UFC freakshow hits mainstream

Skyskrape, left and Mask, right of Tapout. (SLAM! Sports/Jose Rodriguez)

Skyskrape, left and Mask, right of Tapout. (SLAM! Sports/Jose Rodriguez)

, Last Updated: 12:23 AM ET

LAS VEGAS — As much a staple of the Ultimate Fighting Championship as the eight-sided cage and bloody mats, the Tapout crew are out to prove they’re more than the ugly cheerleaders of mixed-martial-arts.

Armed with their trademark freak show look and a film crew, the California trio hopes to transform unknown fighters into mainstream stars.

"This is the same thing we’ve been doing for the past ten years, only now there are cameras following us around," says Mask, the unofficial leader and the loudest of the three.

The formula for the show, which airs in Canada Fridays on Showcase Action, is simple and one that is custom-made for both veteran fight fans and newcomers to the sport.

The trio hits the road in a pimped-out tour bus collecting virtual unknowns from some of the world’s top fight camps and bringing them to their first professional scrap.

In one episode, they take a fighter from Greg Jackson’s camp in New Mexico. Jackson was the man who trained Canadian Georges St. Pierre for his victory over Josh Koscheck and has helped sculpt such fighters as Diego ‘Nightmare’ Sanchez, Keith Jardine and Rashad Evans.

In another show, they visit Chuck Liddell’s camp and highlight trainer John Hackleman’s extreme wilderness training facility.

Each show ends with the prospect’s first professional fight.

In between comic relief from Mask and Skyskrape and business-like levity from Punkass, the serious one in the crew, viewers get a glimpse of fighters complete with all their unfiltered flaws.

One scrapper they pick up from the American Kickboxing Academy — home to Koscheck, John Fitch and Mike Swick — is homeless fighter Matt Major, who lives upstairs in one of the gym offices. Among his many head-scratching quirks, Major refuses to travel without his George Foreman grill.

The show also gives viewers a glimpse at the punishing practice of cutting weight before a fight or refraining from alcohol at packed party at Liddell’s mansion.

Aside from being arguably the top producers of fight clothing, Tapout is also one of the sport’s biggest sponsors. Their logo adorns the trunks of big name scrappers such as Matt Hughes and Rich Franklin.

But despite their new-found fame, the Tapout trio say they have remained true to the roots that first drew them to mixed-martial arts.

Mask and Skyskrape met 10 years ago running from the cops who had just broken up and underground cagematch while the sport was still illegal in California.

"People always say, ‘You really hooked on to something early,’" says Mask.

"Truth is, when everybody else wanted nothing to do with this, we were there. So it’s like everyone else has changed."

Mask admits the explosion of the UFC and mixed-martial arts in general has boosted his company to heights he never dreamed of.

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

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

jose.rodriguez@sunmedia.ca

FIGHT NOTES:

o Renato ‘Babalu’ Sobral may have won the fight but he lost his job. UFC President Dana White told a media conference call this week Sobral has been cut from his contract for refusing to break a chokehold on David Heath during their UFC 74 fight in Vegas last week. Sobral applied an anaconda choke on Heath and refused to let go even after the fighter tapped out rendering Heath unconscious.

o The more the merrier. BodogFight has secured a TV deal in Canada that will see the fight club’s bouts televised on The Score. Their first show is Tuesday.

o The master and the apprentice are parting ways. Matt Hughes is leaving long-time mentor Pat Miletich reports The Fight Network. Hughes will open his own gym close to his Illinois farm where he plans to train his own stable of fighters.

For the latest in mixed-martial-arts news log on to The Scrapyard blog at canoe.ca.


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