Debuting on Monday, January 9 at 10 PM EST on MTV, “Caged” follows Daniel, Wes, Red (Jessica), and Danger, a diverse group of young adults in small town Louisiana, struggling to improve their lives and find their way in the world after high school graduation. For these young people, life in their small town is a constant uphill battle, with an unknown outcome for their future. But one thing lights up their weekend evenings: cage fighting (this was the word MTV chose to use in their press release, rather than MMA, so I decided to use it here too).
Their stories go much deeper than mixed martial arts, however; not only are they fighting to win in the ring, these young adults are also fighting to make something of themselves. Produced by Joke Fincioen and Biagio Messina, this is MTV’s first foray into a docu-drama series in the world of MMA, following up on the success of their reality show, “Punk Payback.”
Does “Caged” have what it takes to go the distance on Cable TV, or will it be a one-and-done just like so many other failed MMA promotions? This nerd got a sneak peek at the first few episodes, so hit the jump and check out my thoughts on this new series!
Minden, Louisiana. A town so devoted to MMA that they seemingly close up shop on the day of a fight so the locals can get ready for it. “Caged” follows a different young denizens of this town, such as Daniel, a young adult who grew up with old money as his ancestors founded the town. His first love was killed in an automobile accident several years ago, and he has yet to recover fully, which stresses him out, as well as his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Brittani. Daniel feels a ton of pressure on his shoulders, feeling that the whole town is watching him and living through his success or failures.
There is also the fighter, Wes, and his baby’s momma, “Red,” who have been dating on and off for three years and had a child together, but they are far from being a happy couple. Lastly, there is “Danger,” AKA Matt, who wants to be a pro fighter more than anything, but has to deal with issues of his own to make it through life.
The people we follow in the show are all real and come off as truly genuine. While I am not a fan of reality shows, I was immersed in the world and took interest in the stories as much as possible. Hardcore MMA fans need to remember that this show is for all audiences, and not just serious sports viewers, so the focus is more on the everyday lives and much less on training and fighting.
I found the relationship between Wes and Red to be one of the better facets of the show. Red craves bigger things for herself and her baby, and pursues nursing school while caring for their child. Because of Wes’ work and training schedule, Red is often unhappy with how little he sees their son, but part of that is also her missing Wes. To say their relationship is rocky would be an understatement, and the two try to keep things together purely for the sake of their son.
One person I wish could see more of was Danger, who does not get enough air time to really explain what his problems are until episode two. To be quite frank, while all of the fighters featured in the show are young and have plenty of growing to do, I found Danger to be the one that will most likely succeed in the long run. Danger has the skills and drive to make it happen, he just has to conquer the mental aspects that the viewers see plague him each week.
With the goal of being a pro fighter, Danger has trouble keeping relationships with women since he feels he can not commit to a girlfriend and train at the same time. The drama bomb drops in episode three, but viewers will learn that the problem may not be Matt but the people around him.
“Caged” is not an MMA reality show – it is a reality show with MMA. If you are hoping to see a show like “The Ultimate Fighter,” you will be greatly disappointed. MMA is the crucial background of the show and the tie that binds all the characters together. Too often, the MMA takes a major backseat and the viewers are forced to sift through petty drama, rather than delving deeper into what makes the characters tick. Episode three is a prime example, as we spend time with a new person, Tony Kelley, who we get two minutes with at the start of the episode, and we are expected to care about him by the time he fights.
Ultimately, the issues lies in expectations of the audience. I came in to see a show about MMA, and while I got that, I also got your average reality show with unnecessary drama that appeals to the MTV crowd. Daniel was one person that I should have felt more connected to, especially with his great loss, but I was unable to get too attached to him in spite of how much time they spent with him. Instead of quality time to develop characters, we got drama, or just meandering plot points (to be fair, there is a very heart-warming moment at the end of the third episode, so get your tissues for that one).
I enjoyed “Caged” for what it was, and I think MMA fans should give it a shot. It’s not what you would expect from an MMA reality show since it has a much broader appeal, but it’s endearing enough to get you hooked to come back for more. There is a character for everyone to identify with, male or female, and they represent the sport very positively. At the end of the day, it is a story about growing up and trying to make your dreams a reality in spite of the obstacles in your way. Also, Red is gorgeous. See for yourself.
I’ll keep watching this series just to see more of her (Fact: The Fight Nerd likes redheads). Man, I need to move to Louisiana.
“Caged” debuts on Monday, January 9 at 10 PM EST on MTV. If you want to learn more about the show, check out the official MTV site for details.