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For a fighter, winning and losing is everything. For the women of “The Girl Fight Gym” in Toms River, New Jersey, winning means more than having your arm raised after a match. Prairie Rugilo recognized that fact and opened her all-female Muay Thai kickboxing gym in 2009, and since then has been inspiring and empowering women through the martial arts.

Along with her training partner, Jaime Philips, Prairie coaches a fight team of people that may not have ever stepped into the ring unless they were at this gym. One of those students, DeAna Mendez,


In a weird twist of fate, GIRL FIGHT: A MUAY THAI STORY is as much my story as it was for the women I filmed for 18 months.

The concept for this documentary came to me while reading an issue of an MMA (mixed martial arts) magazine that had a monthly feature on gyms across America. Within this two-page spread was my first glimpse into the world that an entrepreneurial Prairie Rugilo was trying to build with her “Girl Fight Gym”.

plans on making her amateur debut, while Prairie prepares for a shot at a championship belt that she once held and believes she was robbed of in a controversial fight.

Prairie and DeAna must overcome their personal demons through the support of their teammates and loved ones to become the champions they want to be, embarking on a journey that takes them down roads they did not expect to go through. With the backdrop of the recovering Jersey Shore in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, these two fighters battle in and out of the ring against their greatest opponent – themselves.

It took little convincing from me for Prairie to allow me to start filming at their gym on my own, and at the time I had no idea what my story would be about. Since she was a resident of the Jersey Shore, I figured I could make a sizzle reel for a spicy reality show, but I was grateful that the gym environment was the polar opposite of a certain TV show that shared the same name as Prairie’s location.

The unique thing about making a documentary is that the story you end up telling is different from the one you expected. As I got a few months into filming, the real tale began to blossom. This was not going to be a movie about a bunch of fights, but a movie about overcoming obstacles, gaining confidence, and realizing self-worth.

The two stars of this movie are polar opposites, but go on the same journey in Muay Thai with the hope of gaining the same results – understanding themselves through the martial arts. Even thought they may not have realized it, what they did in the ring mirrored what they did outside of the ring.

Documenting them and making this movie was my five-round title fight. Despite all of the trouble I had during production (crashed hard drives, faulty equipment, and bad weather to name a few), I wanted to go the distance and beat the odds. At first, it was about proving to myself that I could make a large scale movie. As time went on, I realized what really pushed me was I wanted to show others who were struggling in life that we are not alone. We all have our fights in life, and after we get through the fire & flames, it's these hard times that make us better people.

The slogan of the “Girl Fight Gym” is “Empowering women through martial arts,” and they truly accomplish that, inside and out. These days, confidence and self-esteem are something that all genders have issues with. My goal with this documentary is to empower viewers through the trials and tribulations of this gym, and remind them that no one goes through their journey alone. As long as you never give up, you can accomplish things you never thought you could, even if things do not turn out the way you expect.

Thanks for watching, and I hope you enjoy the journey.

-Matthew Kaplowitz

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