It takes mere seconds for one to get a feel for been-everywhere, seen-everything quality of Shonie Carter. The unquestionable star of “The Ultimate Fighter 4,” he was known for giving pimp-walking lessons with a cane, making a floating pool chair out of empty plastic bottles he taped together and his black top hat and outlandish attire, which included diamond-studded belt buckles and a Scottish kilt. Though there is a certain underlying ennui in the tone of his voice, there is also a sense of vitality as he approaches his 45th birthday.
Currently a personal training director at L.A. Fitness in Chicago, Carter is still fighting. Back in April, he was standing in a ring located within an ice hockey rink, wearing a kilt, holding up his bare fists against someone named Jimmy “The Celtic Warrior” Sweeney and competing along with 27 other men in Coventry, England, where he participated in something called Bare Knuckle Boxing. Carter would not be “Mr. International” without some craziness ensuing. After the fight, Carter and fellow Ultimate Fighting Championship alum Melvin Guillard engaged in a heated tussle with Sweeney at a bar. It involved a concealed butter knife.
An ongoing theme in this “Stories from the Road” series involves “older guys” with a common bond: They love to fight, and they do it not for the money or the fame, but because fighting is part of them, like an arm or a leg. They may do it as a release valve for some buried personal demon or as a coda to a previous passion, like wrestling in many cases. Every once in a while, you get fighters like Carter, a fine mix of measured insanity, high intelligence and quirky joviality. He really is a unique treasure, a man who is not afraid to be flamboyant. It seems anyone that comes across “Mr. International” likes him.
“I don’t want to let go,” Carter told Sherdog.com. “I love to fight, always have. I’m not afraid of new challenges, either. Yes, you can say it is an important part of my life. It’s how people know me, and I am satisfied with the direction my life has taken, with the places I’ve been and the people that I met, and it’s all due to fighting. What always helped me was the attitude that I don’t fight the reputation, I fight the man. It’s like John Wick all over again. You keep getting dragged back. My life has just been one giant, crazy open book.”
It has been quite the ride, from wrestling a bear in St. Petersburg, Russia, and climbing a pyramid in Giza to fighting six guys in one night at an underground fight club in Chicago and waking up in Turkey thinking he was Detroit. The former World Extreme Cagefighting welterweight champion also fought in the UFC, Pancrase, King of the Cage, M-1 Global, KSW and Bellator MMA. Is it that unusual to find him, at 44, standing in a boxing ring within an ice hockey rink in England holding up his fists against some Englishman?
“Nope, I’ve done it all,” Carter said, “and I still have a lot more to do.”
Rumbling in Coventry
On April 22 in Coventry, England, Carter took part in what was termed a “bareknuckle fighting” event, when in actuality the fighters’ hands are wrapped in tape. Carter and Sweeney, 32, engaged in a middleweight bout that “Mr. International” lost by decision. Afterward, Carter was relaxing at a local bar alongside Guillard, who fought and won his bareknuckle fight.
“I was with Melvin and Jimmy, and apparently they had words previously, which I wasn’t aware of, because I’m not into that social media s--- talking that goes on,” Carter said. “I’m the guy that runs up on you, that face-in-the-space guy. It was crazy, because Jimmy said some things to Melvin and Melvin said some things to Jimmy, and I got caught right in the middle of it. It had nothing to do with me. I turned into a millennial. I pulled out my cell phone and started videotaping what was going on. It was hilarious, because Melvin is getting heated and reaches for a butter knife on the table and puts it behind his back. We were fighting Irish gypsies. I’m not saying that in a derogatory way; these guys were actually gypsies [like former heavyweight champion Tyson Fury].
“The guys were separated, and it spilled over out of the bar and it got heated again,” he added. “I’m happy that they smoothed things over. No one got hurt, and Melvin and Jimmy will be fighting in London in July. There you go. Fight for money. I’m happy things worked out the way they did, but no, for once I wasn’t the center of a fight involving a concealed butter knife.”
Blood and Super Glue
Carter found the creases of his face distorted at WEC 13 on Jan. 22, 2005 in Lemoore, California. He was fighting Jorge Oliveira.
“Well, they called Oliveira ‘Van Damme’ and I found out quick why,” Carter said with a laugh. “This was one of those slugfests, and it was just hell. I call it one of my memorable fights, even though I lost. It was one of those things when you tell yourself, ‘Damn, how is this man still standing?’ I hit him with everything. I asked myself that a lot fighting this dude.
