It was a year into my new life as a fight event coordinator that I met the man who would soon become known as “War Machine”. Jon Koppenhaver, who was fresh off the reality show fame that comes from being a part of The Ultimate Fighter, was a quiet, introspective guy that was just looking to make a name for himself as an athlete.
He lost in the opening round of The Ultimate Fighter Season 6, but still made it to the finale show. Watching his epic ground fight against Jared Rollins gave me an appreciation not only for the art of jiu jitsu, but also for his heart as a fighter.
I interviewed Koppenhaver while he was training for his second and last fight with the UFC, where I learned more about him and the ethos that made him the quirky and soon-to-be infamous fighter that the world would soon come to know.
He told me how his father died from a heart attack in his arms. As a thirteen year old, he tried to resuscitate him while his younger brother watched. He said his heart was still heavy with grief over not being able to save his life.
He told me about attending The Citadel, the military college in South Carolina, after believing it would make him more like his father, a Los Angeles police detective. Ha also dished on his struggles there, and his eventual dismissal from the institution before becoming an MMA fighter.
Depression always lingered in Koppenhavers voice, even back then. As he rose up the ranks in MMA, beating notables like Roger Huerta and the late Blas Avena, his troubles started to surface in the form of violence outside of the cage.
He changed his name legally to War Machine, which although catchy in a fighting sense, speaks to mental instability on many levels.
In 2008, he had assault charges reduced to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to three years’ probation after he pleaded guilty to choking a man unconscious outside a San Diego fitness center.
In 2009, he announced via social media that he was getting into the porn business while continuing his career as an MMA fighter. It was also during that year that he allegedly slapped fellow porn actress Alanah Rae at a party in California and assaulted men who were trying to restrain him.
In August of 2010, a judge sentenced him to a year in jail and three years’ probation for assaulting a female bartender and punching a bouncer in separate attacks in San Diego.
In 2012, he served a year in a Las Vegas jail and was also given probation for a fight with a bouncer at a gay nightclub, Krave, where he worked as a topless bottle server.
Koppenhaver was also ingesting copious amounts of steroid cocktails combined with anti-depressant medicines.
When he began dating porn star Christy Mack, his tumultuous and troubled life spiraled all the way out of control. Her testimony of him beating her and a male friend half to death is horrifying, and the pictures are even more wicked.
Mack discusses the trials and tribulations of being with War Machine on the most recent episode of HBOs Real Sports, but the transcripts from the court are terrifying. Domestic violence and professional athletics seem closely linked, and the culture of wining at all costs and mental instability needs to be fully examined.
Jon Koppenhaver, and his inner demon known as War Machine, almost cost people their lives and have forever altered the narrative of consensual rape and relationship toxicity.
After being found guilty on 29 felony counts and with his sentencing coming on June 5th, Koppenhaver will remain an example of mental illness, drug abuse, competitiveness gone awry and skewed concepts of love gone extremely wrong.