Yesterday, we began our quest through Jean-Claude Van Damme’s incredible filmography, to see how his badass characters would make it in the modern MMA game. Today, we’ll continue and finish that journey.
The Quest (Christopher Dubois)
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to take conscience-altering drugs but is too afraid to try them, this incoherent mishmash of Van Damme-ian tropes is the next best thing. Our descent into madness starts at a present-day bar, where an old dude stops an attempted robbery by beating up a bunch of young dudes. We find out the old dude is Van Damme, and he has a story. We’re then transported to another time — which we know is the 20s because everyone is wearing a beret — and Van Damme is now face-painted like a mime and is on stilts.
He runs from the authorities and fights them on stilts, which is arguably the coolest thing Van Damme has done in a movie. But then he also keeps a bunch of raggedy-looking kids in a hangar, which looks a lot weirder than they probably intended. Van Damme’s name is Christopher Dubois, by the way, and he is himself an orphan.
Apparently, he stole some money from gangsters, but they find out and he has to escape. He then finds himself aboard a ship doing forced physical labor (sound familiar?) and is almost killed until shady Roger Moore and his sidekick appear. They promise to help get him home, but instead send him off to a place called Muay Thai Island. People do a lot of Muay Thai there. Dubois is then trained by a wise master (!) and runs into still-shady Roger Moore and they end up going to the subtly-named Lost City to compete in a martial arts tournament (!) called Ghang Ghen.
Dubois wasn’t supposed to compete, but an old-timey boxer guy gives him his place. A hot journalist is involved. An entirely different movie begins and Dubois fights in the tournament looking to win the grand prize of a big golden dragon. A dude dies (!). Dubois eventually beats the big villain and wins, but forfeits the golden dragon so that shady Roger Moore and the sidekick won’t get killed. The film ends abruptly with Dubois back at the present-day bar, reading from a book that was written by hot journalist.
Pros: Still kicking it in old age, can fight in stilts, anti-authority (fights dirty cops and kicks one of them in the balls), owns large collection of snazzy berets, can beat up entire crew of pirate ship while in shackles, can grow snazzy beard, fast learner (only six months in Muay Thai Island and he’s already a pro), very athletic, tree trunks for legs, proficient in ruining knees, good core strength (takes several punches from Big German Dude and survives), knows jiu-jitsu (gets modified arm-bar on Big German Dude), good reflexes (dodges relentless advances of Spanish Fighter Who Apparently Is Also Flamenco Dancer), good chin (isn’t knocked out by spinning kick by Spanish Fighter Who Apparently Is Also Flamenco Dancer), merciful (despite being given the chance, chooses not to kill Chinese Guy Who Is Also a Snake and a Monkey and a Tiger), very flexible (lands highly impractical spinning-kick-split-thing against Big Bad Mongolian Dude Who is Also Atila from Lionheart), has very good cornerman in old-timey boxer who can’t keep his hands up, can survive adversity, killer right hook
Cons: Is a weird mime who keeps hangar full of raggedy-looking children, remains too trusting of people despite having been abandoned as a kid, takes too much damage (from everyone but mostly from Big Bad Mongolian Dude Who is Also Atila from Lionheart), is stupid and loses Golden Dragon to save assholes who left him for dead in Muay Thai Island.
Verdict: His performance at the Ghang Ghen is enough proof that Dubois wouldn’t look out of place in an MMA fight. Like Dux, we know he can deal with different styles of opponents and has the physical durability to handle a demanding format. Unlike Dux, however, Dubois actually shows some skills on the ground — which, paired with his killer knee stomps, might just make him the most complete of Van Damme’s tournament-style fighters.
It is, however, hard to make that assessment considering he is competing in the 20s and therefore dealing with more one-dimensional opponents. It could also be argued that Big Mongolian Dude is not as powerful as Tong Po or as menacing as Chong Li, which puts his final achievements in perspective. Dubois is also somewhat gullible, and keeps getting swindled by shady Roger Moore and sidekick despite their repeated displays of shadiness. He trusts people a little too much, and his “I’ll fight whomever, wherever” attitude might just end up hurting his career in the long run.
