Many of you will know that I train Brazilian jiu jitsu, and have done for some time now. I first became interested in BJJ, like many others, when I saw Royce Gracie’s dominating performances in the original UFC tournaments many years ago. A guy weighing 170lbs was able to defeat much heavier opponents by using joint locks and chokes instead of strikes. This was something that I could see myself enjoying, and so I took up BJJ.
Back then mixed martial arts, or MMA as it’s known, wasn’t super popular. In fact the sport was only just being invented, as various fighters began training across multiple disciplines, mixing strikes, wrestling and submission grappling to become a complete, rounded fighter. From the beginning, the TapouT brand has been associated with MMA, and I’d argue it’s become the defining brand, in the same way as Intel, Oakley and Coca-Cola each define their product space.
The three personalities behind TapouT were Charles “Mask” Lewis, Jr., Dan “Punkass” Caldwell and their tall friend Tim “SkySkrape” Katz. What’s with the nicknames you ask? That’s part of their catch, or gimmick, and it works pretty well. They each have larger-than-life characters that they play up to, and it’s given their business a highly appropriate public face. In March 2009, Mask was tragically killed in a car accident. The MMA world was full of grief, and the genuine friendships that Dan and Tim shared with Charles were exposed and explored for all to see. I was personally upset at the news, even though I’d never met Charles. At the recent MMA Awards, both Dan and Tim were still visibly moved when accepting awards on behalf of Mask and TapouT. They were a family, in all sense of the word.
As with all brands, when MMA hit the mainstream a few years ago, TapouT exploded. I started to see t-shirts popping up in day-to-day life; people in pubs or guys in the city – I even saw a bogan mum with TapouT head-to-toe the other day. It’s no longer a niche brand for those “in the know.” As with MMA, the brand is appealing to a large range of people now, and that’s not always a good thing. My fear is that MMA will become too popular and we’ll start to see the rules modified in ways that create a more exciting experience for the fans. What do I mean? More average people are watching MMA, and they want to see people slugging it out rather than rolling around on the floor. These kinds of people don’t necessarily understand the nuances of MMA and just want to see some fights, some blood and some knock outs. Check the footage of the crowd at any UFC event and you’ll see more blood-thirsty morons than ever before. And most of them are wearing a TapouT shirt.
Now that you’ve got some background, I can focus on my initial point – what drove me, personally, to buy a TapouT shirt. I don’t want to be associated with this meat-head culture, that’s for sure, so why dress like them?
There’s a few reasons, the first being that I feel like I have a better understanding of the TapouT company, including their intentions and influences, than the average person. I have watched a few TV series that the guys did where they highlight an up-and-coming fighter, and follow them through the preparation for their fight. In numerous cases, the humanity and genuine good will that Charles and the other guys showed was heart-warming. I hear the critics and cynics out there saying that they were just presenting a face for their show, and whilst that’s true to some degree, I never felt that it was manufactured. Often they’d genuinely help fighters, providing motivation, support, or even paying their rent in some cases. TapouT cares about MMA, because they were there at the birth. I admire that.
Secondly, I can relate to the almost whimsical approach the three friends had towards their business. Being a partner in a small business, I know how hard it can be to stay true to yourself, and not bend to other people’s expectations. The TapouT crew are eccentric, no doubt, and that’s hard to maintain when you’re running a business.
When people see me wearing a TapouT shirt, I want them to know the real reasons that I admire and respect the company. I want them to know that I am supporting, in my very small and own way, Mask’s legacy and his memory. I hate to sound like the guy that was “into the band before they were mainstream”; that’s not my intention. I want people to know that I’m supporting a brand because it supports a sport I love.
That probably won’t happen, and people will probably presume I’m just another meat-head who likes watching people get beaten up, but I can hope. Does this make sense, or do I just sound like an elitist?