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Michael Jai White places his concepts for modern MMA in his latest film 'Never Back Down: No Surrender'

The martial artist/actor spoke to MMAmania.com about his latest film "Never Back Down: No Surrender," acting with UFC heavyweight Josh Barnett, being mistaken for Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, and shared his affinity for current UFC welterweight, Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson.

Michael Jai White (L) with Josh Barnett in 'Never Back Down: No Surrender'
Michael Jai White (L) with Josh Barnett in 'Never Back Down: No Surrender'
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Case Walker is back and this time he's headed to Thailand.

Michael Jai White reprises the role of the former MMA champion in the third installment of the "Never Back Down" film series, "Never Back Down: No Surrender." The film was released on Tuesday by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, and this time around the martial artist/actor was behind the lens in addition to his leading role duties and working along side the likes of UFC heavyweight Josh Barnett, seasoned actor Esai Morales, Stephen Quadros, and his wife Gillian White, as well as his daughter Morgan.

"I was lucky," White told MMAmania.com recently. "I got the cast I wanted and I got pretty much every thing I wanted out of this film. I was really, really blessed. I got to work with my wife and my real daughter in the movie so that was a blast for me and I didn't have to act much. I'm acting with Josh Barnett, who is a training partner and a friend, anyway, in real life. We are both jocks/nerds and it was really cool."

White's character, Walker, has been keeping a low profile on the regional scene since his arrest from the last film when he bumps into his old friend, Brody James (Barnett), who is cornering another fighter at a local event. James convinces him to come to Thailand to help him prepare for a huge fight against the undefeated and menacing Caesar Braga (Nathan Jones). Walker is reluctant at first, but soon agrees to train his friend.

Things get interesting when Walker meets the head of public relations for the fight, Myca Cruz (Gillian White) and complicated when he must deal with the shady practices of promoter, Hugo Vega, played brilliantly by Morales, who White heaped a ton of praise upon.

"Esai Morales is one of the best actors I've ever met," he raved. "He happens to be one of the funniest guys I've met as well. I'm waiting for that guy to do an all-out comedy. He will blow your socks off."

Of course, most of you aren't tuning in to watch this film for acting, you are there for the action, violence and to see how good the fights are. No need to worry because the fight sequences are stellar throughout the film's entirety from battles at the gym to the final showdown. They are realistic as they are entertaining, and MMA fans will surely appreciate the familiarities and similarities to the moves they've grown accustomed to watching every weekend.

White, 48, added some traditional martial arts flavor to the mix and it made for a nice combination.

"Oh absolutely," said White, who owns a black belt in eight different martial arts including Shotokan, Kyokushin, among others. "And, again, I'm using things that were applicable in real life. I've worked out and trained with a lot of MMA champions. I've shared a number of concepts that are useful in modern MMA fighting. And so I just chose to actually put the stuff that actually does work in the movie."

In one clever scene, White practices a Kata in the gym while getting poked fun of by other fighters. Once he steps into the cage to fight, though, all the moves he practiced in the Kata come to fruition in the fight sequence, leaving all in attendance with their jaws dropped.

"I believe every fight scene should tell a story," he said. "I don't like fights just for the sake of fighting. That's like porn. I know the industry and I know the craft too well to bring something that is not contributing anything. I would hope it is very clear as to what story each fight told."

Jones portrayal of the crazed, steroid-fueled Caesar Braga will give fight fans a treat too, as you get to see the gigantic Australian tangle with White. Jones, who has appeared in "Troy" and "Mad Max: Fury Road" never utters a word in the entire film, he just looks terrifying on screen.

"Some people don't have to act," White laughed. "Nathan is a sweet guy, but one of the most frightening people I've ever met in my life. He's the strongest guy I've ever met. That guy lifted me like I was a baby. I felt like a child. That guy is just incredibly strong. I couldn't armbar him. That's how strong he is. His right arm is so strong I couldn't armbar him with my entire waist."

Martial arts films have been around for decades, but fight choreography has grown leaps in bounds in the current crop of actions films. White was asked about films like "John Wick," which was created by the 87eleven action team that is headed by Chad Stalhelski and David Leitch. It turns out the stunt coordinator from "Never Back Down: No Surrender," Larnell Stovall--who White has worked with numerous times before--is also a member of that extremely talented team of stunt men.

"We are all from the same group actually," White explained. "Everyone kind of distilled down from the 87eleven fight team. Larnell Stoval, who was another of the 87eleven crew. It's pretty much that one family that is doing the bulk of the good action stuff that is out there."

The star of "Spawn," "Falcon Rising," explained what makes that crew stand out from the rest.

"What's happening is that the guys from 87 Eleven, their work has been seen so they are raising the bar," he said. "I'm happy about that because now it exposes… the new type of choreography exposes if people can perform the moves or not. In an analogy: Fred Astaire, you could shoot him from top to bottom and just keep the camera on him and he provides the majesty. Nowadays when you have people like Donnie Yen and people that can move and continue the choreography, it steps it up for everybody. It's kind of like, that's why Bruce Lee looked as good as he did. It wasn't a combination of just editing. You are actually seeing him perform. And so with the guys from 87 Eleven, their stunts are performed, and their fights are performed in front of you more so."

MMA fans and action-film fans can be a fickle bunch, and in the modern day of MMA, White says it's important to make sure fight scenes look realistic because fans see so many fights nowadays and are keenly aware of what can and can't happen in a real fight.

"The audience becomes more sophisticated and they start to understand what is real and what is not," White explained. "SInce MMA and UFC has gotten so popular, people are well versed in what real fights look like. So for me, choreography should start to not look like choreography. It should start looking like real fights."

What's an action movie without moments of levity? White, again, shows his sense of humor with some well-timed comedic elements in the film. One of which he took from his actual life. If you aren't aware, White is often mistaken for former UFC and current Bellator light heavyweight, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.

Never Back Down: No Surrender

Michael Jai White (R) with Tony Jaa courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

"That is something that actually happens to me," White revealed. The two will appear in the film "Cops and Robbers" later this year. "I wear an MMA shirt and whenever my head is shaved there are people that wind up thinking I'm Quinton Jackson so I put that in the movie."

White has trained with some of the best fighters MMA has to offer like Barnett, Jackson, Rashad Evans, so he was asked what fighter he enjoys watching the most these days.

"I have been critical of some technique in a lot of MMA stuff, especially with striking," he said.  "I've been happy to see people support my philosophy in how to move and strike. This guy Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson, to me, he is really showing the evolution where I think striking is going to be going. He -- like me -- is a traditional martial artist and I've been saying for so many years and showing stuff where this stuff is effective. A lot of things I learned in traditional martial arts are absolutely effective in the ring."

While there are more aspects of traditional martial arts striking making their way into MMA with Thompson and a few others, there are more fighters in MMA than there are actual martial artists. White wholeheartedly agreed, and said there is much more to being a martial artist than just fighting.

"You said it perfectly. Fighting is only one aspect of martial arts. The best aspects of martial arts is the discipline that you build from stringent practicing. Doing things that you do not want to do, just like in life you have to train your brain to overcome obstacles. That is the best thing about martial arts, but a lot of that is lost."