By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Sparring With Shadows
How Jeremy Williams' suicide devastated OC's first professional mixed-martial-arts team
Under the bright camera lights and slick production values of a nationally televised mixed-martial-arts (MMA) fight, Laguna Beach's Adam Lynn stepped into the ring at Chicago's Sears Centre Arena on May 21, 2007. He stopped the tears that had been flowing for two weeks and shut out the world.
"I wasn't in the mood to put up with anybody's fucking shit," he says now. "It was like, 'Dude, point me toward the ring; I'm going to kick somebody's ass and get fucking paid for it. Leave me the fuck alone.'"
Lynn was member of the Southern California Condors, an Orange County-based professional MMA team in the International Fight League (IFL), whose bouts were televised weekly on FOX Sports. The team no longer exists; the IFL didn't renew the Condors after their first season. The league itself limped into its third season this April, its stock valued at just pennies amid rumors of its impending demise.
But Lynn didn't know then that his team was about to go belly-up. That wasn't why he had been crying.
Two weeks before the Chicago bouts, on May 5, Condors middleweight fighter Jeremy Williams, a mentor, friend and training partner for the better part of a decade to some teammates, pulled his car over to the side of Pacific Island Drive, just blocks from his parents' picturesque hilltop home in Laguna Niguel, and shot himself. The 27-year-old Williams, nicknamed "Spider" because of his ability to capture opponents in submission holds with his long limbs, was the owner of Apex Jiu-Jitsu in Lake Forest.
That night at the Sears Centre Arena, Williams' parents, Richard and Susan, sat ringside. "It's just good to be where Jeremy would have been," Susan said in an interview for the TV broadcast.
* * *
The opening bell rang. Lynn, wiry and covered in tattoos, was expressionless.
Williams and Lynn had been friends since 1998, when Lynn was stationed at Camp Pendleton and both of them trained with professional fighter Chris Brennan.
The 5-foot-9, 155-pound fighter seemed completely focused, oblivious to the pressure of fighting in front of TV cameras and a live audience of more than 5,000 people. Lynn picked the San Jose Razorclaws' Josh Odom apart, using any opening to pummel him. It was like therapy for Lynn, the smallest member of the Condors.
Odom took a heap of punishment and barely escaped a submission move. He lasted just long enough to lose by a unanimous decision.
Not everyone on the team was able to channel his emotions like Lynn. Alternate Justin Levens, who fought in Williams' place, couldn't complete a prefight interview.
"Jeremy was a great guy," Levens said. Then he froze. His eyes welled up, and he lowered his head. Under his breath, he said, "I can't fucking do this."
Levens was beaten badly in the first round by Brian Foster. Afterward, a television interviewer tried to speak to Levens again. He broke into tears and dodged the camera.
Looking back, assistant coach Debi Purcell, a pioneer of women's MMA who was born and raised in Huntington Beach, says fighting so soon after the tragedy might have been a mistake.
"I mean, come on, we had no business being in the ring," she says. "I knew exactly what was going to happen. I knew exactly, every fight in our last showing, who was going to win. If I could go back and say, 'You guys shouldn't fight,' I would have done that."
Next to fight after Levens was Marco Ruas, the Condors' head coach and, at 46, an MMA legend and a former UFC champion. It was his first fight in seven years. Although he retired years before to become a trainer and coach, he signed a fight contract with the IFL as a publicity boost for the Condors.
Lynn says Ruas was one of the most visibly distraught by the news of Williams' death.
"It devastated all of us, but Marco—he's a teddy bear inside that big huge Brazilian body, and it devastated him," he says. "He was having a hard time functioning."
Ruas (pronounced "hoo-as"), who has a thick accent and sometimes has to search for the right English words, occasionally gestures and acts with facial expressions what he's trying to communicate. Although he began training Williams in his garage several years ago, their roles were reversed leading up to the Chicago fight. Ruas' last memories of Williams are of his helping to motivate Ruas to train and prepare for his big comeback fight.
In the comeback bout, Ruas seemed to be in visibly better shape than his opponent, 45-year-old and fellow former UFC champion Maurice Smith. However, after controlling Smith for the first three rounds, Ruas became completely exhausted, unable to even lift his hands to defend himself. As he lay on his back, too tired to even get to his feet, his corner threw in the towel.
* * *
In late 2006, when Ruas was forming the Condors, he approached Williams about joining the team. Williams had quit fighting four years before to be a coach. "I told him, 'You're young; coaching is for old guys like me. You should fight,'" Ruas says.