Tulis and his crew spent several months with perennial UFC contender Jon Fitch as he prepared for his UFC 87 title fight with Georges St-Pierre. While Fitch's journey is the central theme of the documentary, American Kickboxing Academy figures Dave Camarillo, "Crazy" Bob Cook, Nate James, Josh Koscheck, Matt Major, Arturo "Huitzi" Mata, Javier Mendez, Pat Minihan, Nate Moore, Josh Thomson, Cain Velasquez and DeWayne Zinkin all make appearances along the way.
"One thing I'm really fascinated with more than anything is the team aspect for the sport – the aspect of AKA and this team," Tulis said. "Obviously we had the right time and the right moment where Jon was fighting for this huge title, and that was our timeframe, our storyline. But then it allowed us to delve into this work where we had all these interesting characters who are a lot different than you would expect and lead these interesting lives trying to make it in this crazy world. It takes a lot of dedication, and it takes a different kind of person to make it happen."
Fitch – who is often criticized by fans for his controlling, grinding style of fighting – might not seem the first choice for a leading man, but as Tulis and his team searched for an opportunity to explore the fast-growing sport, a chance encounter with the fighter left him as the obvious subject for the project.
"One of our producers, Philip Frank, had emailed Dana White and sort of sent some feelers out to people, and no one ever really responded in an interesting kind of way," Tulis said. "Then he ran into Jon Fitch in an airport and talked to him and said he was interested in doing some sort of project along those lines. They exchanged numbers, had a brief meeting, and then a couple of weeks later, it turns out he was fighting for a title, and the timing was perfect. We put the project together extremely quickly, and we were off."
"Such Great Heights" documents the effort and sacrifice required of fighters preparing for a UFC title fight, but the most gripping footage comes after the 25-minute struggle, which Fitch lost via unanimous decision, becoming the first fighter to take St-Pierre five full rounds in what turned out to be a brutal outing.
"I think the most fascinating part of the film is right after the fight, when you're in the hotel room with him and his parents," Tulis said. "You're in the ambulance. These are moments that nobody gets to see. He's crying in the locker room. That's true human emotion. It's amazing."
The film's release was delayed by several factors, including an ongoing effort to license official UFC footage for the project. "Such Great Heights" ultimately did not receive that permission, but the film doesn't necessarily suffer given the amount of backstage access the crew had with Fitch and his team. Ultimately, the film provides something of an introduction to the human side of cagefighting for those new to the sport while also providing a unique retrospective on the biggest fight in Fitch's career thus far.
"We really think it can appeal to a mainstream audience," Tulis said. "I think that it really does come down to characters that people want to be around. Jon is a humble, interesting character that's trying to be the best at what he does, just like any of us, and some of these other characters are interesting and funny at the same time. At the same time, we wanted to have stuff for the hardcore fans who are really going to be the core audience. Obviously, you can't go completely one way or the other, and we hope to accomplish both."