“This was back and forth, and he got a decision,” he added. “It was crazy because the crowd went from booing me to applauding me, because I was taking an ass whipping in the later rounds and I didn’t give a damn. I told my corner to never stop a fight, and Oliveira thought I was crazy. There was blood all over the both of us. He smashed my face, and I was bleeding from everywhere. He hit me with a shin kick, and it opened up my head.”
Then Carter looked up and saw UFC President Dana White sitting in the stands. White had a smile on his face.
“Afterward, Dana told me he understood why I have all of those damned belts,” Carter said.
Busted up and bleeding, Carter did something strange -- even for him -- after the fight.
“I didn’t go to the hospital to get stitched up. I used super glue,” he said. “I’m serious. I treated myself. I had a bucket full of ice, and I pinched my cuts shut. It’s a fight that will always be memorable to me, because it showed that I am a warrior and that nothing will break me, not even a shin to the face.”
The other fight to which Carter clings came against Fernando Vasconcelos at King of the Cage 21 on Feb. 21, 2003 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“Vasconcelos was supposed to be one of the best grapplers in MMA, but I didn’t give a damn about that at all. Like I said, I fight the man,” Carter said. “That first round, he double-legged me and took me down. I actually escaped and remember getting him at the edge of the cage and banging his head up against the edge of the fence. Then we kept at each other, knocking each other down. I made it a dirty fight, a grimy street fight. Even during the fight, he had me in a standing hold, and I backed him up somehow against the cage. I moved so fast that he hit his back against the gate crossbar of the cage. He was cursing at me. He was letting me have it. He thought he had me.
“Because of that, they reconfigured the cages for King of the Cage fights,” he added. “They took away the crossbar on the gate. I won that fight. There was no bad blood between us, but what always got me was how much I was underestimated throughout my career, because I was never part of a fancy team that had an acronym. I was the urban myth that showed up and fought. I always laugh about it now, because I’ve paid my dues and people definitely know me now. Fighters today ask to take pictures of me.”
Craziest Fight of Them All
The zaniest fight in which Carter was ever involved did not feature him as one of the combatants. To this day, he still laughs about it. He was asked to serve as a guest referee on May 16, 2008 at the 8 Seconds Saloon in Indianapolis. Shawn Parker and Tyler Bryan were making their pro debuts at Life Fighting Championship 25.
“The funniest, craziest fight involving me didn’t involve me,” Carter said. “Now that’s a little crazy, but a lot of people still remember it and it got over three million hits, I think, on YouTube. It was a double knockout that lasted eight seconds. The clip was used in one of Michael Moore’s movies. JC Penny used the clip in a commercial. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t. My first thought was, ‘Holy s---.’ Then my second thought was, ‘What the hell just happened?’ I looked down at both of them and started waving my hands that it was over. Someone needed to get in here and make sure those guys were OK.
“One guy was stiff as a shirt,” he added. “They threw a few kicks and hit each other in the chin at exactly the right moment, in exactly the right spot. You want to know what was crazier about that fight: I remember one of the fighter’s fathers trying to tell me his son was OK to continue fighting. That was funny. I told the guy, ‘Your son just got knocked out, and his opponent just got knocked out. This is over.’ Neither guy could stand.”
The situation snowballed from there.
“Then it got even wackier, if that’s possible,” Carter said. “These two guys made more money post-fight than they did fighting. The thing went viral; I mean it exploded. JC Penny wanted to use the fight on a commercial, and I had a friend of mine, whose name was Marie Anderson, who discovered supermodel Cindy Crawford, [and] negotiated the terms for me. I got triple the scale. This was for being a guest referee, making $7,500 for an eight-second fight. Two rights to the jaw simultaneously. Who knew? And I thought I’ve seen and done everything. I’ve never seen anything like that, and I don’t know if I’ll see anything like it again.”
A Kilt and a Top Hat
Carter admits to being open to anything. On “The Ultimate Fighter 4,” despite cameras recording almost everything the cast members did in the house, Scott Smith dared Carter to do something outlandish for $100.
