Is there room for principle in Los Angeles? Mike Terry teaches jujitsu and barely makes ends meet. His Brazilian wife, whose family promotes fights, wants to see Mike in the ring making money, but to him competition is degrading. A woman sideswipes Mike's car and then, after an odd sequence of events, shoots out the studio's window. Later that evening, Mike rescues an action movie star in a fistfight at a bar. In return, the actor befriends Mike, gives him a gift, offers him work on his newest film, and introduces Mike's wife to his own - the women initiate business dealings. Then, things go sour all at once, Mike's debts mount, and going into the ring may be his only option.
The idealistic instructor of jujitsu, Mike Terry, refuses to compete in the ring for principle and is training the promising fighter and police officer Joe Collins. When the stressed lawyer Laura Black stumbles in his academy in a rainy night, she accidentally shots Joe's pistol breaking the front window. Mike and Joe do not report the incident, and Mike's wife Sondra tells him that they do not have money to repair the window. Mike seeks Sondra's brother in a bar to raise a loan, but he does not find his brother-in-law; he befriends the actor Chet Frank after rescuing him in a fight in the bar. Chet invites Terry and Sondra for a dinner party at his home and gives a golden watch as a gift. Mike gives the watch to Joe for pawning, but the watch is stolen and Joe gets in trouble in the police. Meanwhile Mike's idea of fight with handicap is stolen by a group of gamblers and Sondra raises a debt of US$ 30,000.00 for an unsuccessful business with Chet's wife. Without other option, Mike decides to fight in the ring to raise the necessary money to pay his debts.
A fateful event leads to a job in the film business for top mixed-martial arts instructor Mike Terry. Though he refuses to participate in prize bouts, circumstances conspire to force him to consider entering such a competition.
- The movie opens in a Jiu-Jitsu studio where Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is teaching an advanced class. Mike employs a unique training method. Before a sparring match, each fighter draws one of three marbles, two black and one white. Whoever draws a black marble has to fight with a handicap as determined by the spin of a wheel much like a board game. Joe (Max Martini), a police officer training for a black belt, draws a black marble and must compete with his hands shackled in front of him while his opponent drew the white marble and is unencumbered. Joe puts up an impressive fight but ultimately loses when he is unable to break a choke hold. Mike consoles him by showing Joe that despite the handicap, he could've easily broken the choke hold if he was more focused.
Meanwhile, Laura (Emily Mortimer) is driving through a heavy downpour desperately trying to locate a pharmacy before it closes to fill a prescription. Frustrated and distracted while talking on her phone, she sideswipes a parked truck. Seeking the truck's owner, Laura wanders into the Jiu-Jitsu academy while Mike is demonstrating how Joe's police issued shoulder holster is a liability in a fight. Joe sees that Laura is soaked and distressed so he chivalrously tries to take her coat. Startled, she grabs Joe's stray gun which he set down only briefly during Mike's private demonstration. The gun fires and shatters the studio's front window. Laura picks up the ejected shell casing while Joe and Mike are shocked by how easily and dramatically she was frightened.
Mike and Joe agree to hide that the shooting ever happened. Technically, the police could charge Laura with attempted murder which wouldn't be fair to a woman who is clearly just disturbed and meant no harm. But claiming the window broke because of strong wind makes it an act of God and not covered by Mike's insurance. This sparks an argument between Mike and his wife over finances. Apparently the academy is bankrupt. The only reason it hasn't closed is because Mike's wife, Sondra (Alice Braga), is supplementing with profits from her fashion business which puts a strain on her income. Sondra advises Mike to ask for a loan from Sondra's brother, Ricardo (John Machado), a mixed martial arts champion.
Mike goes to visit Ricardo at his club which is co-owned by Sondra's other brother, Bruno (Rodrigo Santoro). Mike notices that the club has no bouncer. Joe was supposed to be bouncing to earn extra cash for his family's unnamed medical bills. Ricardo is unavailable so Mike meets with Bruno instead. While waiting to see Bruno, Mike is entertained by a cocky magician. The man displays some incredible sleight of hand by turning a die from black to white with uncanny ease. Mike also learns from the bartender that Joe quit bouncing because Bruno never paid him.
In the club's office, Bruno and fight promoter Marty Brown (Ricky Jay) are discussing how to promote a championship mixed martial arts fight between Ricardo and a Japanese legend, Morisaki (Enson Inoue). Marty makes some references to fixing the fight and Bruno debates with him about whether or not Ricardo will go for it.
Mike finally meets with Bruno and questions him about why he didn't pay Joe. Bruno gives a mysteriously vague explanation claiming that he planned on paying Joe eventually but Joe was impatient. Bruno also tries to encourage Mike to fight on the undercard in the aforementioned upcoming fight which could potentially pay out $50,000. But Mike follows a strict, samurai-like code. He believes competition weakens the fighter because a competition is not a fight, especially when it's only for money. Their conversation is interrupted when Bruno notices on the security monitors that Chet Frank (Tim Allen), an aging Hollywood action star, just entered the club without a bodyguard.
Chet offers to buy a woman at the bar a drink, but the woman's boyfriend gets offended and picks a fight with Chet. When the boyfriend attempts to attack Chet with a broken bottle, Mike intervenes to stop the fight. Two more guys attack Mike, but Mike quickly subdues them.
The following day, a messenger shows up at Mike's door delivering an expensive watch from Chet Frank and an invitation to dinner. Chet is grateful for Mike's intervention in the bar fight. Mike gives the watch to Joe and advises him to pawn it. Mike feels responsible for hooking Joe up with an employer that stiffed him.
