The Ultimate Fighter
It’s been fun digging into the archives for these #UFCEra pieces this week, and while there are plenty of memories attached to each of them, it’s even better to help introduce some of these fighters to a generation of fans that may not have seen them in their prime, if at all. That’s certainly the case with Shonie Carter, one of the sport’s greatest characters, pound-for-pound.
A lot of folks got their first glimpse of Carter during season four of The Ultimate Fighter, but “Mr. International” was doing his thing in the Octagon long before that, and as you’ll see from the 2001 story below, you didn’t write about Shonie Carter; you put on the tape recorder and let him go.
Shonie Carter is typical of the professional athlete that has toiled for years in obscurity, fighting for pennies in empty rooms, only to be labeled an “overnight sensation” when a spectacular performance puts him squarely in the public's eye.
For Carter, that performance was a dazzling knockout win over Matt Serra at UFC XXXI. Has “Mr. International” finally gotten the respect he deserves?
"Somewhat, but not entirely," Carter said. "I just read the Full Contact Fighter magazine, and (UFC welterweight champion) Carlos Newton had some questionable things to say. And once again, with the fires of being on my gettin' hit list, or commonly known as the s**t list, he's moved up to the number one ranking."
But before Carter can get to the champion, he has another tough battle this Friday at UFC XXXII against the man Newton dethroned, Pat Miletich. And not only is this a compelling matchup on paper, but these two have a history, with Carter losing a controversial decision to Miletich at Extreme Challenge 27.
"I knew what was going on in that fight," Carter says of his first bout with Miletich. "I was the main course in the home cooking. I had to knock him out or tap him out to win. I knew that, but I took that fight as a personal challenge to myself, to see if I was ready to take that next step. I did better than most people thought I would."
And while Miletich is the betting favorite, Carter is believed to have an excellent chance to better his performance the second time around. And Carlos Newton is not going to distract him from the task at hand. "I'm not looking past Miletich by any means," said Carter. "Win, lose, or draw, Carlos is still on my list. I don't like when people talk garbage to me. I 've dealt with a lot of adversity, in and out of the ring, and I've been the consummate sport about it all. I'm at my end when it comes to people not respecting me. I think that there are people who supported me from the beginning, and the people who have now started to say, 'Wow, he's pretty damn good.' Then there are the people who I still have to make believers out of. I still have to make them disciples of the Shonie way. And he is now one of them."
The “Shonie way” includes a wide array of techniques, and a flamboyant style that has made him a fan favorite. His spinning backfist that ended the Serra fight in the third-round inspired words of praise and amazement among fans of the sport. Don't expect to see it this Friday though.
"This is how I deal with any fight," he said. "I don't ever show them the same thing twice. After reading one of Miletich's interviews, he thinks he has me pegged because I throw a lot of spinning techniques. That's one indication that things may change. I'm very susceptible to being entirely different. You never know. I may shoot a double leg and take him down. People seem to forget that I was an All-American in collegiate wrestling and I was on the world class level at one time in Olympic wrestling. I don't want people to peg me as a cookie cutter-type fighter. I stated that even in Grappling magazine. And I thought that people like Matt Serra would have read the article and understood that I'm not a cookie cutter Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter. Now people are saying, 'Well, maybe he's not like what we thought he was.'"
If one thing can be said about the 29-year-old Carter, it's that he does not fit any preconceived notions about an MMA fighter. His flamboyant outfits and comedic skill with one-liners offer a refreshing change to the MMA status quo.
"It is very important for us to be very personable," said Carter. "Give a little attitude out there. I'm not trying to become the next WWF fighter, but I'm going to exemplify professionalism. I am going to be an entertainer. I'm going to do everything to please the crowd, please the judges, and win. Some people say, 'You need to calm down some,' and I'm like, 'for what?' How many people out there in this world can say, 'I've traveled around the world, and I can regularly be seen on television?' I consider that very important. People want to be entertained. They want entertainment to get away from their day-to-day grind of having to bust their hump. They want something to take their minds off that. And men are very predatorial, humans are very primal. They want two muscle-bound men out there slugging it out, and not just doing the same old, same old every time they watch a fight. The excitement of mixed martial arts is that you can get two different guys, have 20 different fights, and have 20 different results, win, lose or draw."
So with the Shonie buzz engulfing the MMA world, how come other fighters haven't taken the same attitude towards entertaining the payin' folks?
