(Mark Schultz vs. Gary Goodridge, UFC 9, 5/17/96)
For most old-school UFC fans, the name UFC 9: Motor City Madness conjures up bad memories of “the Dance in Detroit” — an excruciatingly boring 30-minute headlining match between Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn. (“Fans pelted the ring with garbage after Severn won a split decision in overtime.”) It wasn’t all Dan and Ken’s fault, though; due to a court ruling, fighters at UFC 9 were forbidden from using closed-fisted strikes — a rule that some of the participants broke without repercussions.
But while the UFC 9 main event was completely forgettable, one of its supporting bouts remains a part of combat-sports mythology: The unexpected appearance of Olympic gold medalist Mark Schultz, and his sole MMA fight against Gary Goodridge.
We’ve already told you about Schultz’s backstory — his incredible success in freestyle wrestling, his gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and the murder of his older brother Dave Schultz, which forms the basis for the upcoming movie Foxcatcher. So how did Mark wind up in the cage that night in May 1996?
Sometime after the UFC’s debut in 1993, Schultz became interested in the new sport and began studying jiu-jitsu under Pedro Sauer in Utah. By 1996, Schultz was working with Canadian UFC old-schooler Dave Beneteau, helping to prepare Beneteau for a slated bout against Gary Goodridge at UFC 9. Less than a month before the event, Beneteau broke his hand. Figuring he could compete despite the injury, Beneteau decided to train through it — but plans changed at the last minute. Here’s what happened, according to a profile on Schultz that was published after the event:
“[Beneteau] asked me to go to Detroit with him to be his personal corner man, or the guy to throw in the towel if necessary,” Schultz said.
“I went out there with the understanding that that’s what I was going to do. I didn’t take any work-out gear. All I brought was a suit and tie and one pair of shorts to do some training with some of the Brazilians that were going to be there.”
Immediately following a news conference that took place on the eve of the fight, Beneteau was looked over by a doctor and told that he would not be able to compete, Schultz said.
“After the doctor said that (Beneteau) was out of the tournament, everybody turned and looked at me,” he said. “So I went over to the head promoter…and told him that I was thinking about taking Dave’s place.”
The next step was to arrive at an agreement with promoters over details to be included in the last-minute contract, Schultz said.
“They called me at seven in the morning with an offer, requesting an answer, but I still needed time to think about it all,” he said. “I went over to a corner and sat down and I asked God what I should do. I felt that I had to do it — I knew I had to do it.”
“I walked back, signed the papers…had a physical, had an interview, went to the Octagon to feel the mat, then some guys went and bought all new equipment for me for the match,” he said. “Two hours later I was in the Octagon fighting.”
Simply stepping up for the fight was an incredibly badass move. But keep in mind, Schultz would be facing Gary Goodridge, who had nearly killed Paul Herrera just three months earlier. Despite his world-class pedigree, Schultz could have been another Fred Ettish, squashed on short notice, pushed into the Octagon before he was ready. Fortunately, Schultz rose to the challenge. Check out the complete fight video at the top of the post; the action begins at the 1:52 mark. Some highlights…
- Schultz tries a few Royce Gracie-style drifting front kicks to close distance, which get zero reaction from Big Daddy. Between Schultz’s lack of a striking background and the weird rule about no punching, it’s clear that he doesn’t really know what to do with his hands. But at the video’s 2:28 mark, Schultz shoots in, immediately dumps Goodridge on his back, and now it’s a wrestling match.
- At the 4:14 mark, Schultz finally pulls out of the headlock that Goodridge held him in from the moment they hit the canvas. Wisely, Goodridge locks Schultz down, while Schultz fires some short punches into Gary’s ribs, ditching the no-closed-fist rule. In the modern era, this stalemate would eventually provoke a standup from the ref. But Big John lets them fight through it.
- Around 6:39, we see that Goodridge is cut near his right eye, although it’s not clear what opened him up.
- Big John finally stands them up at 7:44. At 7:50, Goodridge’s cornerman sprays an unidentified substance into his mouth. Nobody says a word about it. Gotta love the ’90s.
- Schultz scores another effortless takedown at 8:16. Again, Goodridge does his best to lock Schultz down and cause another standup. Eventually, Schultz breaks his arms free and starts landing some punches. But just as he’s picking up some momentum, Big John stops the action to have Goodridge’s cut looked at. At 11:23, the fight is restarted on the feet — a lucky break for Goodridge.
- At 11:31, Goodridge throws what might be the first oblique kick in UFC history. Schultz responds with a slow inside leg kick, then actually throws a lead hook — and that’s about as much standup fighting as he’ll show us tonight. Schultz goes back to his bread-and-butter, securing another takedown then finding spots to sneak his fists in.
- Goodridge tries to set up a clever ankle-lock at 13:41, but loses it, and Schultz is back to grinding him out. Blood starts to accumulate underneath the fighters. It’s getting ugly now.
- At 14:46, Schultz postures up in mount, and starts slugging. Only a few of the shots land cleanly, but remember, this is a bare-knuckle fight. Goodridge is getting torn up. Goodridge spits out his mouthpiece. Schultz covers Goodridge’s mouth with his hand.
- Another barrage of punches from Schultz at 15:09. Schultz looks for an armlock as time runs out in the 12-minute regulation period of the fight. The fighters go back to their corners. A photographer drifts into the Octagon, thinking the match is over, but actually the fight is supposed to enter a three-minute overtime at this point.
- At 16:22, Dave Beneteau and the crowd start cheering at something the commentators aren’t aware of yet — that the fight has been stopped by the doctors due to Goodridge’s cut. “IT’S OVER,” Big John barks at Goodridge, who doesn’t want to hear it. Mark Schultz wins.
Mark Schultz called the victory “the most significant achievement of my life,” and yet he never set foot in the Octagon ever again. Two months later, Mark Coleman won the eight-man tournament at UFC 10, and became the standard-bearer for hulking American wrestlers in the Octagon; Mark Kerr and Randy Couture would make their own UFC debuts in 1997.
But what would have happened if Schultz stuck around and made a career out of it? His physical talents were unparalleled, and he had already spent a couple years learning jiu-jitsu, trying to become a complete fighter. Guys like Coleman and Couture could have been mere footnotes in the hypothetical story of Mark Schultz, First Heavyweight Champion of the UFC.
Instead, Schultz went back to coaching wrestling at Brigham Young University, unsure that being a professional fighter would give him the kind of financial security he needed. “I had three kids and no health insurance,” Schultz said. “I could have gone to the UFC, but the money wasn’t great.”
As it turned out, civilian life has been anything but secure for Mark Schultz. He has battled back problems, a nasty staph infection that almost claimed his arm in 1999, a divorce and subsequent child-custody dispute, and a controversial 2003 fight against Leopoldo Montenegro in Brazil, in which a pro wrestling match became a real fight at the last minute. (You can read the whole sordid story here.) As of 2008, Schultz was working at a masonry contracting company in Denver, far from the spotlight, decades removed from his career peak as the best wrestler in the world.
Until this year, the story of Mark Schultz had been virtually forgotten in the American consciousness. Now, a dark chapter of his life is being adapted into a Channing Tatum movie. Maybe it’s not exactly the way he’d like to be remembered. Then again, if there’s anybody who deserves his own movie, it’s Mark Schultz.