While he would have a solid cornerman in old-timey boxer guy, a good manager would be essential to make sure that he makes good choices. One encouraging sign is that we actually see old man Dubois and he’s still healthy enough to stand up against street thugs. One discouraging sign is that he’s sitting by himself at a bar in the middle of the afternoon reading from a weird-ass book that he says is about his life.
Sudden death (Darren McCord)
In one of the most underrated works of art of the 20th century, Darren McCord is a former firefighter who will stop at nothing to save his daughter and maybe as a bonus the Vice President and an entire stadium of people being held hostage by one of the evilest evildoers in the entire VanDammeVerse. The movie takes place during the seventh game of the NHL Cup Finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins, which is relevant because that means people in giant penguin suits but also because apparently people really care about hockey in Pittsburgh.
McCord is working as a fire marshal, but is able to get a pair of tickets so that his two kids can watch the game. There’s a delightful chef, and they get to meet the players, and the mascot is actually a hot girl, and it’s all fun and games until a group of terrorists takes the V.P. and a bunch of other important people hostage in a luxury suite. They also have bombs planted all over the stadium. They want obscene amounts of money to be deposited in separate accounts at different stages of the game, which is all a set up for the “Sudden Death” title to make sense.
They kill people with reckless abandon and would have done the same with McCord’s daughter if the gun hadn’t jammed. We later find out that the lead terrorist is a former CIA agent, which is why he’s so smart. We also find out that he’s in cahoots with the Secret Service agent in charge of the case. Considering every authority figure involved in this is either corrupt or incompetent, it’s up to McCord to save the day. Which he does, because not only can he beat any human in hand-to-hand combat, but he is also a genius who can single-handedly dismantle an elaborate terrorist plot and make the defense of the year while disguised as the Penguins’ goalie.
Pros: Can disarm giant penguins, unkillable (avoids death by: meat slicer, burning oil, meat cleaver, knife), resourceful & gritty when necessary (commits murder by animal bone and improvised flamethrower), can pass as a professional hockey goalie, can kick bad guys in full hockey attire & skates, can disarm bombs, not intimidated by authority figures, not intimidated by cartoonishly evil villains, defiant, has endurance (can fight several criminals, make bomb, climb full stadium, fight more criminals, do calisthenics on top of stadium, activate bomb, rescue hostages, fight bigger criminal, save daughter, all in quick succession), can bring down whole helicopter, very good dad.
Cons: Is intimidated by hockey players, hasn’t learned lesson about trusting people too much.
Verdict: I get that McCord is not a fighter, per se, but I do believe his one-on-one combat skills make him worthy of consideration. Not only does he beat several evil-doers at various stages of physical exhaustion, but he does it in different settings, over a variety of surfaces, turning all kinds of everyday objects into murder weapons.
Granted, tools aren’t allowed in mainstream MMA, but McCord’s resourcefulness and creativity could certainly translate to a more sanctioned environment. And that’s not to mention his stellar conditioning, or his ability to spit snappy one-liners while literally struggling for his life. Predictably, the kick-heavy striking is the real star of McCord’s game, but here we also get some encouraging glimpses of what he can do in scrambles and how he deals with level changes. He also happens to be a former firefighter traumatized by losing a little girl on his watch, which any promotion would love to shamelessly milk for several broadcasts. Basically, the elements are all there, so the question is really whether McCord could really thrive without the motivation of saving his family and countless other lives from a heartless sociopathic monster.
Street Fighter (Colonel William F. Guile)
As much as I would love to cover every single one of Street Fighter’s countless concurrent plots, I’m afraid there aren’t enough words in the English language. So I’ll just stick to the theme. In this beautiful mess that society has failed to understand and fully appreciate, Van Damme plays William F. Guile, a colonel on a mission to rescue General M. Bison’s hostages and basically stop his bid to take over the world.
