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"It's Not Easy Money"
© Marc Wickert www.knucklepit.com
Mark Kerr's amazing warrior lifestyle commenced when he adopted Olympic wrestling as a youth, his resulting career being nothing short of astounding. It became apparent he was destined to be a great gladiator of the modern-days' brutal coliseums.
"I wrestled my whole life, and I just happened to be trying out for the 96 Olympics, when a guy right next to us at the same facility, who taught martial arts, said, 'You know, I think you'd be really good at this (MMA)', and I just kinda passed it off.
"As time went by, I didn't make the '96 Olympic team, and he approached me again, saying, 'How'd you like to compete?' He told me what the event was and the details. I took the offer."
The event Mark agreed to compete in was the 1997 World Vale Tudo Championships in Sao Paolo, Brazil, against the highly revered BJJ star, Fabio Gurgel.
"Fabio Gurgel was a very well-respected, very accomplished BJJ black belt. And for me to beat him soundly, it opened a lot of people's eyes, because they thought, 'Oh, my God, who is this guy?' I just went in there and mauled him like a dog with a bone.
"Looking back on it, I realized it was set up for him to win in front of his home town, his fans, and his family. The interesting side-note to that is the next day I went over and had breakfast at his house. It showed me a different aspect of the sport in that he really did look at it as though it was competition, and he would have really done everything I did, if he could have. It was an interesting introduction to the event for me, because the night before we were in the ring, and here we were the next morning having coffee."
It was Mark's victory at the Vale Tudo Championships, in the 30-minute bout against Gurgel, which opened the UFC door for him. Kerr debuted at UFC 14, defeating Moti Horenstein in 2.23 minutes and Dan Bobish in 1.38, to win the UFC heavyweight division. At UFC 15, Mark KO'd Greg Stott in just 19 seconds, before securing a win against Duane Cason due to referee stoppage.
Surprisingly, Kerr then decided to compete in PRIDE. "I just looked at what was happening with UFC at the time. We were getting stonewalled by a lot of the cable distribution companies, and I figured, 'You know what, I can go over to Tokyo and if I fall right on my face, I can come back here (United States) and work. I can make ends meet.' That's what I was thinking.
"And the PRIDE money they were offering me was six figures for my first fight. It was really something else, like 'wow'. They take it seriously and they're educated fans. It's more of a cultural thing in Tokyo than in other parts where I've competed."
But the six-figure payment was not a handout. It came at a price. And for Mark or any other fighter to reach that elite level in his sport took incredible denial, dedication and grueling years of extreme training. Staying at that level took even more sacrifice and determination.
"It is not, and this is something you can underline, it's not easy money. There are a thousand other things out there you can do to make money, and this is not the easy one."
As a freestyle wrestler, Kerr made the transition to MMA with surprising ease for the most part: "I adjusted to some aspects of the game very easily. Other aspects, like to become really efficient with kicking and punching, it took a little to do. I had the right people training me, and it took a lot of time on my part to do that. But as far as the transitioning, like from standing-up to going to the ground and stuff that mixed martial arts requires, that was easy. But for the striking, watching guys like Mike Tyson, they make punching somebody look like an art."
For up-and-coming fighters wishing to compete in MMA, Mark believes wrestling to be a good foundation for the sport. "I think it's a great one. It teaches you body control, balance, how to use your strength and body weight, how to do a lot of things that other sports don't teach you. And the basic essence of wrestling is body control - how to control your body, and your opponent's, in certain situations."
At UFC 17: Redemption, on May 15, 1998, Brazilian luta livre star Hugo Duarte intended teaching Tank Abbott a hard lesson, after Duarte had won most of his previous fights in less than 40 seconds. But Tank turned the tables when he defeated Duarte in just 43 vicious seconds.
When Duarte then faced Mark Kerr at PRIDE 4 on October 11, 1998, Duarte showed he was not prepared to endure another serious beating.
Mark, was your bout against Hugo Duarte your most embarrassing one?
"I would say yes."
Obviously through no fault of yours, but because of him.
"Yeah. It was just one of those things where, when you're out there, you're thinking you have a good strategy, and his strategy was just to lock and hold - not to mix it up. It makes it really hard for the other fighter, but thankfully, like you said, the fans understand. And they understand when a guy's stalling and when he's not. It's one of those things, but I'm thankful for every fight that I've had, and every opportunity to get in the ring. To this point it's been a really cool thing."
Your DVD, Smashing Machine, is getting a huge response. What can you tell us about it?
