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The Smashing Machine

September 21, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

This post could also be called “The Netflix DVD that has been sitting on my desk for a fucking month.”  It’s not that I don’t want to watch this, it’s just that I don’t often have 90 minutes to sit down and watch a documentary.  I’d rather use that time doing a write-up for the UFC or PRIDE, but here we are.  I’m not sure what this post is going to be, but I just plan on watching The Smashing Machine and writing – kind of like I do with everything on this site.

Basically, this documentary is fucked up because Mark Kerr is fucked up.  Here we have a man who has put his body through years of torture through wrestling, mixed martial arts, injuries, and steroid abuse.  And it’s not just these things that make Kerr an interesting figure, but that he also seems like a very smart and respectful guy.  The voice coming out of the man just doesn’t fit his vessel, but that’s part of the reason why this is such a compelling piece.

This is the man who was so nervous prior to his first ever MMA fight that he couldn’t even keep down a small glass of water.  Of course, then they show the footage of Kerr absolutely pummeling Paul Varelans, Mestre Hulk, and Fabio Gurgel in his very first MMA tournament.  These three fights are perhaps the scariest fights I’ve ever seen Mark Kerr compete in.  My God, he is absolutely terrifying.

This is the man who is shown injecting his own anabolic steroids in the bathroom of his Arizona home before leaving to fight Igor Vovchanchyn in Japan.  Whose initial time in Japan consists of being paid with a large envelope of American money while discussing his contract with men who seem to barely speak English.  I like that we get a closer look at PRIDE and Japanese MMA as a whole, since we see some of how business is done in Japan.  We get to see some footage of the fighters’ meeting prior to this event, where the rules are discussed and questioned by the fighters and their representatives.

The Vovchanchyn fight is notable not because of Kerr’s girlfriend Dawn constantly cheering in his corner, but because this appeared to be Kerr’s first loss in MMA.  Kerr immediately complains to the referee once the fight is completed and only later would the result be changed to a no contest.  Kerr stops to complain to the promoter before he breaks down crying in his locker room.  Dawn interestingly notes that she expected a loss, since Kerr had hardly been training and was partying mere weeks before this fight.

Kerr describes after the fight the kind of high he gets from fighting and he sounds ready to jump out of his own skin.  He sounds so jumpy and amped up at this point that it’s very scary.  Kerr and Vovchancyn get a chance to talk in the post-fight press conference and exchange pleasantries, trading stories of their battle scars from the contest.  Kerr also unsuccessfully tries to score some narcotics or opiates from the event doctor, as he doesn’t have the necessary “certification.”

Drugs play a very important part in this film, as that’s one of Kerr’s primary struggle in his fighting career.  After his return from Japan, Dawn tells Mark that the only way she would ever leave him is if he didn’t stop taking drugs.  Kerr sounds willing, but doesn’t sound able to stop since he “loses control” of his body more and more each month.  Certainly not the mark of a man who can live without his various narcotic indulgences.

Flash forward to October 1999, where Kerr has been admitted to the hospital on the verge of death due to a drug overdose.  Dawn explains that Kerr can’t stay awake for longer than 30 seconds at a time and the doctor’s don’t know if he’ll pull through.  Some of Mark’s friends come by the hospital when he’s doing better and do their best to get him off the drugs as he starts sobbing once again.  Once home, Kerr gathers up all of his drugs and drug paraphernalia, which all fits into a very large shopping bag, before leaving it in a dumpster.

In one of my favorite lines from the movie, Mark Coleman reveals that he had to learn other skills once headbutts were outlawed.  It’s certainly not a good sign when the banning of headbutts forces a man to change his gameplan so drastically.  Coleman still manages to be successful in his return to Japan against Ricardo Morais, a 6’8″ Brazilian fighter nicknamed “The Mutant” who look like the lovechild of Alistair Overeem and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

Kerr, meanwhile, halts his fighting career to enter rehab as Coleman goes through his fight for PRIDE.  Dawn is shown to be a great influence on Kerr, drinking quite consistently starting around noon.  Dawn has broken promises to stop drinking around Mark, who feels uncomfortable with the fighting in their relationship and sees fit to call it quits.

When Kerr returns to PRIDE, he spends much of his time apologizing from his previous withdrawal due to rehab, explaining that he had some kind of allergic reaction.  Kerr will be facing Enson Inoue in the round of 16 in PRIDE’s 2000 Openweight Grand Prix.  Kerr calls on an old friend to help him get ready for his next fight.

Who else but “El Guapo” Bas Rutten?  Bas says that Kerr is the first wrestler he’s seen that has branched out to expand his skills into striking and submissions.  Bas says that Kerr’s had some problems from carrying around too much weight and that PRIDE’s rule changes have made Kerr more ineffective since he can no longer knee on the ground.

Kerr looks much leaner in his fight with Inoue, though he’s still frighteningly sized.  I guess it goes to show how gassed out of his mind Kerr was in his prior contests.  Kerr ends up defeating Inoue by decision and is overjoyed once the fight is complete.  Coleman and Kerr both advance to the quarterfinals of this Openweight Grand Prix and Kerr says that he’d have no choice but to fight his friend with $200,000 on the line in this tournament.

Kerr seems to be working on his relationship with Dawn, which Bas thinks is a bad idea given how volatile their relationship seems to be.  Kerr halts his training early to go traveling with his girlfriend while Coleman continues his own training at Ohio State University in Columbus.  Kerr also seems to have picked up his drinking prior to this fight, but saying it’s not a big deal compared to all of the steroids he used to take.  Unsurprisingly, things continue to go poorly with Kerr and his alcoholic lady friend.

Coleman is successful in his fight against the very tough Akira Shoji, while Kerr is not as lucky.  He falls to Kazuyuki Fujita by decision, dropping out of the tournament in just the quarterfinals and avoiding a semifinal confrontation with Coleman.  Perhaps it’s because Kerr looked an awful lot like the very unpleasant Sam Hoger in this fight.

Fujita ends up injuring himself in this fight, giving Coleman a much easier road to the finals where he’s able to defeat Igor Vovchanchyn to win the Openweight Grand Prix.  Coleman is shown celebrating his victory while Kerr is in back being stitched up after his loss.

In the postscript of the film, we’re told that Kerr made the very wise decision to marry Dawn, further extending their tumultuous relationship.  I’m glad the documentary ended here, since I couldn’t bear watching Kerr bloat up any further while he and his wife emotionally beat the shit out of one another.

Before ending, a couple of interesting notes:

  • Kerr is getting treated for various injuries early in the documentary and then explains his profession to some unsuspecting poor woman in the waiting room.  Of course, he only told her after she asked what was wrong with his eye, so I’m not sure why she should be surprised by Kerr’s answer.  She can’t seem to fathom how someone could fight when they don’t hate a person.

  • So Mark Kerr has a sister named Kathy who also happens to look exactly like him.  I also think she’d be able to kick my ass, but then again, that could just be Mark in a wig.

I think this might be the best place to stop.  The Smashing Machine is an interesting look at MMA during the late 1990s and early 2000s, but more than anything, it’s fairly depressing.  I think now would be a great time to enjoy some ice cream and watch Mayhem on the premier of the Ultimate Fighter 14.


Categories: Editorial Feature
  1. kyle
    September 21, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    i just watched this last night. crazy.

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