5 Hard Lessons From The Downfall Of MMA Pioneer Mark Kerr

Today’s article is something I’ve never done before on this site: it’s a film review-and more accurately, the lessons that can be learned from this film. The Smashing Machine is a documentary about a specific person, a person that is very well known to old-school Mixed Martial Arts fans. For the other 90% of the readers, allow me to introduce you to Mark Kerr (he’s the featured image), two-time UFC champion and, for the majority of the Clinton years, probably the most terrifying human being on the planet.

A former collegiate wrestler, Mark Kerr entered the fledgling sport of MMA during it’s “outlaw” years, quickly establishing himself as a name fighting in both Brazil (winning the World Vale Tudo Championship ’97 with a broken hand, palm-striking his way to victory in a tournament where one of his opponents actually tried to run from the ring), the UAE (winning the Abu Dhabi Combat Championships gold medal thrice) and the USA (Winning the UFC 14 and 15 tournaments later that same year).

mark kerr 2

Within four years, Mark Kerr’s career and life would enter a precipitous downfall that he has not yet recovered from—his previously undefeated record quickly amassed 11 losses, and his Herculean physique quickly atrophied into what can only be described as a dad bod.

kerr dad bod

How could this negative change have occurred so quickly? The 2002 documentary The Smashing Machine elucidates, and provides “copybook heading” lessons for both the professional and amateur athlete, as well as men in general.

1. Fighting and competition can both create and destroy you

kerr win

The opening narration, from the subject of the documentary, offers immediate corroboration:

The second the bell rings, you can look at some guys and see they’re terrified…I developed the reaction to be angry at a punch, to want to get them back, instead of running away…when you feel a man wither away, it’s pretty powerful.

You start out having fun, having this animal instant take over. And then you’re left holding nothing-at that point, you ask me why I’m in it, and I didn’t know.

The film goes on to explain that fighting in vale tudo started out as a necessity for him. As a former collegiate wrestler, there wasn’t much employment available for his skill set. Having decided on this career path, Mark spends the weeks leading up to his debut (the Brazilian tournament) in a state of mild terror, before this anxiety melts away as soon as the bell rings, projecting itself onto his opponents.

I, of course, am not a professional fighter, nor have I ever been. But, having done a couple of amateur fights, a few unsanctioned fights, and many a spar, I can indeed confirm that this sort of emotional mixture is typical. No matter how many times you fight, you will be nervous before a fight that is “for real,” your amygdala and adrenaline glands will take over and produce a low burn of anger in the midst of the fight, and you will experience either a massive high or an abyssal low afterwards, depending on whether you won or lost. I can only imagine how amplified these effects would be in front of a crowd of 30,000 people.

The emotional turmoil of combat can catch many unprepared (I’ve personally seen people who win fights vomit afterwards, due to the sheer stress of it all), and this leads to the second lesson to be learned:

2. Emotional strength is just as useful as physical strength, if not more so

The documentary starts off with very stark, minimalist music, non-verbally telling you that this won’t be a very happy film. Indeed, a major theme of the film is Kerr’s emotional fragility, in marked contrast to his monstrous physical ability.

The term “emotionally fragile” should not be taken to mean “cowardice.” It should be reiterated that in his debut as a shootfighter, Mark Kerr won an eight-man tournament, beating three men in one night, the last of these in a 30 minute slog with a broken hand. These are plainly not the actions of a coward.

Oddly, it is only after this tournament that we begin to see cracks in his mighty facade: he admits that he starts to feel apprehension after recovering from his injury “…so to take the edge off, you take the shit you don’t want to do,” utilizing painkillers before matches to boost his pain tolerance. It’s worth pointing out that 1990s MMA had, essentially, no drug testing at all, and Kerr was hardly unique in this.

Arguably more damaging to his career than his fear of injury was his emotional neediness—early on, it is established that he is estranged from his family, and is emotionally supported only by his girlfriend Dawn: “If our relationship doesn’t exist… on some level, I don’t have any family.” But as the film goes on, it’s clear that their relationship is not so clean-cut.

3. Women can hurt you and distract you from your purpose

yelling woman

This is, of course, something that most of us on this web site are well aware of, but this documentary shows one of the purest examples of it occurring. In the 90 minute running time, we see Dawn admitting that they were out partying and using various controlled substances a week before a fight (which ultimately ended up being his first loss, later ruled a no-contest), before she essentially admits that her drug use is enabling her boyfriend.

