Whether it’s fighting on the streets, in a martial arts gym or on Mortal Kombat II on the Sega Saturn, combat has always played an unprecedented role in any MMA competitor’s life early on.
From the age of six, Mark ‘The Wizard’ Weir (21-18) was under this influence after being struck by the martial arts mosquito whilst abroad with family. Weir may have been young, but he knew where he was going.
“Ever since I was a kid I’ve always been doing a form of martial arts,” Mark stated. “It started off with boxing. I was six or seven years old when I went to Jamaica and I remember messing around with my uncle showing me stuff and I fell in love with it from then onwards.
“I boxed into my teenage years until I was messing around with my next door neighbour that ended with me bloodying up his nose. I got banned for some time. I started up again when I was sixteen-years-old. I was enjoying the sparring but then was pulled aside by family and asked me not to take it any further.
“Guys around me were telling me I had talent and that I could do well but I wasn’t willing to risk any serious brain injuries as this was around the time some started to come to light like Muhammad Ali’s. Plus I didn’t get to competition stages as it was always hard to find me matches. I’m glad I called it quits when I did.
Right after boxing, Weir ventured into went into Taekwondo. Naturally being a lighter sport than boxing with lower levels of trauma to the head, it was in this art he found he true form. Like MMA touted now, During Mark’s youth, Taekwondo was the fastest growing martial art in the world.
“The Taekwondo club was advertised in the back of the local paper so it was relatively easy to get involved with,” ‘The Wizard’ divulged. “I thought it was similar to boxing so I’d be good at it which wasn’t the case. There was a little competition in there in the form of one martial art versus another.
“I really was terrible when I started out. My legs were too stiff and tight and I couldn’t kick very well. I remember researching ballet and gymnastics clubs – anything to help loosen me up.
“I remember standing in front of my sparring partner which I thought was the right thing to do, he picked up his leg and kicked me in the chest. I just dropped. I got winded a lot in the first bunch of times sparring. I knew I had to change my attitude from then on.
“Through changing my attitude and being as dedicated as I was, I became looser and much more flexible in a short space of time. I really knuckled down in training and before I knew it I was competing. I was either doing interclub or going to national events. Once I dedicated myself I took it to it like a duck to water. I just loved fighting.
“I became the youngest world champion in 1988 when I was twenty-years-old. It was on television, too, so a large audience were able to see it. I couldn’t believe the doors that opened up following it. I was astounded that I was able to travel places and not have to pay towards it. It was amazing.”
The swift move into mixed martial arts wasn’t planned out by the former. Whilst teaching at a local club, Mark decided to implement grappling features as an experiment. Lo and behold, the striking and grappling arts merged together expertly. The merging of arts set a UK precedent for the future, involving a match that was one of a kind.
“It came from a time when I was a teenager and my friend was doing jiu jitsu as I was doing bits of judo and I just had a knack for picking anything and everything up really quickly,” stated the middleweight.
“Luckily when I was seventeen, I had the ability to go onto seminars and not have to pay for it. I had contacts in different circles I could reach out to. I went and took part in more and more grappling based forms of fighting. I got a taste of mixed martial arts before they culminated in that sense.
“Taekwondo matches were becoming hard to make. I put an advertisement in a martial arts magazine with a message of an open challenge to anybody who wanted to come and try to beat me as that was the norm back then. Nobody really took it forward.
“Then a man named Gary Daniels who’s been in loads of action movies like The Expendables, he wanted to promote a fight show. A fighter called Buster Reeves agreed to the fight me under a ‘no holds barred’ ruling in which we were allowed to grapple as well as kickbox. Buster was known in the UK had done well on shows like the old Gladiators.
“That was the first of its kind in the UK. The elements of grappling were not great as we had to use boxing gloves. You had guys like Paul Daley and Alex Reid on that same bill.”
Interestingly enough, Mark was doing MMA before it became the sport we know today. In fact it was much closer to Vale Tudo than anything else. Confidently stating, MMA was far from the way it is now.
“We were all really dirty,” confessed Mark. “As I got closer to competition I’d cut out things like the headbutting and any sort of groin strikes to gear it up closer to what MMA is, so by the time my proper debut came around, I’d be doing this for six years.
“I was only managing to get in one fight a year. It was so hard to get anybody to adjust to this style that fighting regularly just wasn’t possible. Everybody was looking at it like it was purely barbaric. We got to the point where we’d be using boxing gloves regularly for MMA fights. It wasn’t until I fought Alex Reid that I used the smaller gloves brought to us by Andy Jardine.
