10 Months Since We Lost Charles "Mask" Lewis
Feels like it was yesterday...
I wrote this a few days after he passed in March of 2009.
In the early days of our sport, there were many people in the MMA community that had given up, people who put everything they had into a sport that were slowly fading away, sold out, gave up or went bankrupt. Not TapouT.
During the dark ages of MMA, there were no Pay-Per-View's, sold out venues, or mainstream sponsorship money or mass media exposure for fighters or those involved with the sport. Through the resolve of a very few, somehow the sport managed to survive, and flourish. Those of us who witnessed the birth, near death, and amazing growth of MMA in America will always be very protecting of a sport that we helped keep alive.
There are not many people in MMA that have done more to help this sport than Charles “Mask” Lewis, and there certainly has never been a corporate sponsor larger, led by his success and generosity to support up and coming fighters from the nightclub or smokers at a local school to the largest MMA stage in the world, Mask was there.
Tapout sponsored fighters and events back when there was no reason to sponsor fighters. There was no television exposure, no magazine shoots for Men’s Fitness or 6+ figure contracts with millions of people watching. Barely anyone even knew what "MMA" stood for, yet TapouT, led by “Mask” gave so much just to help out the fighters and fans of this sport.
We are all very lucky that Charles was able to have a vision for this sport and become what we all knew it could, and I hope he knew how much of this sports fate had rested on his fortitude.
To many, he was “Mask”, to me, he was just Charles Lewis, a great guy who loved Mixed Martial Arts. TapouT was Grapplers Quest’s first real sponsor and everyone that knows him; he always made you feel special. The other day, I was sending a text to one of our sponsored fighters and didn’t want to go over the 160 character limit. I signed it simply with, “Brian C.” and a deep sadness came over me, because I remembered how special Mask made me and many others feel by boldly screaming our names or nicknames every time you walked by.
My brother, Paul, called me yesterday and we reminisced about how Charles approached us at The UFC in Atlantic City (my brother's birthday present from me) and how he made my brother feel very special sharing with him how much he loved Grapplers Quest, and will support us for life because, “You guys were there from the beginning and we gotta stick together”. He was so proud of people who went after their dreams and most importantly that you BELIEVED in yourself and your vision. That's what made him who he was and that exact thinking was what led him to the top of the MMA world in branding, sales, sponsorship, and most importantly with FRIENDS.
He had a magical and natural ability to make people feel important, regardless of their place in life. Charles treated everyone equally and he has always been someone I tried to emulate with our success model. He and the rest of the TapouT crew would spend countless hours trying to give me advice on business and handling success, got Grapplers Quest into the first three video games through their high level relationships with the UFC and the game’s maker, and helped nearly 40-50 competitors per show be able to compete with sponsorship. Charles’ success through TapouT was fueled by his desire to grow through a positive business model, meaning as he grew he always spread his success to the people he respected the most in the world for everything they stood for, THE FIGHTERS, and the rest of us who’s lives he positively touched, are very lucky to have known him. God Rest your Soul Charles and know that your affect on our community will forever be remembered, respected, and revered as a legendary MMA businessman, entrepreneur, sponsor and most importantly, a friend we will all dearly miss.
CEO, Grapplers Quest