Furthermore, later in the film she exposes her own jealousy and clinginess towards Mark: “He needs me bad, and now there’s a lot of influences in his life other than me, and it’ll require patience from me. Because I’m jealous at times…my biggest fear, now that he’s sober, is having him not love me anymore.”

Note that at no point in this talking head segment does she voice concern about her boyfriend who, let me remind you, is a drug-addicted emotional trainwreck who is also a professional fighter that, in his own words, needs the help: “I want somebody to be there with me, not at the high, but at the depression.”

Eventually, Mark breaks up with her after an incident where she holds a gun at him while slashing her arms with a razor, and tries to get back on the right track. But the road ahead of him is long.

4. Use drugs sparingly, and needles never

mark kerr 3

This one needs little explanation: This film shows plenty of the ill effects of drug use: potential overdose, exacerbation of mental issues, and eventual dad bod. While I admit I’m no pharmacologist—the hardest drug I’ve ever done was shrooms—it seems to me that injected drugs in general, and opiates in particular, will end up leading you to ruin in the long run. It certainly seems more likely that this hurt him more than the alcohol use he and Dawn are shown occasionally doing in the film’s run.

5. “The best laid schemes of mice and men”

It seems for a time that Mark is making a comeback: he has broken away from the toxic effects of his girlfriend, he’s gotten back into training seriously, and he appears ready for the Pride FC 2000 Grand Prix. Ultimately, he loses in the quarterfinals.

While I have always said that improvement can be made with effort, unfortunately, sometimes you can still fail due to some outside circumstances: in this case, exhausting himself against Kazuyuki Fujita and his Homer Simpson-esque skull. Bitterly humorous is the fact that the tournament does indeed serve as a redemption and comeback…but for somebody else, namely Kerr’s mentor and training partner Mark Coleman, who gets about 20 minutes of screen time and, essentially, serves as a foil to Kerr.

The last image of the film is of Kerr’s eyes, filled with anger and disappointment, before closing to black. A caption informs us that he and Dawn have gotten married. Since then, his former 11-0 record has become 15-11, last fighting in 2009.

No matter where you are in your physical training, from a total novice to a professional athlete, realize that, like the triumphant Roman would have whispered in his ear, you are mortal, and no matter how physically strong you are, your emotions, your thumos, can destroy you. While there are many ways to control your emotions, realizing the danger they represent is one of the most difficult conflicts any man can face.

The film featured in this article presents a man who is, frankly, more of a man than anybody reading this article, including myself, and who nonetheless lost that battle.

Read More: How Cinderella Shows The Harsh Realities Of The Sexual Marketplace

31 thoughts on “5 Hard Lessons From The Downfall Of MMA Pioneer Mark Kerr”

  1. What is it we say about women and goals? “The quest comes first”, or something?
    We all get the impulses that led to this downfall. The inquisitive mind seeks out new experiences (drugs, often enough). A lack of discipline leads to weakness in all things. And, most importantly, we cannot allow others to have power over our minds and souls.
    Thanks for the object lesson, Larsen.

  2. All acomplishments in the world, like winning sport competitions, getting rich or banging women, are nothing before the eyes of God. You can consider this MMA champion as “more of a man than anybody”, as i am sure people with a materialistic world view will do, agreeing with the writter of the article. But I feel someone who has devoted his life to the service of others and obeying the divine will, like priests and monks do, is probably far closer to God than the number one sportsman in the world. It is in these holy men on whom I think l should look for example to guide my path, rather than in some dude who managed to train himself into some unstoppable fighting machine. Some high profile entertainer who quietly retired from the show business at the peak of his fame to take care of his ill mother seems more admirable to me than this champion, even though the actor is weak and puny.
    My old karate teacher told us a story once. “In my village there was some dumb brute who could punch down a wall by sheer brutish, animalistic strenght. But that is no karate.” I think he was explaining to us there was more to what he was trying to teach us other than simple fightning skills and physical fitness, like discipline, self control, confidence in ourselves, and respect to others, even if they were our fighting opponents. I do think these are the most valuable things I learned from him, rather than breaking stuff with my fists or beating up people.

      1. True, god isn’t a god to judge people by their body or other fading achievements.
        Only the inner lasting self improvement that might come with it counts.