“If I’m looking back at my record with these older fights, I couldn’t tell you just what my record actually is. I was able to fight a lot more in the later period of the 1990s. I competed on a lot of the Grapple & Strike shows where I didn’t take home any money and everybody was fighting purely for the sake of it. I only started to get paid in 2000 when Jardine started bringing in ticket purse deals.”
‘Brawl at the Hall’ was the UFC’s inaugural show on the British isle. On a card of just eight bouts, it featured four of the UK’s top names in Ian Freeman, Leigh Remedios, James Zikic and Mark himself. The show was well received with a large amount of hype but little did anybody involved know the stature that one event would prove to have on MMA inside the UK.
Mark had inklings the UFC were saving him for something and were waiting for all the correct stars to align. Little did he know the stars would align in his home country.
“Funnily enough, a UFC vet who’d just fought on Channel 5 called CJ Fernandes came over to fight me and I beat him. He’d just won a fight a month or so inside the UFC. These were days where you could fight outside the UFC as contracts weren’t normal. After beating CJ I was supposed to fight Matt Hughes but there were purse issues.
“I was then given one of Matt’s training partners, Ben Earwood, who was really talented. He liked the takedowns a lot. I accepted that fight and beat him, too. After fighting Ben I had a rest period from a shoulder injury as Ben slammed me quite a few times.
“It was after that win that I was offered the Eugene Jackson bout. Interestingly so, that fight was meant to happen in Las Vegas. They were made aware of the shoulder injury and told me to let them know when I’m back on my feet.
“When I had recovered, I informed then and they told me to stay put as they had ‘something happening.’ For two months they kept tabs on me and told me not to go anywhere or do anything. I ended up putting them on the spot and asking them what was happening. That’s when they told me they were doing the Brawl at the Hall show.”
The bout with Eugene Jackson is arguably Mark’s most infamous bout. Just ten seconds into the first round, Mark used his expert taekwondo in order to throw off Jackson, landing a sleeping right hook onto the chin of the latter which sent the rather boozed-up British fans into frenzy. As the years have gotten further away, the stunning finish has only risen in popularity.
“I was a big fan of seeing Eugene Jackson knock people out,” Mark reminisced. “He loved to punch but never really threw kicks. He could hold people down and win by ground-and-pound but he was a one-dimensional striker as in he’d just throw with his hands, so I knew that the difference between Eugene and I was the speed in my legs. That was the ultimate factor. I threw the kick and followed with the straight that brought things to a close quicker than anybody expected.
“I think that knockout stayed atop for four or five years. I remember it well. I didn’t think anything of the record. That’s when Dana White approached me, saying, ‘You don’t know what you’ve done here.’ I tried to get a humble word in before he stopped me. He said ‘No, no. Years from now, you’ll start to realise what you’ve really done.’
“I was ranked in the most impressive UFC debuts, the quickest knockouts and in the first of its kind in England. It came with so many accolades. Just a few years ago, when the MMA Expo came around I was made a pioneer and that was very flattering.
“I thought winning world championships between the ages of eighteen and twenty-years-old were the highlights of my life, but that knockout surpassed it. Dana was right; as the years have rolled by, more and more recognition has come my way for it.
“The Brits really stormed on that night,” Mark beamed. “The secret was that, on that night, we were all brought in to lose. Dana told us that afterwards. There was no way I was meant to beat Eugene just as there was supposed to be no way for Ian Freeman to beat Frank Mir and in comparison to Leigh Remedios, Genki Sudo was meant to be like the Japanese Anderson Silva. The same goes for James Zikic, too. None of us were meant to win.
“Along with my knockout and Freeman’s win over the golden boy at the time, we rocked the house. I felt bad for Remedios for not beating Sudo, though. I’ve always watched and admired Leigh and he’s truly a pioneer of the sport here as well.
Fortunately, the UFC bringing a show to our doorstep only increased the nation’s interest in the sport as events became more regular, allowing Mark to compete much more frequently both inside and outside of the then-non-contractual UFC.
It’s difficult to put into words just what UFC 38 did for UK MMA. In short, it was a godsend.
“After that show I saw competitions almost every weekend all over the country,” Mark opined. “More and more shows turned up. Fighting in Europe and America became so much easier. I left my job with Barclays in 2000 and, as they already sponsored me throughout Taekwondo, they followed through into my MMA career. When I started competing more regularly they paid for my flights and everything.
“By 2002, I was earning more in fighting than I was in my job with Barclays. Luckily, I made the right decision. I was getting good purses and it opened up many doors for my future.”