“Smith dared me to walk into the house butt naked for $100. I took off my clothes, walked in butt-ass naked and did a Captain Morgan on Jeremy Jackson, who was sleeping on the couch,” Carter said while trying to contain the laughter. “I don’t think the cameras got that. You want something else funny? The time I wore Speedos and walked up uncomfortably close to Dana White. He just looked at me at first, wondering what the hell I was doing. I loved doing crazy stuff. I spray painted the furniture in the house. I remember doing a sexy dance in a chair, with one of the girls that were there.
“The whole experience of being on the show was fun. I was there as a fighter, and Matt Serra won the [welterweight portion] of the show -- unjustifiably. I have no trouble saying that,” he added. “I lost to Matt in the semifinals, even though I hit him with a standing backfist again, and I should have been given a 10-8 round. I’m actually cool with Matt. I don’t take anything personal. I was in the Marine Corps, so the whole experience was like standing on my damned head. I enjoyed my time in the Marines and I wish I could go back in. I didn’t know anything about ‘The Ultimate Fighter.’ They called me, so I thought I would go and check it out, and essentially, I thought it was a chance for me. I don’t really lose, either. I learn with each loss.
Carter understood his role.
“What I did, essentially, was be over-the-top guy, because I knew that’s why I was there,” he said. “They obviously didn’t put everything on the show. I was supposed to be the drama starter. Too many guys tried to make things too serious, and they forget it’s about entertainment. I got blamed for some off-color comments, but I thought that is what they wanted.”
One of the more memorable segments of the show involved a nurse whom Carter felt was talking down to the fighters during a physical.
“I was like, ‘Wait up, little mama. You’re not the doctor. You’re not all of that and you’re talking down to people like you’re this fetching bag of chips,’” Carter said. “She was like, ‘Who are you?’ and everyone else was like, ‘Shonie, calm down.’ I was like, ‘No, no, no. We’re not troglodytes.’ I asked her if I needed to go into a deeper vernacular that she would understand. You would think that she would shut the [expletive] up. She didn’t. I told her, ‘Do I have to recite Friedrich Nietzsche, Franklin Roosevelt or William Shakespeare?’ She had a whole bunch of big mouth that she let us know about. I began reciting Roosevelt’s Credo, and she rolled her eyes. When the doctor came in, he told her that it was.
“On the show, people would get mad or whatever, whether it was acting or not,” he added. “I was real. I was 100 percent. I was so real people couldn’t believe it. Fighters are characterized as misfits of the world. They don’t know why or how to quite fit in. They choose this outlet to be a part of it, and me, I never quite assimilated to the thought processes of either, whether it was as a fighter or a normal person. Hell, I walk around with a kilt and a top hat. Who does that?”
Carter hesitates before he blurts out, “That was fun.” He was in Chicago, a city in which Carter proclaims himself the underground fighting champion. Ironically, he never faced Kevin Ferguson. Carter claims to have fought and choked out guys bigger than “Kimbo Slice.”
“This was in the late 1990s, early 2000s, and this was on the main floor of the Tropicana Becache Bar on Milwaukee and Armitage streets in Chicago,” he said. “I had friends that had that crazy fighting mentality, and they told me about this place, so I went to the bar and saw it. The guy was on the mic talking about his champion. The guy was talking Spanish, and I thought he said something derogatory pointing in my direction. I thought, ‘Mother [expletive], I’ll be back.’ I stormed out of the club and went back to my car to get my gear. I came back with my gym bag, and they checked out the gym bag. I told him I wasn’t going to shoot anybody, I just came back to kick that guy’s ass.
“I put on my fight clothes after stripping down to my damned drawers in front of everyone there,” he added. “We fought for 45 minutes. We continued it the next week, and I finally choked him out. They made me the champion. I did that for eight years while I was under contract with [the] UFC. I fought five other guys that night. I fought three, five, six guys, I didn’t care. They had a night where they told anyone to step up to see if they can beat me, so there were six guys that I beat in one night. I attracted everyone who thought they were bad asses in Chicago. I choked them out, kicked them, fought men in black suits, whatever it took. I didn’t care. I didn’t care about the size or their background.”
Wrestling a Russian Bear
Carter was literally “Mr. International” in his prime. He fought middleweight Azred Telkusheev as a late replacement in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Oct. 9, 2004. He lost what he felt was a controversial decision.
