Mark Schultz: UFC win was a cathartic step after Foxcatcher tragedy

Mark Schultz with Channing Tatum, who plays him in the new film "Foxcatcher"

David M. Benett/Getty Images for Foxcatcher

Embrace the grind.

It’s a phrase virtually every wrestler has heard in his or her life, and the meaning goes so much further than just those three words. In a physical sense, wrestlers grind in the gym and on the mats. They learn to love the suffering of an intense, grueling match. But in a different sense, embracing the grind as a wrestler also means learning do a lot while having very little.

While many sports are flush with funding from sponsors like Nike, Gatorade and other brand-name products, wrestling has always struggled to keep its head above water. So when John Du Pont, a multimillionaire philanthropist and heir to a chemical company fortune, came along and offered to fund the U.S. national wrestling team in the late 1980s, it was like a gift from heaven.

Until Du Pont’s madness dissolved it all into hell.

A new movie set for limited release this Friday titled "Foxcatcher" chronicles Du Pont’s story along with wrestling brothers Dave and Mark Schultz, who were both Olympic gold medal winners in the ’80s. Dave and Mark both worked and trained at Du Pont’s Foxcatcher facility for years, being funded by the eccentric millionaire until a fateful day in 1996 brought everything crashing down around them.

It was kind of another cathartic experience to go into the UFC and win and go out a winner because my wrestling career was ruined.

— Mark Schultz 

Du Pont, whom most believed was a paranoid schizophrenic, drove to a cottage on his property, pulled out a .38 revolver and shot Dave Schultz three times in front of his wife, who was just inside their house standing near a door. Schultz died seconds later. Du Pont barricaded himself inside his home for two days until police were able to flush him out and arrest him. He later died in prison.

The movie, directed by Academy Award nominee Bennett Miller, focuses primarily on the Schultz brothers, who Du Pont befriended then betrayed years later. The tragedy will always haunt Schultz no matter how many years pass, but when the chance to make a movie about the situation came along, he was both scared and relieved to help it come together.

"It was very hard. It was hard on me, it was hard on the actors, it was hard on the director. It was probably the most painful, difficult movie ever made," Schultz told FOX Sports about the making of "Foxcatcher." The training that the actors had to go through, and the going back into my past and dredging up all that horrible stuff, and the actors really wanted to get it right. They wanted to get to the truth, and they did get to the truth.

"It’s really helped me a lot psychologically that they’ve given me a voice to tell the world what really happened."

Where it all started was in the 1980s, when Olympic wrestlers were winning gold but then returning home like paupers begging on the street. The glory that came along with representing the United States on the biggest athletic stage in the world resulted in a lot of accolades, congratulations and pats on the back, but none of those pays the bills. 

When Du Pont started offering to pay the athletes, fund the training and build them a world-class facility to prepare for competition, it was an easy "yes" for all of the wrestlers who just wanted to pursue their dreams.

"A lot of the stuff that happened at Foxcatcher happened because I didn’t have any money and Du Pont, it wasn’t good enough to just pay me and put Team Foxcatcher down as much club affiliation," Schultz said.

"He had to be known as a great leader, a great mentor, a great coach, a great philanthropist. He wanted us to lie for him. He played us against each other to manipulate us. It was really a terrible situation. It was tragic, but having this movie made is very cathartic for me. It’s a way of getting justice in a way."

In the beginning, Du Pont’s money was a means to an end. It was the support the United States Olympic Committee wasn’t funneling into the program, and it was the lifeline wrestling desperately needed.

"You can’t survive and compete against professional Eastern bloc, Soviet countries with actually zero financial support. I had no place to train, I had no money, I had no job, and Du Pont comes along and offers me what seems like the world. To get all the obstacles out of my way, it seemed like a dream come true," Schultz said.

"Then I come to realize all the obstacles are being replaced by one gigantic obstacle, which was Du Pont himself."