Midway through Mark’s career, after coming up short against Phillip Miller, strings of wins and losses were close together. Living off a televised 2002 knockout wasn’t going to put food on the table.
“The hardest thing about this period of time in my career was that I was trying to train myself and compete at the top of my game whilst attempting to run a full-time gym,” the 185-pounder revealed. “If any fighters ever want to get to the world-class level, you shouldn’t run a gym. It’s one or the other. You should have somebody else running it for you whilst your train in order to segregate yourself away and have as much time as necessary to focus on you.
“I had no choice. I needed to pay the bills in between fights. I had a family. It was my biggest weakness, but in doing so, I believe I did amazing. I look back and I achieved a lot of cool stuff. People who were close to me didn’t know I was teaching full-time during my own training.
“That’s why if you look at my record late into it, my record was up and down. I trained hard, but not at the level I should’ve been training at.
“I was always highly motivated by the wins. When I won, I felt I could never lose again. Throughout the wins, I never celebrated the moment and the accomplishment. Throughout my time in martial arts, I was always told a fighter’s lifespan is five years and mine on a high lasted over ten years.
“From books, magazines and photo shoots in the early nineties all the way to the wins in 2002 on the UFC, I had an extensive run.
“I always stayed super-focused on my fight career. That’s what was taught to us of being the martial artist’s way of life. After the UFC debut, I was walking back to the hotel with Genki Sudo when Carmen Electra tried to take me to meet her modelling friends but I left all my friends partying, went back to my hotel room and just took the whole thing in before carrying on forward. I always wanted to stay on task and find that next fight.
Mark’s retirement was that of a smart fighter. The modern day fighters can hang in there on pure fighter stubbornness alone and be a painful watch. Weir, staying true to his humble beginnings, listened to the people around him. Once he gained a win over Micky Burns in 2013, ‘The Wizard’ saw that as a big enough high to ride off into the sunset with.
“In the last fight, my son was old enough to be in my corner. He helped me out a lot and I find that to be a proud moment. Plus, I didn’t want to lose in front of him. I was still enjoying it but after every fight I had family hoping this would be the last one. They were telling me I had nothing left to prove and that I was getting on. I hung them up because I was 45-years-old and it was time to do so. I think I went out on a high.
“It made sense to dedicate my time to teaching every day afterwards. If I had my way I’d be fighting today. I still train three times per day, I get involved with the younger guys. I love fighting.”
Staying true to form, Weir teaches full-time at Range Martial Arts Academy nowadays. The freedom in which he can partake in seminars and travel wholesomely is something he truly relishes. With fighting out of the way a good two years, Mark is content with what accolades he has in his future.
“My main passion in the gym is the special ‘Recruits Programme’ that’s been running for two years now,” the forty-seven-year-old informed. “In the programme I supply them with two years of training. A lot of the recruits have never done anything before.
“After the first year, they start competing. I had a few make their debuts not long ago and they were absolutely amazing. The stipulations involve training a minimum of three times per week and they must attend certain team events where they’ll train together. They’re also given tasks over the period of a year like running and cycling that must be completed.
“The second year consists of them fighting a lot to gain as much experience as they can with the goal at the end of the two years being to have a trip over to train with John Hackleman which will happen for the first time next year.
“The way it’s funded is through seminars with veteran BJJ, wrestlers and strikers who come in and teach in closed-door sessions for ten or eleven members of the programme. Because of my history in the sport, I can’t believe how many people have been willing to come in and help me out with funding this programme. All the coaches are willing to help for just petrol money. It’s amazing that we can give back to this sport.
“I like these ideas and I’m glad I could get it going. The contrast between MMA back in the day and now is fascinating and this is a programme I’m really proud to uphold.”
As the curtains are called on his fighting career, Mark looks back at his journey with many positives. A pioneer of MMA inside the UK, he’s ready to give back to the sport that offered him so much.
“My career was very fast but very rewarding,” boasted Weir. “It’s nice to be part of the big explosion in this country, travelling and fighting on shows all over the place. I can’t look back at my career with any negativity. In this game, you get what you give and it’s allowed me to build a legacy for myself within UK MMA and rewarded me with an outstanding life of memories. My family are massively proud of me and I look to extend my name by teaching the future kids of this sport.
“I know that when I’m on my deathbed, I’ll be thinking about three things; my kids, my wife and this sport and I’ll be thanking this sport for fulfilling this happy chap’s life.”
Follow our writer Harry Williams on Twitter: @Harry_Williams