The lost urns of Tapout’s Charles ‘Mask’ Lewis

April 20, 2020

Sports collecting has always been in my blood.  As a kid I chased down any and every lead. When I heard another kid had some old baseball or football cards, I was on the hunt.  I made flyers, business cards and really promoted myself. The only problem was I didn’t have any money.  Nonetheless, I would simply sell things when I found better things and it just took off from there.  I then started buying and selling in sports shows at the malls and soon local collectors started noticing me. I did this for many years and have amassed quite a collection of baseball, football and hockey memorabilia.  From game used baseball bats to vintage game worn jerseys to even a 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie, but that’s a different story, I have had it all.  

Around 1994 I started watching the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).  My friends and I would have small fight parties and we would watch these absolute masterpieces with awe.  In our spare time we would call “information” and retrieve some of the fighters’ personal home phone numbers.  In those days it was just a quick call.  If you knew where they were from you could get their phone numbers.  Dan “The Beast” Severn, David “Tank” Abbott, Guy Mezger – you name it, we tried calling them — on most occasions they would actually give us a few moments of their time.

It wasn’t until around 2010 that I started noticing MMA memorabilia starting to take off.  I joined some forums, found some collectors looking to sell and started buying.  My first big purchase was Tank Abbott’s Ultimate Ultimate 95 fight worn Tiger Asic shoes. They were given to one of his training partners and later sold to the guy I bought them from.  I then bought the cape Scott Ferrozzo wore into the Octagon during UFC 8, Mark Colemans UFC 10 gloves, and it spiraled to Matt Hughes UFC 34 Championship gloves, Pride trophies, belts, posters, programs, clothing, credentials, canvas’s, banners, fight worn shorts, fight worn shoes, fight worn gloves and pretty much anything cool that had to do with MMA.

I put my other sport obsessions aside and went full steam ahead with MMA and loved it.  With MMA you could still buy big named items like Chuck Liddell’s fight worn shorts for cheap in comparison to buying a Babe Ruth jersey.  Chuck, in my opinion, is the Babe Ruth of MMA and his fight used gear will eventually be worth a fortune.  I was also able to buy fight worn shorts, gloves and shoes used by Tito Ortiz, Ken Shamrock, Mark Coleman and Fedor Emelianenko, just to name a few.  One of my favorite pieces is Mark Coleman’s shoes from when he won Pride 2000 and have recently obtained the fight worn shorts.

Finding Mask’s memorabilia

During December of 2018, while memorabilia searching online I came across an ad by a seller claiming to have Charles “MASK” Lewis memorabilia.  Mask was the colorful co-owner of Tapout.  In the late 90’s/early 2000’s, Tapout was the biggest name in MMA clothing.  They were sponsoring fighters, setting up booths at every event, sponsored a UFC award for the “TapouT of the Night”, and eventually had their own TV show.  Not bad for a bunch of guys that started selling T-shirts out of the trunk of their car and sleeping anywhere they could because they couldn’t afford motel rooms while chasing their dream and the UFC. It led to a company worth a ton of money, well deserved for all of the hard work these guys put into it. The tragic death of Mask in the winter of 2009 led to the demise of Tapout as we knew them in the MMA world.

Tapout Founder Charles ‘Mask’ Lewis killed in overnight car crash

Getting back to the ad, I was intrigued.  It stated the guy was selling a coat and hat that was indeed owned and worn by Charles “Mask” Lewis of Tapout. I gave the guy a call.  It turned out it was the uncle of the seller that posted the ad and he directed me to the actual seller.  A few texts later I was finally in touch with the seller and got the information I was looking for to prove the authenticity of what he was selling.

He claimed to have purchased a storage unit in California through auction and found all of these items in it.  I had him send me more photos of the contents of the storage unit and was very shocked to see eight little urns with the words “Tapout” across the top and “MASK” down the front along with death records and funeral arrangement paperwork for Charles.  I did some research and found these to actually be small urns that had been made by Skrape, co-owner of Tapout to be given to Mask’s closest friends at his memorial service.  I was also shown old news articles about a lawsuit filed by Mask’s sister against the co-owners of Tapout regarding Masks ashes. It seems Skrape had to give up these 8 urns to the courts and no one had seen them since, until now.

I reached out to a couple different people close to Mask to authenticate the coat and hat.  It is pretty much standard protocol for me to clearly authenticate my memorabilia in cases such as this.  Conversations, texts, and emails led me to mentioning the urns and it brought great surprise to everyone who was told of them.  Everyone wanted them and I started getting more texts and calls from people claiming to be Masks friends and family.  I was even told by one guy that (UFC President) Dana White would want them and I should contact him, apparently Dana was also very close to Mask.  Well, I don’t know how to contact Dana White and I’m sure there are people much closer to Mask than Dana White deserving of them.  I found out he has two children and he was very close to his former co-owners of Tapout, Tim “Skrape” Katz and Dan “Punkass” Caldwell.

Matt Hughes - Skrape - Charles Mask Lewis - Tapout

Who was Charles “Mask” Lewis, Jr.?

These urns have inspired me to research the man behind the Mask, Charles Lewis, Jr. I was surprised to learn he was a marine, former sheriff’s deputy, and star athlete at San Bernardino, Calif.  Mask, the father of two young children had touched many people with his positive nature and outlook on life.  He also dealt with his own personal struggles. It seems his escape from those struggles was the character he created when he put on the makeup.  When he became Mask he was a different person, he could be someone else.  He no longer had to be the shy kid from a broken home or the athlete pressured to constantly improve.  He could just be “Mask” and that was whatever he wanted Mask to be.  Mask was larger than life. In fact, Mask is the first non-fighter to be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.  His name is also enshrined inside the UFC Octagon.  We could all agree, Mask was certainly a big deal and most likely had not thought that of himself.  People that achieve greatness don’t always feel it has been reached and they never find peace.

Skrape and Punkass at Charles Mask Lewis tribute WEC

I take this quest to find the proper recipients of these urns very seriously and cautiously.  I’m looking at it a couple different ways.  I, along with another collector, have aspirations of starting an MMA/NHB museum in the near future.  Are these urns something Mask would have wanted in a museum?  This would keep his memory alive and they would be displayed with the utmost respect, as they tell a story much bigger than MMA itself.  Are these sacred and beyond a museum needing to be returned to friends and family?  It is my understanding that 10 of these urns were made and Skrape and Punkass have the other two.  One thing I do know, something positive will come out of whatever I choose to do with the urns.  Mask influenced so many people in such a positive way that he is owed that, even in death. 

The Tapout Crew

R.I.P. Charles “Mask” Lewis
6/23/63 – 3/11/09

Ed Theisen is a preserver of MMA and combat sports memorabilia.  It is his goal, along with partner Charlie Smith, to open up the very first combat sports museum.

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