MMA legend John Lewis is one of Brazilian jiu-jitsu’s dirty dozen, and may be best known for his 1995 epic battle in Japan with Carlson Gracie Jr.—back when UFC was in its infancy, and MMA was more a spectacle in the United States.

Today, though, it’s Lewis the actor who will battle Western outlaws on the big screen in Justice, which premieres in theaters and on demand this Friday, September 15.

Justice, which also stars Stephen Lang, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, and Jackson Rathbone, is the first movie in which Lewis co-wrote, produced, and starred.

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“This film is special for me in the fact that I wrote it, produced it, and played the lead antagonist in it alongside acting genius and legend, Stephen Lang,” Lewis says. 

Lewis, who’s trained UFC champions such as Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, and ­­B.J. Penn, isn’t the first MMA star to make the transition to film. But unlike a lot of fighters who show up in film as the stereotypical tough guy, Lewis prides himself on being an all-around versatile artist, as he hopes to show in Justice.

“It was different for me than most MMA stars that you see make that transition today,” says Lewis.  “I had to move up the ranks as an actor like any other actor in Hollywood—acting classes, auditions, and networking. None of my achievements in acting or producing came as a benefit from my fighting career. Hard work and hustle is how I got here. I believe this will give me longevity in this crazy business. I am not being hired as the token MMA tough guy. I am a true actor, and love the craft and its journey.”

You probably won’t see any armbars in Justice, but there will be enough shoot ‘em up in this post-Civil War drama, which takes place in 1868 in a small town in which an old abandoned mine is being turned into a military stronghold by a corrupt mayor and bloodthirsty outlaws determined to restart the war. When a U.S. marshal arrives only to find out his brother, the town priest, has been murdered, the search for the killer leads to an inevitable life-or-death clash.

“There’s nothing more fun that making a Western,” Lewis says.

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