Valentina Shevchenko was inside a boxing gym in Newark, NJ, getting ready to go for a run. It was the fall of 2019, and the next day, Shevchenko would start filming an MMA movie alongside Hollywood star Halle Berry.
To prepare for the shoot, Shevchenko was losing weight and the race consisted of breaking a few extra pounds. The UFC women’s flyweight champion wanted to look her best for fight scenes. He put on his sauna suit and was about to start running when Berry unexpectedly walked into the gym.
The Oscar-winning actress had the same idea.
“I started doing my training and then I saw Halle,” Shevchenko told ESPN with a smile. “She was walking into the gym, the same, in her sauna suit.”
“Bruised,” which Berry has described as a labor of love, premieres Wednesday on Netflix after opening in theaters last week. Berry plays Jackie Justice, a former UFC fighter who returns to the cage while juggling several tough personal issues. The mixed martial arts film was also Berry’s directorial debut. Shevchenko plays Berry’s character’s fearsome rival, Lucia “Lady Killer” Chavez.
Cutting weight, Berry said, was one of the things he thought needed to be done to better understand MMA and the sport’s athletes.
“It was difficult for me, because I had never done that before,” Berry said. “But that was an important part of me playing this character. I wanted to experience every possible aspect of being a fighter. I wanted to understand how she felt. And being the director of the story, I felt like I needed to understand.”
Berry, 55, got a more realistic glimpse of being a fighter than she intended while making “Bruised.” On the second day of filming, he said, he broke his rib during one of the fight sequences with Shevchenko. Berry said that he had previously broken his ribs while filming “John Wick: Chapter 3,” and this was the same feeling.
“I don’t know exactly when the kick or the knee happened or what happened in our fight,” Berry said. “At one point I knew I got up and I had that feeling and I couldn’t breathe.”
SEE: Outstanding women’s fights in the UFC
Berry said he confided in Shevchenko that something was wrong, but Shevchenko said it would be “fine” and “this happens to me all the time.”
Berry went ahead despite the injury, because he knew that if he told everyone, the filming would have stopped. She felt that she might have lost her funding as well, and even if it was only a short delay, there was a chance Shevchenko would not be available when things started again. After all, Shevchenko was, and still is, a defending UFC champion.
“It shows the power, your inner power,” Shevchenko said. “And it’s amazing. It was like a cool breeze on set. It’s like the energy that went through [por el sitio]. And right now, everyone knew we were gonna do it [terminar el rodaje] no matter what, until the end. “
Berry said he felt he had no other choice about it.
“I knew I had to do what all fighters do,” he said. “As Valentina told me, when you’re in the ring and you get injured, you don’t give up. You keep going. You don’t have a choice, but you fight through the injury. So at that moment I thought, there’s no way they are going to stop me. I’m going to have to fight this. “
Berry said he grew up watching boxing and idolizing fighters like Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman and “Sugar” Ray Leonard. When he saw women in MMA, his interest was piqued in that sport. Berry cited Ronda Rousey, Gina Carano and Miesha Tate as people she gravitated towards, and then the sport itself. “Bruised” was initially linked to another director starring Blake Lively. But in 2018, Berry took over as director and knew she wanted to be Jackie Justice.
“It’s kind of a lucky moment when a project hit me and it was exactly what I needed, because it was where I was personally,” Berry said. “That was this project.
“It was exhausting and I tried harder than I ever thought I could. And especially at my age, I was really proud of it. Because what it says is that we can do whatever we set out to do. I realized when making this movie, great part of the fight is a mental game. You may be in the best shape, but it is about the mental game and emotionally how you feel. And that determines what you can and cannot do. “
Berry said she was a fan of Shevchenko for years before casting the Kyrgyz native to be in the film. Berry said she called the UFC and asked about Shevchenko specifically, though she wasn’t sure Shevchenko wanted to “live in the slums” in Hollywood while she was a UFC champion.
Berry figured if she were an MMA fighter, she would probably fight at 125 pounds like Shevchenko, so who better to include in the movie than “the queen” of that weight class? Now, after bonding during training and tough fight scenes, Berry and Shevchenko have become close friends.
“I want to be in every one of his fights,” Berry said. “Normally, I can see a fight and I am for all fighters. Someone has to win and someone has to lose. But when Valentina is going to fight, from now until the end of her career, when you love someone and you really love yourself. that person worries, the last thing I want is to see her hurt. I never want to see her lose. It will always be one of those situations that I want to see, but do not want to see. I love her too much. “
Shevchenko, one of the best female fighters in the world pound for pound, said Berry’s ability to keep going each day to make the fight scenes look as realistic as possible left her stunned. Shevchenko said the wake-up calls to boot during those days were at 5 a.m. and they didn’t finish filming until nearly midnight. He compared the physical routine to a training camp to prepare for the UFC title defense. Every shot, Shevchenko said, had to be done hard to make it look good on film.
“It’s every take [y] you have to do your best, “Shevchenko said.” And they’re definitely all human. They are tired. We were tired at the end of the day. And injuries happen. “
Berry and Shevchenko have been busy for the past few weeks advertising “Bruised.” Shevchenko said she left her Las Vegas home for Los Angeles one day after defending her title with a TKO victory over Lauren Murphy on Sept. 25 at UFC 266 to do a photoshoot for Women’s Health.
The two women said that they are very satisfied with the outcome of the film and the fight scenes. And they’re not the only ones, Berry said. On set, Berry spoke with well-known MMA referee Keith Peterson, who played the officer in the cage during the fight between Jackie Justice and “Lady Killer.”
“[Peterson] He said, ‘I thought for a minute I was watching a real Valentina fight,’ “Berry said.” That’s when I knew that, oh my gosh, all this training and weight cutting and all this muscle building, it was all worth it. For him to say that, I knew that I achieved at least the goal I set for myself: to look like a real fighter. “
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