EXCLUSIVE: Gavin O’Connor will turn his 2011 fight movie warrior into a 10-episode ongoing series for Lionsgate Television, which has made a deal with Paramount+ to develop it. O’Connor is in talks with retired two-time UFC champion Daniel Cormier and Gina Rodriguez to play two of the four main combatants culminating in mixed martial arts matches.
O’Connor has created the drama with Adair Cole, who’ll also be EP and showrunner. O’Connor plans to direct and be showrunner on all 10 episodes. Now that Paramount+ has signed on, they are writing the treatment and scripts. O’Connor is looking to cast the final two fighters, and the characters that surround them as they chase their dreams.
The series is much different from the original movie. Its connective tissue is MMA, and the heart, desperation and demons that compel fighters to excel in the cage. The film starred Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton and Nick Nolte. The latter trained his two sons and was an awful father who created grudges between the brothers that get settled in the ring in a drama that was as much about family, faith and dysfunctional upbringings as fighting. O’Connor said he was content to leave the story as a one-off but changed his mind because of Cole, a relative newcomer to the writing game.
“Over the years, I’d been approached by Lionsgate to do warrior as a TV series and I honestly was never interested,” O’Connor told Deadline. “Over the pandemic, I was in a different frame of mind and they said, “Someone came in with an interesting take, Adair Cole,” and I listened to it and liked it. There was some really interesting stuff in there. I started sketching out characters, expounding what he had and gene splicing things and I called him after the holidays and said, ‘I’m in. I think I want to do this.’ We started figuring out the characters. The thing I said to Adair and Lionsgate which wasn’t in the pitch, is that this is about the life fight.
“I didn’t want to make something on fighting in a cage,” he added. “That wasn’t the movie I made, it’s about a life fight. We will have two women and two men, we’re going to follow them through 10 episodes and hook the audience into their journeys and they’re eventually going to face each other. Like in my movie, I tried to challenge the audience: Where are your loyalties? Where do your sympathies lie? Who are you rooting for? If I hook the audience into the stakes of each character’s life outside of the cage, what I call the life fight, then people are going to be invested in the stakes. That’s the heart and soul of the show.”
O’Connor said the writing with Cole is going well, and they’ll open a writers room with a few scribes that reflect the sensibility of the characters.
“It’s really ambitious, part family drama, sports saga, definitely social commentary, in each character’s life fight,” he said. “We’re dealing with mental health, grief, poverty, drugs and gambling. If we get it right, we’ll be celebrating each character’s journey to redemption against astronomical odds they have to overcome, inside the cage and outside it. It’s a big swing, emotionally and physically, but deeply intimate with the characters.
O’Connor said one of his fighters will be played by Cormier, who recently retired after winning the light heavyweight and heavyweight belts. Fresh from an agonizing and losing bout his wife had with cancer, the character is not only left as a single father, but with huge debt from all of the medical treatments his wife underwent in a futile effort to save her. And while Gina Rodriguez is best known for Jane the Virgin and the Miss Bala remake, O’Connor said she is a badass at heart.
“Gina Rodriguez will play a girl named Jessica Flores,” he said. She’s married to a Muay Thai fighter, her father is a very well known boxing referee, and she’s been training as a fighter and grew up in combat sports. I didn’t have the role for her written when she said, ‘I’m in. Acting and fighting are my two favorite things. I’m in.’ Her journey is about self-worth, a girl who doesn’t think she is worthy of anything good happening. To get her hand raised in the ring represents her feeling worthy.”
O’Connor is WME and Yorn Levine Barnes, Cole is MXN Entertainment and Johnson Shapiro Slewett, Rodriguez is WME and Jackoway Austen Tyerman, and Cormier is WME and Zinkin Entertainment.