Bison, gorgeously played by the late Raul Julia, is obviously a fascist and will make you long for the days when it was non-controversial to teach kids that fascists were bad. Guile is kind of a dick but he means well. In any case, there’s a lot going on with several other characters and it’s all amazing, but what matters to us is that Guile refuses to acquiesce to Bison’s money demands and eventually is able to get into his high tech base.
There, he runs into a friend who is supposed to be Brazilian in the video game but goes by the very un-Brazilian last name of Blanka, and finds out that Blanka has been genetically modified and is now green and kind of bad (but not entirely, because the scientist who transformed him was actually nice and low-key kept him from becoming a white supremacist).
Guile is alarmingly quick to want to shoot his friend in the head, but the scientist intervenes. Guile proceeds to charge the base and instructs Kylie Minogue to leave without him if she must, I think, there’s too much to keep up with. The point is that Guile and Bison do get their face-off, and while Bison survives his first death, he doesn’t survive the second. Guile takes a beating but prevails, managing to make it out of the base before it explodes. Blanka dies anyway, along with the scientist (Dhalsim). Guile then reunites with the surviving characters and presumably bangs Chun-Li.
Pros: Can jump over boxes, is on personal crusade against literal fascist, great leadership skills (convinces troops to fight fascist instead of just giving fascist a lot of money), good upper body strength (is always hanging from something for some reason), principled & strong-willed, aerodynamic, cares about hostages, good for dramatic entrances, unintimidated by fascist’s shenanigans, unintimidated by fascist’s snappy one-liners, actually lands a lot of kicks instead of wasting energy on flashy stuff that doesn’t do anything, durable.
Cons: Still hasn’t learned to protect midsection or neck, still hasn’t learned that villains don’t die in the first attempt, is initially thrown off by fascist’s evolution into electrified flying fascist and gets beat up as a consequence.
Verdict: While Guile is instinctively a top choice to become an MMA fighter, considering his background as a literal video game character built with the exclusive intent of fighting, I just don’t think there’s enough in the movie to make a proper judgment. Guile is clearly brave, resilient, and we all appreciate the free tickets to the gun show, but there’s so much going on in his few actual fight scenes that it’s hard to assess how he would do against different kinds of competition. Bison is an older man, fighting above his weight division, in an outfit that isn’t really conducive to fighting, and the fact that he still manages to get quite a few shots in is discouraging. This is probably the list’s most controversial take, but I’d rather have Guile train Chun-Li to eventually dethrone Valentina Schevchenko than watching him actually compete.
Double Impact (Chad and Alex)
In this one we get two Van Dammes, which would be objectively cooler than a single Van Damme if it wasn’t for the fact that one of them is such an asshole. The movie tells the story of Chad and Alex, a pair of identical twins who were raised separately after the deaths of their parents. Of course, they didn’t just die peacefully on their sleep; they were actually betrayed by the dad’s business partner and shot by a group of men led by Mean Guy Who Is Also Chong Li in Bloodsport.
Thankfully, their maid managed to save Alex from the shootout, while the dad’s bodyguard, Frank, escaped with Chad. Cut to 25 years later and they’ve become very different people. Chad is now working with Frank in a martial arts studio in LA and we know he’s happy because he wears a lot of pastels, while Alex wears a leather jacket and therefore is very angsty. Alex, who was placed in an orphanage in Hong Kong, is also crime-adjacent.
They don’t know about each other. The plot kicks off when Frank takes Chad to Hong Kong so the twins can take down the dad’s former partner and claim the money that is rightfully theirs. The whole thing has something to do with a tunnel. In any case, Alex and Chad don’t get along, which isn’t helped by the fact that Alex’s girlfriend, Danielle, got them confused. They bicker and it’s endearing until we find out that Alex is a jealous dickhead and a mean drunk. Chad is kind of clueless, but mostly nice.