"It's not due to lack of training," said Carter. "I think they lack a certain amount of confidence in their ability to back up what they say they can do. I look at what guys do out there, and everyone reads the Internet, and the Internet opinion polls, and they say who's good and who's not. Guys go in and say how rough and tough they are and how much they can hook and shoot with somebody. But the truth of the matter is, that when it gets down to the nitty gritty, they go back to what they are conditioned to do. They have not been properly trained mentally to do everything. I've just been watching PRIDE 14, and these guys stick to what's most comfortable for them. If I have to come into the ring with a kitchen sink and bend the rules, if I only get one time to throw it, I'm gonna throw that kitchen sink. I'm comfortable doing whatever it takes, and I have no favorite technique. I'm out there to have fun, kick a little butt, and reap the benefits and rewards of doing it. I'm going to write my book, come out with a clothing line, and eventually finish the comic book. Everything you could possibly get out of this, I'm going for. I think that these fighters out there are afraid to take that next step. But guess what? The next generation fighters will not be. I just represent the next generation of fighters that are willing to do what it takes to win and to entertain."
And come on Shonie, what about the suits?
"The problem is, everybody has become factory jacks," he said. "They're all really good fighters and I respect them all, but this is how they are. A lot of them will sign autographs and things like that, and they're really quiet, held back and reserved. Is anything held back and reserved in a cage fight? Hell no? Quit wearing T-Shirts and baseball caps and jeans in the ring. We're on TV for crying out loud. We're trying to exemplify professionalism. Someone is going to have to sponsor me for me to wear Nike, FUBU, or Adidas. I'm not going to wear sporting attire unless somebody pays me. And I'm not going to look raggedy out there."
With MMA, and especially the UFC, now reaching a wider audience, Shonie Carter is the perfect fighter for the sport to hang its hopes on. Not only a legit fighter, but one with a personality, Carter adds a new dimension to what was once viewed by the mainstream media as a bloodsport. But with increased scrutiny of the sport comes the fact that Carter's portrayal of himself as the "bald-headed pimpalicious" may come into question, especially for those younger fans that would look at the Chicago resident as a role model.
"That's a triple edged sword," said Carter. "Let me explain one thing. As far as pimp, it's not the one you're talking about, 'pimps up, hoes down', and things like that. I'm talking about Paper In My Pocket. PIMP. That's pimp. And as far as role models go, I don't want to be a role model for a kid. One thing I wrote in my book is that after you learn about me, outside of the fight game, I hope to Ggod that you don't want to be like me outside of the ring. I would tell people that you should want to try to take what I' ve done and what I've given you, whether it's good or bad, and learn from it."
Carter's road to the top of the UFC has been littered with roadblocks and tragedies. His mental toughness and reorganization of priorities have turned what may have been a dead end into a success story. But the sun wasn't always shining on Carter. So what turned his life around?
"It's been a bunch of things," Carter admits. "The day my grandfather died; my grandmother died; my brother getting shot at with a sawed-off shotgun and he got narrowly missed; my cousin being killed in front of his three-month-old baby daughter; my mother losing her home to foreclosure; I lost a car to repossession; ACL getting torn in college; twice dislocating my left arm; once my right arm. It's been a multitude of events in my life. I saved my brother's life. I got shot once, but the thing is, I had a bulletproof vest on. Don't ask me why I had one or where I got it, just know that I had one. I jumped on my brother and it hit me in the back where it would have hit him in the head. And the police asked, 'Where did you get it?' I said, 'If you want it, you can have it.' Once you get a bullet in your vest, it's no longer serviceable.
"It's been a lot of things that have transpired in my life," he continues. "From working in an exotic dance club, or a strip club I'll say, to being a cable man. I've been electrocuted, man. It matures you. I've been hit by a train in Budapest, Hungary. Now I've got a daughter, and a baby on the way. You live, you learn, you start to re-evaluate your priorities. You take those rose-colored lenses off and you realize that you're not invulnerable. No one's Superman out there. The things I've been through have enabled me to succeed. And whether you're rich or poor, I don't fault those people for not going through the things I've been through, and I wouldn't wish them on anybody. You don't have to go through hard times to be a good fighter; you just have to really want it. You have to have it in your heart and in your mind. And you have to have it in your soul."
Needless to say, after all he's been through, the concept of fear in the ring is a foreign one to Shonie Carter.
"I have a tougher time shaking a can of pop and drinking it," he laughs. "Any fighter that fights in a cage willingly is crazy. It's not that I'm arrogant. It's confidence and training. I train my ass off, and I feel really good. So if you are confident in your capabilities, why should you be scared? It's like taking an exam. You studied hard, so why should you be scared? After wrestling in the Olympic trials, wrestling on world teams, and just doing stuff, I've paid my dues and made my bones. Why should I be afraid of another man now? Because I've done what I've needed to do to prepare for any fight, any situation, I'm confident. Another thing is, I have a different mindset about fighting in the ring. I came out of the streets of Chicago, on the West Side, and I was in the Marines and in Desert Storm. Just the basic training apart, I'm not susceptible to freaking out, because I've been in the most adverse situations that you could possibly think of. And, to me, a fight is not easy, but it's a controlled environment. There's no one running up behind me and kicking me in the head. These guys are world-class fighters, but there's just one of them."