When Du Pont murdered Dave Schultz in 1996, Mark wasn’t sure where to turn. His brother wasn’t just his family. He was his best friend. His mentor.  His coach. And now he was gone. 

Wrestling was the furthest thing from Mark’s mind, but it was also the only thing he’d known for his entire adult life. As it turns out, a hobby Schultz picked up a few years earlier served as a perfect distraction and ultimately the best way to channel his anger after the loss of his brother.

"After the murder, I left coaching for two months. I gave the program over to my assistant, and I just stayed at home, and I was in mourning for a long time. Then I came back and I had already been training in mixed martial arts and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for three years with Pedro Sauer and a little bit with Walt Bayless," Schultz said. "I had basically quit wrestling in 1988, I was so sick of it. I was tired of the poverty and trying to compete with no support, and I found jiu-jitsu and I switched over immediately.

"I used the takedowns and the conditioning of wrestling to create my own style."

Four months after his brother was murdered, Schultz was training with Dave Beneteau ahead of his fight at UFC 9 when his friend got injured and was unable to compete. On extremely short notice, Schultz took the chance to step into the Octagon and compete against "Big Daddy" Gary Goodridge.

Schultz won the fight after 12 minutes when the bout was stopped and declared a TKO because of a cut. It remains the only time Schultz ever fought in the UFC, but it’s a memory that’s stayed with him forever.

"It was kind of another cathartic experience to go into the UFC and win and go out a winner because my wrestling career was ruined," Schultz said. "Because in the 1988 Olympics, I basically walked away from that match in protest and went out a loser, which was very painful to live with for eight years, but when I came back and fought and won, that made up for all those eight years that I was depressed."

Schultz never competed in MMA again, but he’s still recognized as the most accomplished wrestler to ever step foot in the UFC Octagon. Even for a single fight.

Mark Schultz and the cast of "Foxcatcher" 

Sixteen years later as he sat on the set while "Foxcatcher" was being made, Schultz began to relive many of the most painful memories he ever had to endure in life. Miller insisted on everything being authentic in the film, so he worked with Schultz as well as his brother’s widow to get everything correct so that the truth would come out in this story.

Nancy Schultz, Dave’s wife, even allowed actor Mark Ruffalo to wear her husband’s real glasses for his role in the movie.

Actor Steve Carell, who portrays Du Pont, went through three hours of makeup every day to get the look of the millionaire perfected. He watched tapes and interviews to understand his mannerisms and how Du Pont behaved and moved to give the best possible performance. He did so well that the first day Schultz came on set and spotted Carell dressed as Du Pont it was like he was seeing a ghost.

"My personal feelings was I actually thought it was Du Pont for a split second," Schultz said. "I thought he had been resurrected from the dead because he looked so much like him. He walked and talked exactly like him. It probably happened for a split second, and then I recognized it was Steve Carell."

As hard as it was to go through the making of the movie and then to see it all unfold again when the film premiered, Schultz is very happy he made the choice to share this story. The entire reason he wanted "Foxcatcher" to get made wasn’t so he could see his name in lights again or that he would get credit for the idea.

It was the best way he could think to honor his fallen brother.

"The thing I want most about my book and the movie is that Dave is immortalized. That’s the thing that gives me the most satisfaction," Schultz said.

As "Foxcatcher" gets a wide release and award nominations start going out, the wrestling community undoubtedly will get a lot of attention considering the focus the sport gets in this particular film. 

Schultz has been involved with wrestling in one form or another for almost his entire life. It accounts for many of his greatest achievements and also for his most devastating defeats. Wrestling brought him gold and it also cost him the person he loved most in this world. Now at age 54, Schultz will always have a special place in his heart for wrestling. 

He’ll also never forget the problems that plagued wrestling and allowed someone like John Du Pont to get involved with the sport in the first place.

"Wrestling is a beautiful sport. It builds character, it builds confidence, it’s the greatest foundation for martial arts," Schultz said. "But the administration for wrestling is in disarray, and it’s very discouraging that this is the mentality that handles our sport."