Anyway, there’s crime and guns and cars and boats and Mean Guy Who Is Also Chong Li And Now Has a Big Scar And Is Blind In One Eye is there. Danielle happens to work for the traitor business partner, and helps the twins gather intelligence. By the way, there’s also another big crime guy called Zhang, as well as a female bodyguard called Kara.
Danielle ends up being sexually harassed by Kara and slapped by Alex, but the movie doesn’t seem overly concerned with properly addressing any of these issues. Good on Chad for standing up against Alex, though. Anyway, Danielle and Frank get kidnapped and shit goes down at a warehouse/pier. Alex kills Zhang, while Chad kills the business partner and Mean Guy Who Is Also Chong Li And Now Has a Big Scar And Is Blind From One Eye. The twins reunite with Frank and Danielle in the end. To this day, the fact that Van Damme successfully played such different characters with admirable commitment and nuance is overlooked.
Chad’s Pros: Looks good in leggings, can dodge bullets, can karate, can cook, defends Danielle from shithead identical twin and offers us amazing cinematic moment of JCVD-on-JCVD action, powerful legs (can kick identical twin, evil henchmen, massive gallons of flammable substances), good-hearted, charming in a simple kind of way, can throw multiple spinning kicks without getting dizzy, good cardio (runs a lot even after fighting several criminals), sneaky (dramatically reemerges from water to kill bad guy), fueled by revenge but doesn’t lose his soul.
Chad’s Cons: Gullible, wears too many pastels, leaves his testicles too exposed, lets himself get banged repeatedly against a wall by Mean Guy Who Is Also Chong Li And Now Has a Big Scar And Is Blind From One Eye.
Alex’s Pros: Cool leather jacket, can shoot guns, in shape, can beat up dudes in boat without dropping cigar, can kick, proficient in self-defense, can drive getaway car, can fight with bottles.
Alex’s Cons: Can’t really karate, bottles aren’t allowed in modern MMA, anger management issues, substance abuse issues, insecure about identical twin, is dickhead who slaps Danielle, still major asshole despite helping save the day.
Verdict: Other than sucking generally as a person, Alex isn’t that much of a fighter in the strict sense of the word. He can obviously defend himself, but his technique consists mostly of utilizing objects (briefcase, bottle), applying street fight strikes (head butts, strangling) and playing off his surroundings (throwing men off boat, throwing bad guy in metal grinding thing). While his personality would certainly make for interesting TV and appeal to the (large) asshole fanbase, Alex is tempestuous and lacks discipline, and would probably have a hard time working under a coach and cooperating with teammates. He’ll probably get kicked out of four different gyms and struggle with making weight.
Chad, on the other hand, would probably struggle a little with the idea of hurting people who aren’t evil villains. He is clearly a gentle soul, and might need a little work on his aggressiveness. He did, however, prove he has the ability to pull the trigger when needed, and the fact he was able to overcome the eeriness of kicking his own face to whoop Alex’s ass is promising. Basically, with the proper training, Chad has the potential to become a Vicente Luque-like fighter who thoroughly mercs other humans but is nice enough not to celebrate afterward.
And then there’s the obvious angle. While Big Nog and Lil’ Nog have kind of spoiled the novelty of fighting twins, their story isn’t quite as rich as that of two diametrically opposed orphans who didn’t know about each other for 25 years. Unfortunately, my guess is that they’ll be eventually pushed to fight each other.
Chad will adamantly refuse, but Alex will entertain an offer, and the relationship will never truly recover from such betrayal. Disillusioned with the dirty politics of the competitive fighting world, Chad will release his own training program and live comfortably off of wealthy middle-aged women willing to pay handsomely for private classes. Alex will get cut by the UFC after repeated weight misses and a couple of misdemeanors, but will manage to buy a small ranch where he will live with a modest amount of cattle and the ghosts of his bad decisions.