    1. The film featured in this article presents a man who is, frankly, more of a man than anybody reading this article…

      I too, disagree with this. His actions largely seem to be those of a madman rather than a brave man. Too often, we associate “bravery” with throwing yourself vainly against impossible odds. But sometimes, taking the intelligent path, the path some might say is “cowardly” is the true brave path. This is because some people fear being called a coward more than anything else.
      Fighting is something this man was good at, so fighting is not truly brave for him. It is easy for a fighter to fight. But in the battles that mattered, the ones raging within his heart and soul, it does not seem that he persevered.
      We can blame his wife. But really the ultimate responsibility rests with himself. He made the choices that led him to today’s situation.

      1. Yes, the real bravery comes in facing ugly truths about yourself and your own life situation, and having the courage to do the things for the necessary changes.
        He failed in that respect, and probably would have actually had a better fighting record if he had faced stuff. Fighting sounded like an escape from reality for him, rather than a grounding in it.

    2. But don’t be too devout, Mister No one important.
      As with everything there are two sides of the coin. As such also with pride.
      “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else,…”
      Galatians 6:4
      Proper pride comes from the labor of ones own hands. There is nothing wrong with pride that comes out of oneself. Pride is only pitiable and wrong when used to put others down.

    3. Wax on, Wax off.
      That’s what keeps bread on your table after the fights stop.
      Car detailing!
      The real occupation of the martial artist!

  3. Just looking at his “before” and “after” pictures, I guarantee you his steroid use was the number 1 reason for his downfall. All the psychological problems and the losses in fighting are a derivative of the destruction substance abuse caused on his natural metabolism.

    1. It’s very likely he used roids and then went off them. This explains the catabolism of muscle tissue. Another reason I choose to go natty. Once you go on you have to stay on, especially if your career revolves around you being on them. This is a taboo topic I hope ROK covers one day.

  4. Unfortunately, I can identify with Mr Kerr. It is true how a woman can keep you down, wether you’re a fighter or trying to learn a trade or trying to get a degree. In all cases, it takes a tremendous amount of effort and sacrifice in order to get long term benefits. But because they have been conditioned for instant gratification, most modern women would rather see you fail in order that you see to their every need. And by that, I mean, they would see you drop out of school, lose a pro match, get an other than honorable discharge from the military, or even risk going to jail, etc. Of course, assuming you actually marry one, they will incessantly nag you about anything, from not being able to pay mortgage or credit cards, to not being able to fix a car, to not being able to take her out for dinner, all the while, conveniently forgetting that it was due to HER actions that these problems came to being because of lack of patience. Of course, as men, we will face scrutiny, and rightly so. It is still our job to root this bad behavior out.

    1. Night and day between my current woman and ex-wife…you can guess which one supports my efforts to better myself and which one was absolutely disgusted and jealous of any time and effort not spent on her.
      Through the hell and highwater of her jealousy and spite, I got my degree, got my fantasy job, etc. all while supporting her dreams as well. I moved heaven and earth for her, and in return she wouldn’t move a finger for me. I come ahead all the wiser. I gained the money and self-respect back, but never the time. You can’t get time back, but maybe I can save other men from wasting their time through my testimony.

      1. Great comment. The time spent in vain trying to satisfy or “fix” a broken woman is time lost forever.

    2. And when you can’t do all those things due to the consequences of her distractions, she’ll dump you to parasite off another man and destroy him.

    3. Consider this about women. Women are the stronger sex. Of course men are physically stronger. But a woman can climb inside your mind and ride you like a horse, deciding where you go and which way you turn. And then when things go wrong, she can convince other men that you are the devil and then those men will burn you.
      A man’s greatest weakness is his belief that he is immune to the charms of women. But a small amount of time spent in the company of a beautiful woman, stuffing your ears with the sweets of flattery, will quickly disavow you of that notion.

    4. Ironic how they latch onto a successful man, like a barnacle, and then proceed to destroy the gravy train. As a business owner, I’ve noticed that they’re not attracted to business owners, unless the guy makes the excessive cash that she knows she’ll be accessing and without her shenanigans putting it at risk. A guy who’s making a decent living and working day to day to keep it going they’re not interested in.

  5. Looks like the typical case of a dude that could not get balance in his life. Too emotionally dependent to the wrong kind of woman.

