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“American Fighter” Wrestling Sequel “American Fighter” Wrestling Sequel
If anyone would have told me a year ago that I would be attending a movie premiere in LA with several A-list Hollywood actors,... “American Fighter” Wrestling Sequel

If anyone would have told me a year ago that I would be attending a movie premiere in LA with several A-list Hollywood actors, or be an extra in an up and coming film, American Fighter” Wrestling Sequel, I would have laughed it off.

No way, not possible. Fast forward and I am not laughing it off, but reflecting about what to write about my once-in-a-lifetime experience. A life experience that I didn’t have on my bucket list, but was truly happy and honored to have had the opportunity to be a part of.

We only get one shot!

It’s about living life to the fullest. Trying new things, going on adventures, enjoying family and friends. Learning from mistakes and thriving to constantly improve. To give back to those that gave to you.

That has always been my mindset since an early age.

My experiences all began a few months ago when I attended my 30th annual CIF State Wrestling Championships. It was held at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield. During my travels, I came upon a display, promoting an upcoming movie. American Wrestler – The Wizard.

The booth caught your eye; a large banner hung prominently, posters were displayed, a movie screen playing its trailer drew the curious crowd in.

While speaking with the attendants, I was approached by Actor/Producer Ali Afshar, whom the movie is based on.

We spoke about the movie, wrestling, and drag racing (he’s a big fan!), and unbeknownst to me at the time, we had a life experience connection.

Ironically, on a few occasions, Ali wrestled one of my former wrestlers, Marc Kavanagh of Livermore High back in 1991 (they were 1-1 with each other).

I remember their matches vividly. It’s a small world.

During our conversation, Ali invited me, my family and friends to attend the movies premiere of in Los Angeles. It was to be held about a month after the state tournament.

He also hinted that there were plans in the works to film a sequel!

Socializing with many of the movie extras.

Socializing with many of the movie extras.

Not one to pass up this incredible offer, I attended the premiere. It was exciting, filled with enthusiasm, and among other things a gathering of some of Hollywood’s elite such as Jon Voight and William Fichtner.

They each were playing a starring role in the movie.

Intertwined in the crowd were many notable and accomplished wrestlers; UFC Champion and actor Randy Couture, Adam Tirapelle (NCAA Champion), and a large contingent of former teammates and friends of Ali Afshar. Aamong them, guys from Casa Grande High School and the North Coast Section area of California.

In a short period of time, I noticed a pattern with Ali and his cast and crew. They were a close-knit group and were very good about linking the movie experiences with his family, friends and the community.

The wrestling community an inclusive one.

Meeting several of the actors that night, including lead actor George Kosturos (who played Ali) was truly an experience!

A few months passed, I was barely coming off the buzz and was reminded by Ali and a friend of another opportunity.

They mentioned while at the Championships that movie extras would be needed for the sequel. Former wrestlers from the California wrestling family, as well as members of the Petaluma and Santa Rosa communities and I, were invited. We were to participate as extras for American Fighter, the sequel of American Wrestler!

Entering with no experience, I delved in with an open mind, ready to learn and absorb what came my way.

Enjoying a great meal with the cast, crew, and extras.

Enjoying a great meal with the cast, crew, and extras.

After two long days, and I mean long days working on the set, I came away with a greater understanding and appreciation of what it takes to produce a film.

I recall a quote from an English Novelist and Philosopher, Addous Huxley, “There are things you know about, and things you don’t, the known and the unknown, and in between are the doors—that’s us.

I went into this unaware of what to expect, with only perceptions – but came out knowing that film production is very demanding, paralleled by a vision of perfection.

One can draw several similarities to movie-making with the sport of wrestling.

Each requires a great deal of preparation, dedication, clear vision, and a desire to master the craft.

For instance, the cast, crew and extras on average spent over ten hours a day filming scene after scene in a multitude of angles until the director was satisfied with the “take”. Similarly, in wrestling, we spend long, painful hours training and refining our technique to perfection. Only for one to observe the product of our ethic in a six minute match! Take 1.

Joined by other California wrestlers and friends on the movie set, I was not alone in my emotion.

I had the distinct opportunity to share this movie-making experience with several guys, including a former teammate and others I coached through the years.

We come from different walks of life, but are joined together by the common thread of wrestling…

We participated in the American Fighter filming experience. In the weeks since, I had the opportunity of interviewing several of the “family”.


On the American Fighter movie set with Actor Tommy Flanagan and Producer Ali Afshar.

On the American Fighter movie set with Actor Tommy Flanagan and Producer Ali Afshar.


Fontes interviews players on the set. Choose the California’s Wrestling Family link above for Q&A’s.


Jimmy Pera – Army Green Beret/Ranger.

Jimmy Pera – Army Green Beret/Ranger. Pera is a 1994 graduate from Casa Grande High School in Petaluma. While there, he earned an individual Sonoma County League wrestling Championship and competed at the NCS Championships 3 times.


Richard Diaz – Berkeley Firefighter/Paramedic

Richard Diaz “aka, Rich” is a 1996 graduate of Livermore High School in the North Coast Section. A team captain for a couple of seasons, Rich earned several trips to the section championships, represented Team California at the Western Regionals, and earned a medal at the Cadet Freestyle State Championships.


Tim Lajcik – Actor/Stuntman/Poet/Writer

Tim Lajcik “aka, The Bohemian” is a ’83 graduate of Thousand Oaks High School in the Southern Section. His senior year, he placed at the CIF State Championships in the light-heavyweight class and then continued his career at UC Davis, earning two NCAA Division II All-American honors and a National AAU title in Freestyle. He was an Academic All-American, as well as All-American defensive lineman with the football team.


Tyler Rardon winning his 2nd NCS title in 2013.

Tyler Rardon is a 2013 graduate of Livermore High in the NCS. There, Rardon was a two-time EBAL Champion and became the first Cowboy wrestler in the school’s history to win back-to-back NCS titles. Qualifying to the CIF State Championships twice.


Modesto JC – 1988 CA State Medalist.

Brent Ugalde is a 1986 graduate of Oakdale High School in the Sac-Joaquin Section. While at Oakdale, Brent competed in the Valley Oak League and during his senior year won a Sac-Joaquin Sub-Section title. Upon graduating, he continued his mat career at Modesto JC and in ’88, placed at the California Community College State Championship. He went on to compete at the NCAA Division II level for Humboldt State


Hai NguyenLivermore High School Wrestling ’86

Hai Nguyen is a 1986 graduate of Livermore High School in the NCS. A 3-year varsity letterman and NCS qualifier for the Cowboys, Nguyen had a successful high school career, winning several tournaments in Northern California


Andrew Koponen – Oakland P.D./Actor/All-American

Andrew Koponen “aka, Kope” is a 1989 graduate of Livermore High School in the NCS. At Livermore he was a Team Captain, section medalist, earning two All-American honors at the Espoir Nationals in Greco-Roman while wrestling for Humboldt State; a Bronze medal at the 1990 Olympic Festival, and competed in the 1992 Olympic trials.

Ali Afshar wrestled for Casa Grande High School in the North Coast Section. He's now, among other things, actor and producer of the movie, American Wrestler

Q&A with Producer Ali Afshar

Story by SportStars INSIDER, Al Fontes. Follow Al at



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