“I was in Russia, and I heard about the Hermitage Museum from a homeless man, and he spoke eight languages and we got into talking,” Carter said. “I went to Russia, and they [had the] nose of the Sphinx there. I lost the fight to [Telkusheev], and I felt I was robbed. I got pissed off and starting drinking Russian vodka in Russia. Everyone around me was talking this s---, and I overheard someone talking about someone brave enough to wrestle a bear. It helped that it was a pretty hot mama, and I let her know I wasn’t afraid of no damned Russian bear, because I’m a U.S. Marine who is an American eagle. They thought I was crazy. Well, I am, so here I am. I thought it was some bear cub. Needless to say, it wasn’t a cub. They told me the bear was declawed and was muzzled. It wasn’t fair to the bear.
“I went in the cage and the bear stands up and he walks up to me,” he added. “I literally clinched with a Russian brown bear, hustling and rolling around. Needless to say, they called it draw. I stunk like all hell. I didn’t even know how much the bear weighed. I didn’t out him on a damned scale.”
Carter back in 2011 had one experience where he intended to wind up in Detroit and somehow found himself in Turkey.
“I met this girl and she was bad, and I had one drink -- one drink,” he said. “I lost count of how many I had after that. I was drinking with her and her entourage. I blacked out and woke up and I thought I was in Detroit, I swear to God. Apparently, they put me on a plane. How the [expletive] did I get on a plane? I woke in a bed on a private jet. Everyone around me was laughing. I asked them if I could catch a plane back to Chicago. We land and I see all of these Turkish flags. What the [expletive]? How does a Turkish flag wind up at an airport in Detroit? Everyone starts laughing, and I asked them what was up.
“There were Turkish people and a few Bulgarians,” Carter added. “I’m a social guy and the girl was really hot. I ended up drinking whatever I was drinking and part of negotiating my way out of Turkey was fighting. I sent a shoutout to everyone in the Chicago underground and everyone laughed and thought I was lying. No one believed me. Someone did an Internet service provider search and found out that I really was in Turkey.”
Carter does not remember who he fought, and there is no record of him fighting anyone in Turkey.
“But it happened. I’m telling you, it happened,” he said. “If I climbed a pyramid in Giza in a kilt and a top hat, why would I make that up? I was off the grid. No one knew where I was. Everyone is like, ‘Why you?’ Why not me? Hey, when I look back at everything, I’m truly blessed. I have a daughter who is 23 and is married. I have a son who is 15 and taller than me, and my 11-year-old son is tall enough to look me in the eyes. My children never quite understood who I am. Most of my friends who grew with me through martial arts, they know who I am, and older people who watched me throughout my career know who I am.”
Carter has been inducted into various halls of fame: the U.S.A. Martial Arts Hall of Fame, the Action Martial Arts Hall of Fame and the Master’s Hall of Fame.
“My kids are like, ‘Damn, dad, you’re too young to be in any hall of fame,’” he said. “I remind them that I have a bald spot. ‘Hey, I may be famous and broke, but I kick people’s butts,’ I tell them. These young fighters today may make a lot of money, but the true spirit of what mixed martial arts is has gotten lost in translation when it comes to MMA. Fighters today, all they care about is how much money they make. It’s like the WWE of MMA. I call it MMA-E, the ‘E’ for entertainment. Essentially, a lot of the art is lost. People are wild with the idea Ronda Rousey was throwing people to an armbar. I don’t mean to make any disparaging remarks about Ronda. I’m a fan, a big fan. I used to have her phone number, but I laughed because what they made such a big deal over with her is what I did 10, 15 years prior. When she got her head kicked off by a world-class kickboxer, everyone then said she sucked. How can people turn like that? What Ronda did, what Holly Holm did, I’ve done years before.
“Everyone talks about Conor McGregor flashing money and wearing these insane suits,” Carter added. “I was doing that before McGregor was popping zits off his face. What these fighters are nowadays are bunch of entertainers that are tough. They’re one or two steps above the WWE. I have to say I do respect anyone that fights. The willingness to fight takes courage. No one likes to get punched and pulled and kicked, and I don’t care what level it is on. That will always be there and never change.”
Joseph Santoliquito is the president of the Boxing Writer's Association of America and a frequent contributor to Sherdog.com's mixed martial arts and boxing coverage. His archive can be found here.