Mask will be missed

JOSE RODRIGUEZ

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

It's nearly impossible to take in a mixed-martial arts event -- large or small -- without seeing Charles Lewis' trademark stamp.

The improbable business magnate, who turned his passion for extreme fighting and extreme fashion into a multi-million-dollar empire, died early Wednesday after his Ferrari Modena was split in half in a collision with a hydro pole. Lewis was 45.

The driver of a Porsche travelling alongside Lewis has been arrested in Newport Beach, Calif., on suspicion of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

Lewis, called Mask by fans and friends, was part of the trio that made TapouT a cage staple.

With partners Punkass and Skyskrape, Mask oversaw an empire ranging from T-shirts to fight gear.

In the past five years, their fashion made the profitable jump from the cage to the malls and halls of North America.

In an interview with Sun Media to mark the launch of the TapouT reality show in August 2007, Mask explained his good fortune.

"People always say, 'You really hooked on to something early.' Truth is, when everybody else wanted nothing to do with (MMA), we were there. So it's like everyone else has changed."

Mask and Skyskrape met more than a dozen years ago, running from the cops who had broken up an underground cage match while the sport was still illegal in California.

Along with friend Punkass, the trio sold T-shirts out of the trunks of their cars on the West Coast while MMA was in its infancy.

AS POPULAR AS FIGHTERS

Mask, known for his facepaint and fatigues, saw his fortunes change when the sport caught on with the masses.

Mask and his business partners were cage-side regulars and their distinctive logo adorns the trunks of such MMA royalty as Anderson Silva, Matt Hughes, Chuck Liddell and Rich Franklin.

The TapouT stars are as popular as big-name fighters, with fans lining up for autographs and photos.

Mask always claimed the care-free, party persona depicted in ads and reality TV wasn't a far cry from the trio's everyday lives.

Mask's cunning marketing helped get his T-shirts and hoodies into more than 20,000 outlets across the planet and last year grossed more than $100 million. All the while he claimed to be living a dream.

"Right now, we're on a rocket ship that's just passing the clouds on the way to Pluto," he said.

"When this becomes the Super Bowl, we'll be the water boys on the bench."

With Lewis' passing, MMA has lost one of its pioneer ambassadors and its most colourful cheerleader.

JOSE.RODRIGUEZ@SUNMEDIA.CA


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