This post was written by Marius A. Markevicius

I had been a casual observer of MMA and UFC for a few years when I saw Rose Namajunas win the UFC strawweight championship of the world in a huge upset victory over Joana Jedrzejczyk in Madison Square Garden.

It was an incredible fight, but what took place after was what captured my attention. Rose was being interviewed in the ring after the fight, and with tears of emotion streaming down her face, Rose gave the most beautiful, spontaneous speech. She said we should all aspire to be better people, give each other hugs, and make the world a better place. I'd never seen an athlete, let alone an MMA fighter who just viciously knocked out her opponent, be so compassionate and humble in their moment of triumph.

I was intrigued and read up on Rose and her life and career. I learned about her very difficult childhood which entailed a lot of traumas and hardships. I learned that Rose had so much more depth to her than just being a professional fighter, including being an avid farmer and a concert-level pianist who can play Mozart as well as she can throw a left hook. 

How I Produced ‘Thug Rose: Mixed Martial Artist'

Rose is a Lithuanian-American. Her parents immigrated to America just as the Soviet Union was collapsing in 1990. My family is also from Lithuania, so Rose and I share a cultural background connection. Rose's Lithuanian background is an important part of her life story, so I wanted to capture that aspect of her life. When I approached Rose about making this film, we clicked and connected pretty quickly.

My creative approach for the film was to get as close to Rose and her training and fight preparation process as possible without interfering in the very intense world of the life of an MMA fighter. These athletes risks their lives and limbs when they go into the ring, and the preparation before the fight is everything. We wanted to be embedded and allow the viewer to get a visceral sense of what that process is like. But at times we also had to back off a bit. 

Rose's fiancé and head coach Pat Barry was instrumental in guiding us on when we could be very close to Rose and her process and when we needed to give a little space. Another aspect of the creative process for me was to find a narrative balance between Rose's life as a fighter and her life outside of the ring.

Rose is such a multi-dimensional person with a unique and inspiring life story. It was important for me to dive into her past to understand why she fights. 

Rose_namajunas_in_thug_roseRose Namajunas in 'Thug Rose: Mixed Martial Artist"Credit: FilmIsNow Action Movies

Rose was very open and willing to share about her childhood traumas and abuse and ultimately how she has built a toolbox to overcome those traumas and become a World Champion.

There were so many memorable moments and interesting people that we met. In general, the UFC/MMA community was very supportive of letting us into their world and a lot of my preconceived notions about MMA fighters were broken down. Most of the fighters we met ended up being some of the kindest, humblest, and calmest people I've ever met. 

A lot of fighters have come from difficult circumstances and I could sense they are grateful for what the sport and its community have given them. That's not something you can always say about the film industry!

The most memorable moment, if I had to pick one, has to be Rose's fight with Weili Zhang in Madison Square Garden in November 2021.

First, it was like a childhood dream as a sports fan to be embedded with Rose in the tunnels and locker rooms of Madison Square Garden before, during, and after the fight. The energy in the locker room and the arena was unreal. It was the first UFC fight in MSG after COVID-19, so the fans were going nuts, the fights before Rose's fight were intense and you'd see these fighters coming back to the locker room after the fight, bloodied and bruised... 

By the time it was Rose's turn, my stomach was churning, I was so nervous for her. She went out there and performed a masterpiece. She won in a thrilling 5-round fight to retain the strawweight championship and it was a pivotal moment for our film. It was one of the most visceral experiences I've ever had as a filmmaker!

Marius A. Markevicius headshotProducer Marius A. MarkeviciusCredit: Marius A. Markevicius

As mentioned earlier, both Rose and I are Lithuanian Americans. All of our parents and grandparents are from Lithuania. Both of our families have suffered at the hands of Russian aggression and occupation of our homeland. Due to what is happening in the world today, it was very important for both of us that the film touch on Rose's family background and history because it's a big motivator of why she fights. Her grandfather was a champion wrestler in Lithuania during the Soviet occupation and thus he had to wrestle for the Soviet Union, not for Lithuania. 

Rose now fights for two countries that do have their freedom: America and Lithuania. She doesn't take her freedom for granted and we talked about wanting to infuse this fighting spirit into the film and hopefully, we were able to accomplish that.

This project was not only influenced by my previous work as a filmmaker but it was also influenced by my own cultural background and family history as well. In making films, it's so important to have a personal connection to the material. Thug Rose fulfilled this important rule for me in choosing which projects I will devote all my blood, sweat, and tears to.

This post was written by Marius A. Markevicius.

Markevicius was born on September 3, 1976 in Santa Monica, California, USA. He is a producer and director, known for The Other Dream Team (2012), Like Crazy (2011) and The Way Back (2010).