The Homewood MMA trainer is also a part-time stuntman
After years of playing baseball, basketball and football, Ethan Melisano was bored. So he started training martial arts in 2011 and started training at Spartan Fitness in Homewood in 2014.
Now he is not only a mixed martial arts trainer at Spartan and an amateur fighter, but also a professional stuntman. Melisano starred in the new season of Netflix’s “Cobra Kai,” a spinoff of the beloved movie franchise, “The Karate Kid.”
Melisano’s “side hustle” began in 2018. A film called “Embattled,” about a promising young MMA fighter and his relationship with his abusive father, was being filmed in Birmingham and the film crew rented Spartan’s facilities. Fitness to practice stunts. and learn MMA.
“Chris (owner of Spartan Fitness) used to pay me to come and help the actors,” Melisano said. “We were kind of giving them a crash course in MMA. I worked with them, and Chris said he was good friends with a guy named Don Lee, the stunt coordinator on “Embattled.” He ended up asking me and cast me to play a Russian MMA fighter for the opening scene of the movie.
Don Lee has worked as a stunt coordinator on several popular film and television productions, including “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World‘s End”, and “Daredevil”.
After working with Lee for a few years through Chris Connolley, owner of Spartan Fitness, Lee called Melisano directly to ask if he would be interested in working with him on a new project he was working on.
Melisano said that after Lee asked about his height and asked him to send him a picture in his head, he offered him a job to be the stunt double for one of the main characters in Cobra Kai, Hawk, for the series’ fourth season.
“When Don contacted me and asked if I was ok with shaving my head and I said ‘yes’, he said ‘Cool, you start tomorrow’. This is for Cobra Kai,” Melisano said.
He said he was a fan of the show and just finished watching the new season of the show on Netflix. “[Hawk] was really the star of this season,” Melisano said. “He won the All-Valley Tournament.”
He said he would also be in the fifth season of Cobra Kai, which wrapped filming in January.
Melisano has already worked with famous actors. A few months after Melisano wrapped filming ‘Embattled,’ he was asked to be a stunt double for famed Spider-Man star Tom Holland in ‘The Devil All the Time,’ a Netflix original film that was filmed in Alabama in 2018, he said. .
Not only did Melisano work on the previz — the test footage for choreographing a fight scene to visualize what it would look like on camera — he also taught Holland the fight choreography for a fight scene in the film. in addition to being the stunt double for The Hand of Holland, he says.
“He didn’t really need me,” Melisano said. “There was a fight scene where he had to slam a car bonnet on someone… When the time came, I just showed Tom what the choreography was and then he shot the scene himself.”
He also worked with popular action stars Dolph Lundgren and Scott Atkins in the action movie “Castle Falls”. Getting to rub shoulders with and work with well-known actors is “all you know,” Melisano said.
“The casting director of ‘Embattled,’ I talked to him and asked my parents and my brother to do extras,” Melisano said. “So when ‘Castle Falls’ was filming here in Birmingham, they contacted me to audition. I walked in and Dolph Lundgren, the guy who was at Rocky, was just sitting there.
Lundgren asked to see some of Melisano’s matches from his professional fights because he wanted to see how he moved, he said.
Although Melisano currently works as a trainer and stuntman, he said, his main focus is his career as a professional fighter.
“I pursue it more like a side job,” Melisano said. “I’ve worked on one movie every year so far, but to be honest, I still want to keep fighting. If I ever felt like those doors were starting to close, I’d probably be doing stunts.
Melisano began his amateur fighting career in 2012, he said, and now expects to make his professional debut in the early fall of this year.
He was supposed to make it last year, he said, but had to pull out due to a knee injury during training.
“I was doing flexible stuff and I skipped my knee,” Melisano said.
The fourth season of Cobra Kai received national critical acclaim, earning a nomination for “Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Comedy or Drama Series” at the 28th Screen Actors Guild Awards.
“I got an email, they’re going to send me a nomination certificate and everything,” Melisano said.
Melisano said he was surprised by the nomination. Ever since he started doing stunts, he said, he never thought he would be part of such a big production as Cobra Kai, let alone be nominated for an award.
“I never thought I would work on anything too big”, “All I’ve done has been pretty small films, ten million, fifteen million dollars, so when I had the opportunity to work on Cobra Kai, it was really a nice experience.”