Call him The Specimen or The Smashing Machine, if the shoes fits and it fitted Mark Kerr perfectly. We weren’t too far away from the Gracie’s proving that size didn’t matter but a few people were starting to show that if you had the skills, size could sure help. I’m talking about people like Coleman and people like Kerr. Mark Kerr was 6ft1 280lbs of solid muscle, he looked like he could lift a house.
As well as being muscular and strong the guy had credentials. NCAA Division 1 champion in 1992 beating Randy Couture in the finals. USA senior freestyle champion in 1994. He had lost in the Olympic trials to Kurt Angle the year Kurt went on to win gold. A real world class wrestler.
Soon after the end of his wrestling run he hooked up with a dodgy mma manager who masqueraded as a man of God, Richard Hamilton. Hamiltons main objective at this point seemed to be to find guys who could kick the shit out of Don Frye for him due to past business dealings. Big, strong wrestlers, Kerr fitted the bill perfectly.
Mark Kerr made his fighting debut in 1997 at the World Vale Tudo Championships 3 in Brazil. Bare knuckle No Holds Barred. Some event to jump right into. His first fight was against 6’7 340lb Paul Varelans. Of course Varelans wasn’t the most skilled fighter, in fact he was basically just a big guy but he had had a bit of experience by this point. Fight didn’t last long, Kerr got a big takedown then just pounded the shit out of Varelans. It was brutal, you could hear Kerrs knees thudding on the other mans skull and you could feel the impact through the screen. Varelans was defenseless and actually screamed out in pain. Mercifully the referee stopped it after about 2 minutes. It was an impressive debut to say the least. The second fight was over quickly as well. After being taking down and pounded a bit, the opponent Mestre Hulk, thought fuck this and crawled out of the ring and refused to get back in. Winner by disqualification Mark Kerr.
The finals would have Kerr facing Fabio Gurgel. Gurgel was a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu world champion and was well respected. Around this time the once invincible aura of BJJ was begining to crack so there was a little bit of pressure on Gurgel but unfortunately for him Kerr had about 60lbs on him and he knew how to use it. Same story, Mark used his wrestling, his fists, his knees, his head. Reportedly Kerr had a broken hand but still credit to Fabio Gurgel for hanging in there. After the 15 minute first round there was supposed to be an overtime round but the judges this time showed mercy and awarded the fight to Kerr by decision.
And with that the world of what would soon become Mixed Martial Arts was introduced to Mark Kerr.
Next the call came from the UFC. Mark would fight in the heavyweight tournaments in both UFC 14 and 15. He won both with ridiculous ease absolutely smoking four men barely breaking a sweat. The reputation of The Smashing Machine only grew.
After the success of the first Pride Fighting Championship in 1997, the best in the world saw the money that was quickly becoming available in Japan and as usual most people follow the money. Kerr made his Pride debut in the second event, in 1998 and he continued where he left off winning four straight, but let’s face it the competition was less than stellar. Branco Cikitic, a world class kick boxer who knew nothing about mma, got disqualified because he wouldn’t let go of the ropes. Pedro Octavio, had a name in Brazil and screamed like a girl when Kerr put him in a kimura then protested the stoppage, was pretty funny actually. Hugo Duarte was another big name in Brazil who never really showed it anywhere else, again here he just didn’t seem to want to fight like at all. And of course Nobuhiko Takada, Japanese superstar who could fight worth a shit (has a ‘win’ over Mark Coleman though but that’s a story for another day). The first real test of Mark Kerr’s fight career came against Igor Vovchanchyn. At the time this was seen as a fight between the two best heavyweights in the world. It was actually a fairly decent fight and competitive, unusual for a Kerr fight. Mark thought about testing his striking till Igor caught his leg and put him on his ass with a right hand, Kerr looked like he thought ‘wow’ and immediately went back to his takedown game. He would get takedown, Igor would manage to struggle back to his feet and land a couple punches and Kerr would take him down again. The ending was controversial. For some reason there was no knees to the head of a downed opponent allowed. So second round there’s a scramble and Kerr ends up on his knees and Vovchanchyn slams him with a knee to the face and a few to the top of the head. Now to me the referee separates them to give Igor a warning but Kerr collapses apparantly knocked out. At this point the referee says fight over Vovchanchyn wins. At this point Kerr makes a miraculous recovery to protest the decision. A miracle right? To my mind Kerr was faking injury hoping Igor got disqualified but it backfired. The fight would be later changed to a no contest. Was also funny watching Kerr backstage protesting to Master Ishi of K1 who had nothing to do with Pride. Kerr had got him confused with Sakakibara.
To me this was the beginning of the end for Mark. Although he won his next fight with Enson Inoue in the Pride GP, which he was still one of the favorites to win. In the second round he faced Fujita and in the middle of the fight he just stopped fighting for some reason, he later said his body froze on him, he couldn’t get up. Maybe the first sign that something was wrong, very wrong.
Mark Kerr’s career nosedived, out of his next 13 fights he won 3 including a loss to Vovchanchyn in the rematch and knocking himself unconscious performing a takedown in another fight. It was sad to watch at times and I’m pretty sure that towards the end he knew he would be beat and just turned up for the pay.
At the same time he was dominating MMA he was also an absolute beast in submission grappling winning three gold medals in ADCC and several super fights beating the likes of Rico Rodriguez, Mario Sperry, Josh Barnett and Rigan Machado.
In 2003 The Smashing Machine documentary came out and it was so candid, all of Kerr’s problems were presented to the public. If you ain’t seen the film please do, one of the best mma documentaries out there. Turns out Mark had a serious opiate addiction and had for a long while seemingly. The guy deserves so much credit for having the guts to be open about it also chronicles his bad relationship with his ex wife Dawn. The guy didn’t have it easy and it seems that it all caught up with him at that time. From such great heights to fall so far.
One of the craziest things about Kerr is that for all his success, WVC tournament champion, 2 x UFC tournament champion, NCAA division 1 champion, considered the best fighter in the world, 3 x ADCC gold medal winner…..we still ask what if? Still consider his potential unfulfilled. He was the best wrestler to have entered mma at that point, better than Coleman. He was just as strong but more agile and more well rounded. OK so the opposition maybe wasn’t so good but you can only fight who is in front of you and he did it so impressively. I suppose another way of looking at it is that some say the drugs ruined his career and of course they did but also the could have helped. Mark didn’t have the stomach for fighting, he liked competition but didn’t like hurting people and suffered from anxiety before fights so maybe the opiates helped numb him. So how good could he have been? We will never know but it was fucking fun while it lasted.
Apparantly Mark is doing better these days still living with Dawn and their son in a two bedroom apartment. Let’s hope the guy can keep it together and find a place in the sport.
His Twitter is @tsmkerr
Kerr vs Varelans
World Vale Tudo Championship 3
The Smashing Machine documentary