Right now, the biggest name in the world of mixed martial arts is, of course, Ronda Rousey. And with that in mind, Kingdom — DirecTV’s show about ex-fighter Alvey Kulina (Frank Grillo) and his gym of mixed martial artists — is adapting its roster. More specifically, the show will be adding Alicia Mendez (Natalie Martinez), a female fighter, when it returns for its second season.
“It’s so much of what’s going on in the sport right now,” showrunner Byron Balasco tells EW. “It’s reflective of the world, and it also adds so much drama to the gym.”
But with that in mind, it was important that Balasco find the right person to take on the role, which he feels he did with Martinez, who has been training in muay Thai and boxing on her own for five years. “We got the perfect person,” Balasco says. “We just shot a 10-hour fight scene with her where we thought she broke her foot because she was on crutches the next day, but she did that like halfway through and kept going and was just phenomenal.”
Martinez, who watched the entire first season of Kingdom in one day, was thrilled to take on the role. “[Fighters] are very intriguing,” she says. “The office is a ring where you get beat up. So what drives a person to want to do this for a living?”
Talking specifically about Alicia, Martinez describes her character as a woman who has “struggled” and yet, thanks to her raw talent, “she just needs a shot,” she says. “She needs a good coach, which is what she seeks from Alvey.”
But it’s Lisa who actually brings Alicia into the gym. As star Kiele Sanchez puts it: “[Lisa] is really good at seeing potential where other people have counted those people out. [Alicia’s] got a shitty record, she’s bounced around a few gyms, but [Lisa] sees something in her. Right now, Ronda Rousey is the biggest star in MMA, and so she’s trying to capture on that moment, that heat.”
However, Alicia is more than just some tough chick who could kill you (even though she definitely could). “When you see female fighters, it’s not all tough. We’re still feminine,” Martinez says. “I think it’s really cool of them to bring on a woman fighter and still have this sexiness to her and this femininity to her but then also beat people up.”
For Alicia, joining the family at Navy Street is a great opportunity, but her arrival will change things. “There’s a lot of shifting dynamics when she comes into the gym that put our characters on their heels,” Balasco teases of season 2. “[She] mixes things up for us.”
Kingdom returns on Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 9 p.m. ET on DirecTV’s Audience Network.
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