“I quit halfway through my junior year. I was four and six, and the coach kicked me off the team because I couldn’t win,” recalled Schultz. “I went back down to California, got together with some Stanford wrestling club guys, and added 30 pounds between my junior and senior year.”
He went 15-2 as a senior, then won the league, region, section and state championships.
“All these miraculous things happened. I was reading books on self-help by this Indian philosopher who talked about living totally in the moment. I was just going to take it one match at a time,” he said.
In a series of bouts against undefeated wrestlers at the state tournament, Schultz found himself tiring in a match where he was down by one point with 10 seconds left.
“My coach came up to me and slapped the s--- out of me. He had never done that before,” Schultz said. “I got the guy in a banana split and won to go on to the next round.”
In the state final, he found himself exhausted once more in a close match and pulled off a back suplex -- a move he’d never tried -- to seal the California state title.
“It was the most miraculous event of my entire life. That’s what started me believing in God,” he said.
Schultz, once a devout anti-Mormon, converted to the Church of Latter-Day Saints in 1991. He bounced around in college, initially enrolling at UCLA with Dave, before the duo transferred to wrestling powerhouse Oklahoma. It was another uphill battle, a place where elite wrestling recruits had to struggle in an intensely competitive environment, and only the toughest of the tough cracked the starting lineup.
“Oklahoma was a completely other world. It was like walking onto Mars. First, Oklahoma had 100 points returning from the previous NCAA tournament, the most ever. Israel Shepard got third in the nation the year before. He had cornrows. I used to have to shower and I’d cry in pain because they tore me up. Every day was a life and death struggle. Everything became just incredibly painful and difficult. The weather was murderous, and people were incredibly tough.”
The Schultz brothers triumphed nonetheless, with Mark winning three NCAA titles. One of these included a win over Ed Banach in the NCAA finals, an eventual three-time champion who’d beaten him four times before.
The Schultz brothers also competed extensively on the international circuit, capturing a string of national and world championships between them. Yet despite the strict conditioning regimen required to compete at these elite levels, when Mark had his body’s oxygen capacity measured by doctors, the results suggested he’d gone farther than his body should’ve ever allowed.
“I had a max VO2 problem. That’s the maximum volume of oxygen your body can consume,” said Schultz. “Mine’s actually the lowest ever measured in the history of any Olympic champion. When matches were nine minutes long, I was getting beat. When they shortened matches to six minutes, I started winning.”
The life of amateur wrestlers isn’t easy, and millionaire heir John DuPont’s 800-acre training facility seemed like the perfect place to train and keep sharp. DuPont, a wrestling enthusiast with a history of mental illness, invited wrestlers to train at his Pennsylvania estate, but was long on promises and short on delivery.
“Here we are, poor athletes, and there was no resident training program like there is now at the Colorado Springs (Olympic) Training Center. You pretty much tried to get an assistant coaching job somewhere to train,” Schultz said. “He was a selfish, greedy, rich bastard. Trying to use us to give himself credibility. There was no way to find out where to train. What are you gonna do? Say I could have competed and accomplished your potential? I was lied to.
“DuPont says come out, we’ll have the biggest, best program out there. The timetable he said it was gonna happen on wasn’t as fast. I went out a loser in the ‘88 Olympics. I was depressed for about eight years. Then I ended up winning in the UFC. That made me happy.”
In January 1996, DuPont shot and killed Dave Schultz at the compound. DuPont’s well-documented deranged mental state led to his eventual conviction of third-degree murder and a 30-year sentence.