Mike goes to the academy the following morning and finds that Laura is paying to fix the window. She apologizes for her odd behavior the previous evening and accepts an enrollment form for Mike's class.
That evening during dinner, Chet's wife (Rebecca Pidgeon) admires Sondra's fashion style and arranges an informal business deal to buy a large supply of dresses from Sondra's company. After hearing some of the tenets of Mike's teaching philosophy, Chet invites Mike to the set of his recent film project the next morning. Before parting ways, Sondra encourages Mike to tell Chet's business associate, Jerry Weiss (Joe Mantegna), about the marble drawing training method. Jerry thinks it's an interesting concept and comments on how it could be a clever gimmick to use in competitive fighting to draw a crowd.
The next morning, Mike visits the movie set. Chet is running late so Mike wanders the set and discovers a colleague/acquaintance is doing stunt choreography for the movie's hand to hand combat. Having served in Desert Storm, Mike was able to answer some of Chet's technical questions about the military. Impressed with Mike's knowledge, Chet asks Mike to be a co-producer of the film. Jerry invites Mike to dinner that evening to discuss the details. Mike returns home to share the good news with Sondra and begins faxing details of his training methods to Jerry so they can be used in the movie.
Mike meets with Laura later that afternoon for a private lesson. Laura reveals that she was raped while the assailant held a knife to her throat thus explaining why she's easily startled. Skeptical of Mike being able to help her, she begins to exit the studio. Mike aggressively grabs her from behind holding a rubber training knife to her throat. After showing her how she could've escaped from such a predicament, Laura cathartically sobs.
Later while preparing for the beginner class, Joe shows up to the studio and informs Mike that he was temporarily suspended from duty after trying to pawn a stolen watch. Mike is shocked to learn it was stolen and assures Joe that he will straighten things out.
When meeting Jerry for dinner, Mike insists on sorting out the issue of the stolen watch before discussing other business. Jerry is shocked and embarrassed to learn the watch was stolen and excuses himself to go make a phone call to handle the matter. Jerry never returns and Mike leaves the restaurant puzzled. When Mike gets home, Sondra is also confused. The phone numbers that Chet's wife gave her have been disconnected. Sondra is panicky because she already ordered $30,000 worth of fabric based on their oral business arrangement. Sondra borrowed the money for the fabric from a loan shark (David Paymer).
Mike meets with the loan shark to plead for more time to pay back the money. During their conversation, Mike notices Marty Brown and Bruno on television promoting the mixed martial arts match of Ricardo versus Morisaki. As a promotional gimmick, they are planning to use Mike's marble drawing technique for the undercard fights.
Mike then hires Laura to see if they can sue the fight promoter for stealing Mike's idea. The problem is they can't prove how Marty Brown could've stolen the idea if Mike never told it to him. That question is answered when Jerry Weiss enters Marty's office and refers to Marty as his new partner. This connected Mike's idea to Jerry then to Marty thus allowing Laura to prove theft and conspiracy to defraud. But Marty's lawyer threatens that if they don't drop the lawsuit then he will hand over proof to the police, in the form of an empty shell casing with Laura's fingerprints, that she attempted to kill an off duty cop. He can also prove that Mike was a witness who covered up the attempted murder by bribing the cop with a stolen wrist watch.
Upon hearing about this situation, Joe feels entirely responsible and kills himself. Mike visits Joe's wife to console her but finds she is inconsolable. She claims Joe was trying to preserve the honor of the academy and Mike's principles. But mostly she's angry because she's stuck with a stack of bills that she can't pay. Mike feels obligated to help. Desperately in need of money, Mike decides to abandon his principles and compete as an undercard fighter in the upcoming competition.
When Mike arrives at the arena before the fight, he learns that the promoters have made the marble drawing look like an elaborate, ancient ritual conducted by an elderly man wearing a ceremonial mask and escorted by tribal drummers. Mike also learns that his mentor, known as The Professor, is present at the fight. As Mike walks through the halls of the arena, he peers through a partially opened dressing room door and sees that the elderly Asian man who draws the colored stones is actually the magician from Bruno's club in disguise. The magician is vainly displaying his sleight of hand skills in the dressing room mirror and secretly switching colored marbles. Mike realizes that the fight is fixed. Unbeknownst to the competitors, the magician assigns the handicap as predetermined by the fight promoters. Disgusted by this revelation, Mike confronts the promoters/conspirators: Marty, Jerry and Bruno. They confirm the accusation and also reveal that Ricardo is intentionally losing the fight to Morisaki so they can make money on the rematch.
When Mike accuses them of being responsible for Joe's suicide, Jerry laments that it was unfortunate but blames Mike for being stupid enough to give a gift from someone as important as Chet Frank. Jerry also tells Mike that Sondra is the one who told them about Laura shooting the window. Bruno justifies her betrayal by explaining that his sister is too smart to stay with someone who can't provide for her.
As Mike is exiting the arena, he meets with Laura. Their conversation is not audible, but it ends with Laura giving Mike a loud, echoing slap to the face. Mike then re-enters the arena determined to expose that the fights are fixed. One by one, security guards try to stop Mike but they are unsuccessful. Finally, Ricardo engages Mike. As they begin fighting in the arena's corridors, the audience and camera crews take notice. Eventually, Ricardo puts Mike in a difficult choke hold. As he's losing consciousness, Mike is inspired by the sight of The Professor and reverses the hold. Mike wins the fight. He is approached by Morisaki who awards Mike with his ivory-studded belt, previously referred to as a Japanese national treasure. Mike is then approached by The Professor himself who awards Mike with the coveted Redbelt, signifying Mike as his one worthy pupil.