"For anybody who's not familiar with Mixed Martial Arts, the DVD gives a real, personal perspective. It's just amazing how it actually came out, because it deals with a very difficult part of my career, when I was trying to come through using pain medication to get through training to prepare for the fights. You know, you're on this vicious circle where you only have a small, little window to do this. And once you're outside that window, there's no going back. So I wanted to try to accomplish as much as I could. I figured if I lasted five years in the industry, it would be good, because it's a very short career.
"So it just profiles a very, very intimate perspective of my life and the people around me, and a couple of other people in the industry. I think it does a really good job of telling a story. The director does and the producer does. Thankfully, I knew the producer prior to the movie, so a lot of the commentary is like I'm just sitting down talking to some old buddies."
You bared so much in Smashing Machine. Did that worry you?
"Well it's kinda interesting. When it was being edited, I'd wake up in the middle of the night, and I'd remember something that was in the film. I'd call up the producer and say, 'Hey John, this part can't go in there.' And he'd say, 'Mark, just trust me.' And I'd say. 'Alright, alright.' Another month would go by and the same thing would happen. Then I thought, 'I gave them permission to tell a story, and if it's going to be told, the only way it will be respected is if it's true. Because if you try to water it down, or you try to candy-coat it, it's going to come off badly. It's going to be egg in our faces.'
"They showed me the final version of it, which I had veto power over, and they asked me what I thought. I said, 'Give me a couple of days.' And after a couple of days went by, I said, 'Let's do it.' Because the idea behind the film is not only to show somebody who might respect me as a fighter, that I'm human - the same as everybody else, but that when I go into battle, mine is on a public stage. The other idea of the film was to give an insight into the industry, and to give an insight into hope and recovery."
The reason for the painkillers was so that you could stack up for the next fight?
"Yes. When you get to a certain level in sport, you're expected to perform at a certain standard. Unfortunately with fighting...If I were a pitcher in baseball and I had a bad outing, I'd go out three days later and redeem myself. With a fighter, he might only get three fights that year, so if you have one bad one, you have to wait six months before you can go out and quiet your critics. So it's kinda interesting: the pressures I put on myself to go out there and do incredible things."
With hindsight, was going to Japan the right thing to do?
"Going to Tokyo turned out to be the right, calculated decision. And I still do have a great relationship with the Japanese fans. I think from now on and forever forward, I will always be one of the favorites."
Are you still good mates with Mark Coleman and Bas Rutten?
"Yeah. I talked to them a couple of weeks ago when everyone was up in Vegas for the big Tito Ortiz vs Vitor Belfort fight. So I was talking to those guys up there and they were doing great. Mark's still fighting. He's about to finish his last fight of a contract deal with the Japanese and he might retire after that. And Bas is doing good. Everyone's doing good."
Your neck-crank victory over Igor Borisov was a pretty dynamic one. Would you consider that to be one of your best victories?
"That's one of the better ones. Throughout my career, I also did submission grappling and those victories are some of my best. They didn't involve striking, and those are some of the things I really enjoy, because they really resemble wrestling. I thought I was destined to be an Olympic wrestler, but it never materialized. God handed me this and I took advantage of it."
Is Smashing Machine also a lesson you're passing on to up-and-coming fighters?
"You know, the greatest lesson I've learnt through this whole process is very simple: Take total advantage of where you are, the station in life, right now. Take nothing for granted. And keep your sight on the things that really matter. Because at the end of the day, realistically looking back on it, the things that really matter to me now are family, and I have a son, and stuff like that. Those are the things that are important. Looking back on my career, I wish I had emphasized this more, or I wish I had brought my family along a bit more. They are probably the only regrets that I have."
Mark, what does the future hold for you? Are you going to compete again?
"You know, it's kind of interesting to explain: since this film was released I basically unplugged from the industry. I said, 'Okay, I have to get my bearings and see where I am and what I want to do now.' And for the last six months or so...I took on a young prodigy, a nineteen-year-old kid. He's really talented and he's kinda got me invigorated. And I've been thinking about it - It's just a thought."
What's his name?
"His name is Hans Marro. He reminds me a lot of Vitor Belfort. He's got really good hands, a good sense of fighting, and he's got good instincts. He has the world right in front of him. He's got a really good family. There are just a lot of good things about him, so who knows? I could coach the next world champion, or I could be the next world champion."
How can fans purchase Smashing Machine?
"They can do a Google search and type in Mark Kerr Smashing Machine. They'll come up with a lot of places where they can purchase it, or through HMV, Virgin, play.com, Amazon and other websites, MVC, and Music Zone."