens match is led into well enough, and the training dominates the movie’s center. However, beyond a purely physical level — and despite the energy Rhames brings to the role — Chambers doesn’t amount to much of a villain other than a simple tyrant among the inmate population. Their final showdown in the prison ring isn’t bad, but also doesn’t manage to elevate the rest of the film either. Undisputed would end up being completely overshadowed by the subsequent entries in the series, and despite not being an outright letdown as a boxing movie, it also isn’t a particularly memorable one.
3. Undisputed 2: Last Man Standing
The first Undisputed might technically be the starting point of franchise, but it didn’t truly get underway until the arrival of Undisputed 2: Last Man Standing, with incoming director Isaac Florentine at the helm. Everything about the movie sounds like a red flag — a straight-to-DVD sequel to a theatrical release, one that didn’t even make many waves itself, without either of the original stars. And yet, Undisputed 2 proved to be a mountainous leap above its predecessor. Michael Jai White steps into the role of George Chambers, who is framed for drug possession while filming a commercial in Russia and is sent to prison, all as a part of a plot to set up a match between him and the penitentiary’s reigning champion, Yuri Boyka.
Though ostensibly the antagonist, Boyka steals the show as a man who believes it to be his life’s work to become the best fighter the world’s ever known, and it would prove to be the breakout for the rising Scott Adkins. White’s Chambers also has a much more layered arc this time, spending the film’s first half bullying his manager and being a thoroughly insufferable prima donna to everyone around him before becoming a better man as he has everything stripped away from him. Undisputed 2 would also shift the action from boxing to MMA, with the movie packed with absolutely astonishing and punishing battles. As Chambers, White adapts his martial arts abilities to portray a boxer who adds elements of MMA to his skill set, while Adkins cuts loose with everything he’s got, unleashing maneuvers right out of the Tony Jaa playbook from beginning to end.
Undisputed 2 steamrolled all expectations of a seemingly low-rent sequel, and as far as the majority of the franchise’s fans are concerned, it’s the real beginning of the series (with Nathaniel Dawkins and Tom Erba’s “Bring It On” even becoming its official anthem for good measure).
2. Undisputed 3: Redemption
After becoming the breakout character of Undisputed 2, Boyka fully stepped into the spotlight in Undisputed 3: Redemption. Following his loss to Chambers in the previous movie, the mentally and physically broken Boyka jumps back into the ring to compete in an international prison MMA tournament for a chance to win his freedom. While Undisputed 2 was a mutual lesson in humility for both he and Chambers, Undisputed 3 brings Boyka to his lowest point, forcing him to walk a similar path of fighting to reclaim both the freedom and the honor that he’s lost while training alongside an an American competitor in the tournament named Turbo, played by Mykel Shannon Jenkins.
The martial arts action of Undisputed 3 is as jaw-dropping as it gets, while Boyka also faces new stakes as a result of his bad knee from his fight with Chambers. Even as Boyka sails through fight after fight, the knowledge of his old injury keeps viewers on pins and needles every time a wrong turn or a takedown leaves Boyka hobbling with a reminder of his previous defeat. The battle between Adkins and famed Capoeira exponent Lateef Crowder dos Santos was inevitable, and the two do not disappoint. Still, it’s Boyka’s final confrontation in the ring with the Colombian fighter Dolor, played by Marko Zaror, that brings everything together in a massively satisfying showdown, Zaror embodying the kind of villain viewers can’t wait to see get his comeuppance — even as they marvel at him being a genuine match for Boyka.
1. Boyka: Undisputed
Having gained his freedom by the end of Undisputed 3, Boyka would return to ring for the most emotionally powerful chapter in the series, Boyka: Undisputed. Now competing in underground fights, Boyka’s latest victory gets him into a tournament that could launch him to the big time, only for him to be hit with the news that his opponent died from the beating he delivered. The guilt of this leads Boyka to return to the ring for a series of fights to wipe clean the debts held by his opponent’s widow Alma, played by Teodora Duhovnikova, to the Russian mafia.
Under new director Todor Chapkanov, the fourth film in the Undisputed series is the first to seriously confront the sins of its title character’s past. Boyka has always been shown as a deeply religious man and adhering to a firm code of honor, but he’s nevertheless taken several lives, with Boyka: Undisputed being the first to show that he carries real guilt for this. The movie ends up humanizing Boyka like he’s never been before, his mission shifting from one of building himself into the world’s greatest fighter to atoning for the harm he’s done in getting there.
The MMA action scenes are as incredible as ever, and the movie wastes no time in establishing that — Boyka leaps towards an opponent to deliver a Superman punch less than two minutes in. Boyka’s match with the ill-fated opponent, played by Emilien De Falco, also properly sells itself as both a thrilling battle of champions and a horrifying duel gone wrong. His ring battles to free Alma are also some of the most innovative the Undisputed series has ever delivered, from Boyka facing two opponents at once (one of them played by fight choreographer Tim Man) to the enormous Koshmar, played by Martyn Ford, literally led into the ring in a Hannibal Lecter-esque mask.
Looking back over the series, the ending itself is indeed a fitting one for Boyka’s story of earning his title of The Most Complete Fighter in the World, but also showing that, for all the wrong he’s done, there’s a decent man inside of him. The Undisputed franchise has produced some of the best martial arts films of the last two decades without any of the three sequels ever needing a theatrical release to do it, and Boyka: Undisputed is truly the series’ biggest champ.