  6. I’m going to recommend this article and subsequent comments as required reading for my 20-something year old sons.

    1. So it can tell them this loser MMA fighter is more of a man than them?
      Meat age. Go study the stoics

      1. No, you moron. So they know how destructive “oneitis” and pedestalizing women can be at a young age.

        1. If you think oneitis ruined this man, and not his shitty character, your children will have a hard life.
          A man is responsible for his character and actions, the women in his life is a small part of that.
          You’re not too masculine are you?

        2. How about he lived a destructive life, and blaming his retarded lifestyle on a poor choice in woman is the dumbest shit I’ve ever heard of. Besides your comment of course.

  7. Understanding and living your life for what it is — a long journey — is so important. As men, we should always strive for self improvement. And even when things go south, don’t let despair guide you into decisions that could cause damaging long term effects (like drugs, crippling addiction, etc).
    I’m only 31, but I’m old enough to know that sometimes you get tired and feel beaten down. Building mental and emotional strength will carry you a long way, and building a healthy network of friends/supporters will be essential when nothing seems to be going your way. With regard to that last point, I will say that when it comes to friends, quality trumps quantity. Two or three people you can call your brothers will do more for you than 100 acquaintances.

  8. I started with martial arts when I was 6 yo (father took me to first Taekwondo class). Now I’m 28. That’s solid 22 years of training (2 years less actually due to adventure in kayaking). And that’s a lot of guys I’ve met, specially in age between 17-25.
    In where I live, and that’s East Bloc, great number of fighters and martial artists started because they didn’t have other choice. Life was too hard and they needed an exit, a place to let the anger out and to meet like-minded guys. They had to choose street life, or sport – because poverty stricken and distorted families were and still are quite common here. It’s no wonder that friendships I got on the mat are probably going to be life lasting.
    At one point, I was among them. After school I didn’t had the best qualifications, and good jobs I could have were dealt by nepotism and political connections. I was kind of broke and depressed. That was between age 20 and 23. If it wasn’t for support from the guys like me, coaches which understood us, and training every day, I would definitely go on the wrong path of alcohol, drugs, and God knows what not.
    At that time I won European championships and got my 2nd black belt. I was also much into Eastern philosophy and original Taekwondo tenets (check it out) and that helped a lot.
    I can surely say that training saved my life then.
    Later I got out of that shit (by moving out of my country) and I still train, but for better reasons now.
    This guys story hit home hard, because I know personality very well and I’ve been on very similar road.
    Aftermath is that after such a stormy period I’ve learned much about life, emotions, and myself, and also those three years were crown of my training – desperation is good motivator and it helped me build some outstanding skills and knowledge.
    In case some martial arts folk is interested – I am DAN graded in ITF Taekwondo, Korean Hapkido, Japanese Ninjutsu, and I have Korean certificate of special police self defense instructor in art of Teuk Gong Moo Sool. I’ve done 7 full contact K1 fights of which I won 5 (one knockout sent me to hospital) and I’ve won two local amateur boxing championships. 4 years ago I won European ITF championships and then I had to take it easier due to knee operation and I’ve largely substituted martial arts training with weight training.

    1. I like the traditional values you get from martial arts, and they cultivate a very positive masculine culture. It tends to bring out the best in the right people, and as a male gives you that infectious confidence that spreads into other areas of your psyche and life that need work.
      I remember overcoming my fear of heights on a climbing wall and the benefits lasted for months. I realized I loved climbing and in other areas of my life I really took the bull by the horns. Sometimes you just need that nuclear blast to shock you out of inaction and that soul sucking fear paralysis.
      Sounds like the various martial arts disciplines you have undertaken gave you a discipline and a real grounding in life, and kept you away from the usual mistakes of youth. And most importantly you took from them what Mark Kerr didn’t and should of.

  9. I just watched “Choke” the documentary on Rickson Gracie training for and fighting in Vale Tudo. Really good insight into the early days of MMA. There is a guy who had the right mindset and support of both a woman and family.

  10. Women are capable of destroying everything and everyone with their lies and false promises. No exceptions. Lead women, never rely on them.

  11. “More man than any of us”
    Who writes this fucking garbage?
    Hey author, go fuck yourself you spineless nerd.
    Takes a little more than winning fights to be counted a man.
    Who let’s garbage like this on here?

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