So how did MMA get Shonie Carter? Not surprisingly, with Shonie, it's not your typical story.
"In case I have to go back to wrestle my last redshirt eligibility year, there was no money involved," he laughs about the 'bet' that launched his MMA career. "Pancrase was on TV in America, and the UFC was on. It was the early years; the antiquated dinosaurs are what I call them. Royce Gracie, Bas Rutten. I respect them all, but they're the older guys, the forefathers, four score and seven years ago. We were watching it and I was like, no big deal, because I was studying jiu-jitsu, judo, and wrestling. I hadn't been boxing yet, but it was nothing that was alien to me. I had seen it. And I said, 'Well, I'm not too impressed with that triangle choke.' And everybody's like, 'Oh yeah, right. Like you can do that.' I'm like, 'I can, I'm just not getting paid to do it. I'm in college.' So they were all betting me. Every college, no matter who it is or wherever you are, there is always a Billy Bad Ass amongst the dorm. And everybody was afraid of these guys. I was like 'F**k that, I'll smoke them.'"
"So they all got together and said, 'Well, I bet you can't beat so and so,' and I was like yeah, I'll fight him," Carter continues. "The RA let it go on in the dorm. I said, 'No matter what happens, guys, realize I'm not mad at you and I'm going to beat you, so keep your hands up.' So I took the soccer player down. He tried to kick me like a jackass, and forgot that I had just gotten back from the Olympic trials. So I took him down, sunk the hooks in, and choked him out. The basketball player? Same song, second verse, a little bit louder, a little bit worse. The hardest one was my buddy Antoine. I said, 'Antoine, I won't kick you because we're on the wrestling team together. If I kick you in the mouth, the coach is going to be mad at me.' He was a 190-pounder who could bench 500 pounds, so you can pretty much imagine that it was harder to deal with his ass. So I eventually tired him out, and I armbarred him. The football player was a little bit rough because he was just an athlete. After I beat them all, they signed me up for some street wrestling tournament, and I breezed through it. I almost got into a fight, a giant melee if you will, because there were a bunch of hillbillies there. And there was a lady there yelling, 'Oh, that ain't right, you're a professional.' And I'm pointing at this guy, telling him to shut up before I even realized it was an old lady. And then the whole front row stood up. I'm like 'Oh s**t, I said that to a lady.' You know when you catch yourself? And it just so happened that the wrestling team walked in. Let's just say the situation was extinguished entirely."
Carter went on to not only excel in the UFC, but in organizations like Extreme Challenge, SuperBrawl, Ironheart Crown, and Pancrase. And as a true martial artist, he wants not only to excel in MMA, but in all combat sports, a fact that has allowed him to avoid burnout.
"You want to know why I don't burn out? Because every type of fight that I do is different from the previous one," he said. "I don't knock guys like Travis Fulton or Dan Severn, but they stick to mixed martial arts. I, personally and professionally, dare anybody in the mixed martial arts venue, no matter who they are, to do the type of fighting that I am. They are not willing to go into a boxing match against a true boxer. They are not willing to go into a kickboxing match, whether it's American style, Muay Thai rules, or Sanshou rules, against national or international competition and win. Or judo. Everybody tries to take a whack at jiu-jitsu because it's safe. If you lose a sport jiu-jitsu match, who gives a s**t? But if there's a chance of you getting knocked out, or doing a bare knuckle Shidokan Karate tournament - not a match, but a tournament - and making it to the finals after fighting the night previous in the UFC. I'm willing to take that chance, to go out and try something different. That's the ultimate fighting challenge."
Carter's high points in MMA are commemorated on a wall in his home. "Winning my first belt at Extreme Challenge," said Carter when asked about his high points in the sport. "I was the underdog. Are you surprised? I was fighting a guy named Jesse Jones. He was briefly ranked tenth in the world and number one in the U.S., and I was ranked number two in just the Midwest. And I upset him. That was one of the higher points. But higher than that was my first UFC appearance at 24. That's why when I framed the poster; I called it "Finally." That was it for me."
With a victory over Miletich on Friday, the challenge for Carter may be his inability to sneak up on prospective foes anymore, something he has used to his advantage thus far.
"I'm not fighting out of somebody famous' gym," he said. "The people that I train with are working stiffs that work 9 to 5, or 11 to 5 in my case; 11 at night until 5 in the morning. I'm not with Miletich Fighting Systems, Golden Glory, Renzo Gracie, the Lions Den, HammerHouse, or the Shark Tank. I'm not with anybody notably recognized. I 'm with a bunch of guys that just bust their asses. We go out there and do what we've got to do, and we don't have any human fear of another man that pisses in the toilet and bleeds like us. I don't expect people to recognize any of the people in my gym. And it's best that way, because when you're not highly recognizable, and you're the underdog, you remain hungry. When people become the favorite, they tend to become complacent and take people for granted. And surprise, surprise."