On 11 March 2009, after midnight, Charles ‘Mask’ Lewis was heading home from the gym when his Ferrari was struck by a drunk driver, sending it into a fatal spin.
Mask began with an idea, a car full of t-shirts, and the greatest friend and partner conceivable, Dan ‘Punkass’ Caldwell. Mask slept on couches and lived on hope, and when he made a little money, he sponsored fighters, with every dollar. I know this as a fact.br />
Sponsoring fighters exhausted all extra funds, leaving Mask still with an idea, a car full of t-shirts, and with the addition of Skyskrape, two men who shared a vision that eventually came to represent the world’s greatest sport. Like so much else, countless companies followed their lead, and those modest sponsorships eventually grew into a phenomenon that today roughly doubles the fighter’s purse in our sport.
To understand Mask’s inspiration, turn to the master of magical realism, Noble Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who wrote in his breakout novel 100 Years of Solitude:
“At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.”
Mixed Martial Arts too was once as young, so recent that many things lacked names. But in order to recognize them, it was not necessary to point; what was necessary was TapouT. In Mask’s words:
“There was nothing that you could put on in that day that meant what we were feeling like. Mixed Martial Arts and fighting didn’t have any identity. You couldn’t put on a uniform and feel the way we felt in the gym. So, just as a need to identify what I was feeling on the inside of myself, I came up with a T-shirt.”
In 1999 the business grossed $29,000, leaving the pioneer of the entire MMA sportswear business an actual hundredaire. By 2008, Punkass and Mask had kindly clawed their way to success only they alone could imagine. The company was a madhouse-hold name with its own raucous television show, could be purchased in over 20,000 retail stores worldwide, and grossed a staggering $100,000,000. Their sights set once again higher than others can see, to not just double revenue, but to reach a billion dollars, or more.
Mask is dead and will be mourned forever and ever.
But when you love this sport, you honor Mask. You honor Mask when you train your heart out in the gym, and understand better than any scholar what Shakespeare meant when he wrote “For he to-day that sheds his blood with me, Shall be my brother.” When this sport fills you with a feeling like no other, you may not have a word for it, but there is one – TapouT.
Believe is not a word, it was this man’s life. If you have a vision, believe it. Believe in yourself. Believe in the feeling this sport gives us. They say if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. I don’t know about that, but if you believe, believe in your highest hopes, believe in yourself, believe in all that this sport offers, then you will make an angel laugh with you.
Charles ‘Mask’ Lewis 1964-2009
Rest the way you lived, Inyaface