Jack Brown Interview #4 – War Machine – February, 2013
This is the fourth in my series of interviews of MMA fighters and personalities. Its subject certainly fits into both those categories. War Machine, AKA Jon Koppenhaver, is a Bellator welterweight, who has also fought in the UFC and was a competitor on TUF 6. He has had a very colorful life outside of MMA as well, but he is certainly a book that cannot simply be judged by his cover. Even before interviewing him, I felt that I knew War Machine better than some members of my own family. That’s because I’ve read all of his revelatory prison blogs online and followed him on Twitter for quite a while. He is a unique and fascinating individual. Please enjoy our conversation below.
Jack Brown: What martial art did you first start with when you were young and what do you think about it now?
War Machine: My first "training" was actually when I saw an ad in Black Belt Magazine for Gracie instructional videos and I begged my dad to buy them. We were both big UFC and Gracie fans, so he did, and we practiced the tapes together. I still say BJJ is the best art if you HAD to pick ONE. I was in 7th grade and 13-years-old.
JB: When was your first fighting "competition" and how did you fare?
WM: My first "fight" was actually for some special called "Across the Lines" or something that ended up airing on ESPN2 I believe. I got a weird phone call from a guy I knew from my hometown, Mark "The Bear" Smith, and he asked if I wanted to fight the following day. I said yes and next thing I know I’m pulling up to the house of Brian Deegan of Metal Mulisha and I’m getting ready to fight some tatted-up skinhead-looking guy. LOL - he sucked. Basically, I took him down, mounted him and smashed him in less than a minute. It was my first time on TV though, and lots of my friends got to see it, so it was cool.
JB: What are your memories of your first professional fight and do you feel like you were prepared at the time?
WM: My first pro fight isn't even on my Sherdog record and ended in a draw. I fought some Canadian guy. I didn't even know who I was fighting until the rules meeting backstage - super disorganized show in Tijuana that my then teammate, Vernon White, arranged for me. It was two five-minute rounds and we both won one - exactly why you NEED an odd number of rounds in a fight! It was a good experience because it was a FIGHT. Going in there and winning too easily is bad mentally. It programs you with the idea that you'll always win quick and then when the day finally does come for a war, you aren't prepared and it can be a bit of a culture shock. I always hope for tough first fights for all of my guys. It just sets the tone right - you're here to FIGHT, not smash on wimps real quick.
JB: You’ve had a lot of exciting fights in your career, but which one were you most satisfied with?
WM: Hard to say - some fights of mine I like because I "look good" in them, some I like because I showed a lot of heart. I really liked my fight vs. Woods though. He was a big tough opponent and I was able to show off my striking, wrestling, BJJ and CHIN.
JB: You might be one of the most well-read people that I’ve ever spoken with. What were some of your favorite books that you read over the past few years?
WM: I read so many books. It’s kind of a blur, but the favorites: the Genghis Khan series by Conn Iggulden, "Holographic Universe" by Michael Talbot, Malcolm X’s autobiography, "The Hidden Messages in Water" by Emoto, and "Forbidden Science" by Kenyon.
JB: Thanks to Netflix and your insomnia, I think you’ve also watched more documentaries than most people I know. Did you see "King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters," and what are some of your favorite documentaries?
WM: No, I haven’t seen the "King of Kong" yet – might have to check it out. Some of my favorite documentaries on Netflix now are "Knuckle," "Forks over Knives," "Zeitgeist," "The End," and "The Gerson Miracle."
JB: I know an injury has set things back, and we’ll all be seeing you on Spike and fighting in Bellator eventually, but do you have anything else in the works? A book? A podcast? A reality show?
WM: Yeah man, the knee really bummed me out. I’m back training now, but being very careful, and hope to fight before the summer. I have nothing in the works, but definitely plan on writing a book in the future.
JB: Is there anything more than what you’ve already said on Twitter that you can tell us about your experiences at the witch doctor?
WM: Umm…LOL…I was pretty candid with the whole witch doctor thing from start to finish on my Twitter. It was a weird experience, but I just had no way to explain the crazy string of "bad luck" I was having, especially with the way it all coincided with my ex-wife moving in with her best friend who just so happened to be a WITCH! Haha! Was it all real, or am I just losing it? Seemed real to me, so I guess that’s all that really matters.
JB: When you allow yourself to think ahead, what other plans or goals do you have beyond your fighting career?
WM: I definitely plan on opening my own gym in the future. I think that’s the no-brainer retirement plan for most of us. The key is to find a place with no competition so you’re not fighting for the scraps like a lot of the gyms do here in San Diego. I also plan on writing an autobiography one day. I have led an interesting life and have experienced A LOT. During my time in jail, I got to read a lot of books, including autobiographies, and I’m talking New York Times’ bestsellers, and I just wasn’t impressed. If I can put my life down on paper and get it in front of the masses, there’s just no way it doesn’t go HUGE.
JB: Last question, Jon, and this has been unbelievably great. Out of the many exceptional experiences that you’ve already had in your young life, what are a few that have contributed most to the man you are today?
WM: When I was 20-years-old and a sophomore at The Citadel, I was home for Christmas break when my brother’s probation officer and a few cops stepped by to check his room and ended up cuffing me, beating me, charged me with battery on a peace officer and lied on their report and said that I claimed to be my brother and that was why they were hassling me in the first place. Anyway, it’s a long story, but after being raised and brainwashed by my police officer father, my country, and my college, I finally WOKE UP and realized how very necessary it is to question authority. I have to say that one incident is what forever changed me the most. I never used to believe that stuff really happened. I thought the cops and the government were the good guys.
Thanks so much for reading and please follow @WarMachine170 and @jackjohnbrown on Twitter.