Mark Schultz: Where Is He Now?

Living with Pain

By Jason Probst Nov 7, 2008
There’s pain you have to live with, and pain you can put behind you, if only the right fixes are made. And Mark Schultz knows it better than almost anyone.

Equipped with some of the most potent wrestling ever seen in mixed martial arts, Schultz’s sole UFC bout seemed to herald the beginning of a career every bit as good as his credentials. A gold medalist at the 1984 Olympics, Schultz used lightning-quick takedowns and punishing strikes to stop Gary Goodridge in 1996 at UFC 9, filling in on late notice with an impressive showing.

A three-time NCAA and two-time world champion, Schultz had overcome a belated start in wrestling and a hardscrabble childhood to establish himself on the scene. But even by the harsh standards of a fighter’s quest to build a name and move up in the game, Schultz’s journey was exceptionally rough.

He’s battled back problems, a staph infection that nearly cost him an arm and an ongoing divorce and custody battle over his three children that lingers to this day. And in 1996, his brother, Dave, a fellow gold medalist and college grappling legend, was senselessly murdered by John DuPont, sponsor of the brothers’ wrestling team.

Today, looking back, despite the wealth of accomplishments, Mark Schultz still wants the world to know he didn’t go out a loser.

In his second and final fight, seven years after stopping Goodridge, he was submitted by Leopoldo Montenegro in a bout he says was supposed to be a pro wrestling match with a predetermined outcome. It still sticks in his craw that a series of confusing directives and chaos in that bout -- a Jungle Fight event held off the coast of Brazil -- ended up with him losing what he feels should have never been classified as a pro fight.

Now working at a masonry contracting company in Denver, Schultz is taking life day-by-day, one hurdle at a time. At the time of this interview, he was a couple of days away from back surgery -- a procedure he happily described as “minimally invasive” spinal decompression surgery -- performed by the doctor who fixed pro wrestler Kurt Angle’s broken neck. The pain of getting around with a genetically shorted spinal canal is one chronic ache he’s hoping to tick off a considerably long list.

And there’s the fight with Montenegro he says was supposed to be a setup to fuel a pro wrestling career in Japan -- a career that never materialized.

Even when things seemed to be going right in one direction, they backfired with unintended consequences in another. His UFC debut in May 1996 was a perfect example, as he took on the feared Goodridge, who’d blasted out Paul Herrera in highlight-reel fashion.

“My back went out on me, right after the UFC,” said Schultz, who was coaching the Brigham Young University wrestling team at the time. “I’ve had this genetically narrow spinal canal for a long time. I was crawling around my house.”

Schultz, who’d had made $50,000 for his last-minute fill-in, was given a choice by university officials -- fight or coach. That was an enormous sum at the time, and he didn’t think he’d have nearly as much negotiation leverage should he try and parlay it into a long-term MMA career.

“I had three kids and no health insurance. I could have gone to the UFC, but money wasn’t great,” he said.

So he decided to stick with coaching, though BYU dropped wrestling in 2000. Schultz, a newfound devotee of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, had trained with Rickson Gracie disciple Pedro Sauer and fallen in love with the sport. Ironically, he was one of the few wrestlers in the early years of MMA who fully understood submission grappling instead of discarding it by the wayside as an afterthought.

“Rickson Gracie and me had a match in the BYU wrestling room in 1992. He made me tap out twice and told me I was the toughest guy he’d gone against. Rickson was the best fighter I’d ever seen. He still may be.”

While his college coaching career was winding down, Schultz opened up a jiu-jitsu studio in Salt Lake City in a shared facility -- an arrangement that led to the staph infection in 1999 that almost cost him his arm, and his life.

“I had the mats up in this room. I was traveling up there every day and night. In between, there was nobody cleaning the mats, and the yoga girls were coming in with their dirty feet on it. That led to a staph infection, and I get this cut on my elbow,” he said. “The staph infection got into it. I’ve been to court over this, and I lost, and the staph infection got worse and worse. This doctor gave me the wrong drug two times in a row, which he misdiagnosed as bursitis. I went to the hospital and they said ‘You have a staph infection.’

“I was in the ICU with my arm cut open. They took out two cups of pus, and I almost died. They said, ‘If you had gotten in a day later, you would have lost your arm.’ Here I was with a huge infection, it was right during Y2K. I’m watching the machine and wondering if the machine is going to stop working. I’m still suffering from the effects of that. It still hurts.”
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