by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
Interview of the Week: Mark Kerr
By Damon Martin, MMAWeekly
From being a UFC champion to being a Pride superstar, and then hitting rock bottom, Mark Kerr has lived enough for three lifetimes. Most everyone had a chance to see all of this unfold in the popular documentary “The Smashing Machine,” which gained huge notoriety with its debut on HBO and subsequent release on DVD.
Now, after battling for his very life, “The One, the Only, the Original” Mark Kerr will make his return to the sport that he helped build when he takes on Wes Sims in the ACF show on May 6th. Kerr sat down with MMAWeekly for this very candid interview.
Damon Martin: How did this deal come about with the ACF?
Mark Kerr: It’s a combination of things. I was in contact with their person in charge of fighter relations, and him and I started having conversations… and they had a guy I was training named Hans Morrerro, and Hans fought in the first show they had, and I came up to see how the production was, and the production was awesome. It was a great show. I got a chance to meet the owner and also people who were associated with the organization, and I said, “You know, it’s been almost nine years since I’ve fought on American soil,” and you know what? It’s about time.
DM: “The Smashing Machine” was a huge success with both MMA fans and the general public that was just interested in the story. How much did that movie affect your life?
MK: It was the first legitimate piece with that crossover from being kind of a barroom brawl, fight club mentality that gave a real human element and emotion to a sport that a lot of people didn’t understand… people didn’t understand two guys fighting and then hugging at the end of it, and how it feels. To emphasize the point, at the HBO premiere, there was a woman close to 70 years of age who came up to me, and we had a conversation, and she was totally hooked. That change in demographic from the 20-something up to the 70-something people interested in the sport… I mean, it really took on a life of its own. The whole movie, the whole process, everything I went through personally and then everything that went into producing that movie… I mean, it stands alone.
DM: Did that film help you to focus on the future?
MK: It put a perspective on a lot of different things, but to this day the thing that has given me a better perspective is being a father. I have an 18-month-old son, and those two things combined put things in perspective for me. At first, it [MMA] was just a way to make money, and then it was fame, then it was fortune. It was a combination of different things, but year by year, the focus has changed to where my life has led to the birth of my son, and being a father, and it sounds kind of corny to say but you know it’s true.
DM: You were one of the first transition fighters who focused on doing all aspects of the sport… you were a pioneer in the sport when it came to training for wrestling, submissions, boxing, etc. What do you attribute that to?
MK: Well, first I think it’s a compliment and second I paid my dividends. In my second year of fighting, I was in a room with some of the very best out there. The room consisted of me, Marco Ruas, Bas Rutten, Pedro Rizzo, and Oleg Taktarov. Those were my training partners, and any given day if you went in there and you weren’t ready to train, you got your ass handed to you. It kind of forced you to evolve, because if you didn’t evolve every single day, you got an ass-whooping. You have to pay your dividends, and it helped me to transition to where I’m at now. I wouldn’t call myself a pioneer, I’d call myself a catalyst. Bruce Lee had it right. You have to take parts of everything to make one thing.
DM: Another fighter in the documentary who was focused on was Mark Coleman. How is your relationship with him these days?
MK: Mark and I talk every now and again. I don’t talk to him as regularly as we used to. He’s the father of two beautiful girls, and that helped him to put things into perspective as it has helped me, and I know more than anything else that Mark is a competitor. If you lock Mark Coleman in a room with any other person, I’d put money on the fact that Mark is walking out. If you lock me and him in the room, I don’t think either of us are walking out.
DM: How about Bas Rutten? He had nothing but good things to say about you during the documentary. Do you stay in contact with him now or have any interest in training with him again?
MK: I’ve been trying to get Bas to come out to this fight, actually, to help me train and if nothing else to have him as a spectator or as a commentator. You know, he’s just so busy with things. I mean, he’s commentating on like two or three shows, he’s doing a book, he’s a father, he’s been trying his hand at Hollywood. He’s a very busy guy. Back then when I was training with him, he had a lot more free time, so he was able to take the time and train with me. I personally have never seen a mixed martial artist with better hands than Bas. He can kick and punch faster than the wind can blow. It’s literally an experience worth having.
DM: After the documentary debuted, you had a fight in Pride that ended in controversy when you basically knocked yourself out during a takedown. What happened?
MK: You can look at the last two years of my fighting as a strange turn of events. After what happened with the documentary, I felt such a drive to redeem myself… and what’s not shown in the documentary is between me beating Enson [Inoue] and losing to [Kazuyuki] Fujita, I won the Absolute all-around in Abu Dhabi and did submission wrestling, and there were just a lot of things that were going on behind the scenes, and just everything else going on as well. I mean, my wife, she just didn’t support me fighting. She knew that it brought me to a place where I could potentially self-destruct. I think that is kind of one of those things where in retrospect, you just have to walk that line without falling over, because it takes everything out of you. Whether you win or lose, you reap the emotional repercussions of it, and so I never really caught up with it, and it caught up with me, otherwise known as burnout.
DM: Was there any discussion of you going back to Pride after that fight happened?
MK: I just never called Pride back. I just left it as is. There was just a sour note between Pride and myself. When you start working with a company like that in Japan, you are bound to them. They introduced me to the fans in Japan, the Japanese market, and they made me their superstar in Japan. But basically with that fight, right before I went to Japan, I was in a car accident, and this is not an excuse but I had PCS [Post Concussion Syndrome], and basically it would have only taken a slight tap on the head and I would have passed out… and so that’s sort of a post-script to what you saw happen in that fight.
DM: With the success of the UFC, would you ever go back there?
MK: I made a promise to the promoters here at the ACF that any decisions I made domestically here in the U.S., I would talk with them first. They really, really hit a home run with their first show. As a fighter and a fan, they really just did a great job as far as the production, the venue, and everything… and they just did a great job and it made it interesting enough for me to say, “I want to be part of this.” I believe within a few years, they will be able to sell out big arenas, they will be able to generate more fans, and not only in the state of Colorado, I mean nationwide. I think the promoters have a feel for what the fans want to see. I’ve been in contracts with the UFC, and if they are any version of the old contracts, they just are not viable, at least not for me anymore.
DM: What do you think about Wes Sims as an opponent? What danger does he present?
MK: Height. He’s 6’9″ and it’s more difficult for me to fight guys who are taller because I’m 6’1″ and I’m not the imposing 260-pound guy I used to be. I’m about 225 pounds now. The thing that I have in my favor is experience, and the one thing that Wes doesn’t have is as much experience, where I’m at with 25 or 30 fights… and that’s not to take anything away from him because he’s been working at this for five or six years now. He poses just as much threat as any fighter, and I don’t take any fighter lightly because the consequences of taking any fighter lightly is you get your ass kicked.
DM: Why the dramatic weight loss?
MK: It was in part personal and in part situational. I just got a divorce, and I spent nine months with attorneys and courtrooms, getting my parental rights and all this other stuff, and a lot of it was stress… and also, it’s hard to weigh 260 pounds. It’s a constant thing, working to train to stay there. This is an opportunity at the ACF to shed, not to forget, but to shed the image of “The Smashing Machine” and to create a new image. The new moniker for me is, “The One, The Only, The Original.”
DM: A win in this fight and a new start in the ACF… are you out to rebuild the name of Mark Kerr?
MK: It is, but it’s also about improving upon what’s already there. That’s the simplest way to say it. There is no way in the world I could duplicate The Smashing Machine. That’s why I have to start something new. It’s just my goal to improve upon what’s there and make it better.