by Tom Hamliin – MMAWeekly.com
Friends and family of the man they called “Mask,” AKA Charles Lewis, Jr., gathered on Tuesday at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif., to celebrate the life of the Tapout co-founder.
An audience of several hundred took in songs, video tributes, and testimony of those close to Lewis.
His girlfriend, Lacy Lynn White, still recovering from the car accident that took Lewis’ life on March 11, appeared briefly at the podium, but did not speak.
The remaining Tapout family, Timothy “Sky Skrape” Katz, Dan “Punkass” Caldwell, and Mark Kreiner, mixed the remembrance of their fallen friend with messages of hope Lewis took as his credo.
Backed by a massive poster bearing the image of Lewis, the memorial’s theme was “Believe.” At the end of the service, the audience stood to affirm Lewis had helped them do so.
Below are words from some of those assembled to pay tribute to the MMA pioneer.
John McCarthy (MMA referee)
It’s a sad day. (He was) a visionary in the sport of MMA, a guy that did more for fighters than anyone will ever realize. I can remember Charles when I first met him. I bought one TapouT t-shirt in my life, Sky Skrape was brand new with them, and Charles was off to the side, and Skrape said, ’18 dollars.’ I gave him the money, and Charles turned around and said, ‘John, you don’t pay for that.’ He gave everything he had to anybody that asked for it. He did things that no one thought would work, took a word, TapouT, and made a multi-million dollar industry off of it, and it was through his belief and dedication to the sport. But he never forgot anybody. If he met you once, Charles Lewis knew who you were. I’m going to miss him for the rest of my life.
Lorenzo Ferttita (Ultimate Fighting Championship)
Charles was a great friend. We had a great friendship that spanned over a long time. I always felt very close to him, because we always communicated a lot, whether it was through text, or just when I’d see him at the fights. He always did whatever he could to help us and our business, and we tried to help him and his business. One of the things that’s great about Mask and the TapouT guys is that, based on our success now, the sport and the UFC has started to grow significantly, and everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon, ride that wave. I’m going to come up with a name and start a t-shirt company. Charles was literally part of the building blocks of the sport. He was there before it was big, before it was cool to be a part of MMA, before you had the ability to make money being a part of MMA. He was there selling t-shirts out of his trunk because he was passionate about it. Because of that, that makes him more real, and that will allow him to live on forever. What people don’t realize is that before these guys were making millions of dollars, or at least making enough money to where they didn’t have to have a second job, Mask was the guy that was giving them a stipend, saying, ‘Hey, I’ll pay your training, I’ll pay if you to wear TapouT shorts,” so these guys could continue to be MMA fighters. So he played as much of a part of keeping this sport alive as anybody did, including us coming in, me, Dana, and my brother, and buying the UFC. Mask was there right along beside us. He will be missed.
Dan “Punkass” Caldwell (TapouT)
Some weird feelings are running through us right now, but it’s a celebration of life. He did a lot of good things. He was bigger than life. He always said, ‘I want to be remembered for helping people,’ and I want to continue that. I just want to echo that, because every person that he touched, he was talking to them to help inspire their lives and push them to a better place, and let them know that he really cared about them. He wanted them to be inspired about what he had done. I think that’s why he worked so hard. He affected a lot of people and inspired a lot of people, and we’re going to continue that dream.
Joe Rogan (UFC broadcaster)
I met him way, way back in the day when TapouT was just starting out. He was selling t-shirts out of the trunk of his car. They would go to jiu-jitsu tournaments and we’d see them there. He was always just a really cool, positive guy who always gave a lot back to the sport. Sponsoring people when there was no need to, there was no market. But they still did it, and gave free shirts everywhere, and showed up at all the places and made sure their brand was out there. He was just a really positive guy, and it’s a real tragic thing for the sport. It’s a huge loss as a friend.
Timothy “Skyscrape” Katz (TapouT)
There was just something about Charles that people gravitated towards. He’s a motivator, and he was just so inspirational. He could look and see somebody and you just felt a connection with him. People see when somebody’s real. If you’re fake, people see right through it. He was one of those real people. I hear (his laugh) in my head every day. I think a lot of people do. Just the memories we have of all the good times, and the bad times. We made fun of everything, whether it was good or bad. I hope people looked at a picture, or watching our TV show, anything we did, and get joy or inspiration out of it.
Keith Jardine (Fighter)
He was my first sponsor, but it was more than that. We developed a great relationship. It was more than a sponsorship. He approached me, I was in a grappling tournament in Vegas, and he approached me. He got me into the UFC. He called up Dana White, and I got my first meeting with Dana. The rest is history. He won me over right away, because he was always like, ‘with us, it’s always about attitude. We don’t care if you win or lose. As long as you try your best, you’re going to fit in with us.’ There was always so much life in him, and he would make you feel so confident about yourself. In this business, with promoters, and everyone for a buck, I sensed with Mask that it started from the ground up, and I always felt that sincerity.
Mark Kreiner (TapouT)
He was one of those guys that if you met him for 10 seconds, he impacted the rest of your life.
Dean Lister (Fighter)
It’s hard to remember him any other way than how lively he was. That’s how I want to remember him, all the energy he brought to the sport and his friends. He’s the kind of guy you don’t forget, ever. He took care of one of the fighters on my team who had colon cancer. He took care of him and believed in him until he came back, and he just fought in the WEC recently. He was a real genuine guy.
Benji Radach (Fighter)
He had a huge influence on tons of people in a positive way.
Cole Miller (Fighter)
I like to remember him as a guy who did a lot for the sport of MMA, and bringing a lot of attention onto the fighter. He wasn’t a guy who would just sponsor the top guys in the UFC; he sponsored everybody. He was willing to help everybody out. I want to remember him as a guy who was selfless. It’s just one less great person that we have. I try to take a little bit of what he meant, and what he did for the sport, and that should be an example for the future as how we should act towards each other.
Rob Emerson (Fighter)
He was always there to help out the guys he’s ever met. For me, since day one when I was fighting on smaller shows, he always had faith in me. He didn’t care if you won or lost; he always believed in you as a person and did whatever he could to help you out. If you met him just one time, that’s one time you would never forget. He helped make the sport what it is today.
Leonard Garcia (Fighter)
To begin with, this is a sad day, but you come here to a place like this and you see all these people and it kind of makes you happy, to know that Mask did a lot for a lot of people. It’s sad that he left his two buddies to keep it going, but I think they’re going to do a good job of it, and I’m just here to celebrate his life.
Donald Cerrone (Fighter)
He inspired the MMA world. He believed in me when nobody else would. He brought me up from the show, and said, ‘If you win your next 10 fights, you lose your next 10 fights, I’m with you.’ He’d call me and Leonard and for hours tell us he believes in us. To me, he was more of a friend than anything.