Flashback Friday: Rewinding Back to The TapouT TV Series

There’s a UFC Fight Night tomorrow. Did you forget? Who can blame you?

It seems today there’s more MMA out there available to the public than ever. As none other than Randy Couture recently implied, that’s not always a great thing.

“I think the market is maybe a little saturated,” the UFC legend noted in a recent interview. “It’s hard to track where things are happening, where to finds things. Unless one of my guys from the gym is fighting, I honestly don’t make a huge effort to tune in.”

Older fans remember when this was an underground sport. Some get nostalgic for the “old days” — the days when it was a smaller community, with fighters as approachable as fans, and every UFC event a happening loaded with top talent. They’re right, of course.

Others count their blessings that we’re not watching third generation VHS tapes dubbed in Japanese to watch the world’s best. They’re also right.

Both would agree: those days are gone forever.

The boom in UFC’s popularity happened about ten years ago, mainly the result of new exposure from The Ultimate Fighter reality series. Then there were more fans who enjoyed UFC: Unleashed, which gave them a chance to get to enjoy the careers and connect with that generation of fighters.

Today’s fans may struggle to do the same, with the glut of MMA out there.

Back in 2007, there wasn’t so much out there. But there was another reality series, mostly forgotten today: TapouT.

TapouT saw the three guys behind the TapouT clothing label searching for new MMA talent to represent the brand. (“It’s the fastest-growing sport in America,” Mask boasts in the opening of the first episode. Man, it sure doesn’t feel that way right now.) TapouT was synonymous with North American MMA at the time, with it’s edgy “in your face” persona seemingly defining the era.

Its star has since deceased, it’s a completely different era in the sport, and the cable channel on which it was originally broadcast is gone, too. But, the show makes for quite a time capsule — and it introduced an impressive lineup of MMA talent.

I picked up the complete series DVD set for less than $20 shipped via Amazon.

Here’s the show’s intro:

We meet the man called Mask in the opener, who started this fledgling clothing label TapouT back in 1997. As he puts it, he was training a little jiu-jitsu and was disappointed there was “nothing, no shirt or logo that said I’m going to step up in your a–.” (I’m reminded that’s not my concept of jiu-jitsu, which is probably why I didn’t watch this show every week.)

“I put it straight in your face,” Mask continues, as he directs a photo shoot of scantily clad women in TapouT briefs, “and I took it straight sexual.” This all keeps with the “underground” vibe that MMA enjoyed of the time — for better or worse.

They’re searching for a guy to fight in the growing light weight divisions on a trip to New Mexico, and Greg Jackson introduces them to Demacio Page. Page fights at 155 even though he’s only 145 lbs. (Yes, those days are gone forever, too.) Mask shares some laughs with a young Diego Sanchez. Sanchez shares a bit of Page’s troubled background.

Page’s upcoming opponent is trained by Pat Militech, in what was turned out to be the end of the Militech camp’s dominant era.

On the way to Page’s bout in Iowa, we learn of Matt Serra’s decision to go with another sponsor for his title bout against Georges St-Pierre.  As Mask puts it, he was there with Serra from the beginning, but now Serra is going for a more lucrative offer. Brands with better financial backing had already gotten involved in MMA in ’07, long after Mask began his punk-style label.

“I understand it,” Mask bellows. “But is it cool? No! Does TapouT stop sponsoring the little guys, when we make it big?”

(I think that’s about what would happen, sadly. TapouT was sold after Mask’s 2009 death, and would soon be found in all of the malls — and fewer of the fights at bingo halls.)

Demacio Page would earn an impressive victory to end the show, defeating the larger Militech product by first round KO. He would go on to fight in both the WEC and UFC.

The show ends on a high note, for more than one reason. First, it’s nice to see the underdog prevail.

Second, it reminds us that as much as this sport has changed, something has stayed the same through the years.

Sure, at the core there are some issues. I actually never liked this TapOut label very much, and often didn’t care for the image they gave the sport. But I also appreciated how they got a lot of fighters a lot of financial support.

There’s always another great fighter on the horizon, with a new story to tell. That seems the message of this show, and maybe that’s a good one to remember — in any MMA era.