Tapped OuT

Hitman Fight Gear's Daniel Diaz and his war with the legendary MMA label

But that wasn't the end of the fight. At a park afterward, the man showed up with five other guys, one of whom carried a .25 caliber automatic pistol. The man Diaz beat up pointed him out, and his buddy raised the gun and pointed it at his chest. "My friend walked in front of me, and he puts his hands up and says, 'What the fuck you gonna do with that? You ain't gonna shoot nobody,'" Diaz says. "And the dude unloaded the clip."

His homeboy took four shots. Though his friend survived, Diaz, once unflappable in the face of street violence, was shaken and immediately looked for a way out. He joined the Marine Corps.

He was all-in as a Marine. Meritoriously promoted out of boot camp, he earned the rank of E4 Corporal in 18 months. His military occupation specialty was avionics and electronics. When he got the chance, Diaz didn't hesitate to train as a helicopter gunner; he was also a guinea pig in the military's Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape School [2] school in Maine, where, among other techniques used to mold a hard-ass Marine, he says, he was stuck in boxes for long periods of time and made to survive in the snow without food and water to test his character and see if his spirit would break. It didn't.

TapouT crew (left to right): Dan Caldwell, Timothy Katz, Daniel Diaz and Charles Lewis
Courtesy Daniel Diaz
TapouT crew (left to right): Dan Caldwell, Timothy Katz, Daniel Diaz and Charles Lewis
Some of Diaz's work
Courtesy Daniel Diaz
Some of Diaz's work

He was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 1997. But his return to Orange County included a seamless return to the street game. "There was some drug running," he admits.

Diaz claims he ran loads of pot through John Wayne Airport in the years before 9/11 and, in his free time, provided his own muscle when it came to collecting debts. He didn't think twice about knocking on a man's door and beating the shit out of him if he failed to fork over the cash. "I never killed anybody, but I put a few in the hospital," he recalls.

In 1999, he was arrested and convicted for possession of 8 pounds of weed, $55,000 in cash, four bulletproof vests and 65 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition. He received three years of probation, and the court confiscated his Jeep Grand Cherokee. He later served 45 days in jail for a probation violation. Diaz also admits to getting popped for driving under the influence.

In trying to put his life back on the rails, he worked for manufacturers in the surfing industry and dabbled in mixed-martial-arts-style clothing design. In 2001, he and his younger brother started Hitman Fight Gear, a company lauded for a broader appeal than its competitor, TapouT. Years later, a deal with the enemy would kill his once-burgeoning brand, as TapouT, according to Diaz's lawsuit, would pimp his shirts and leave his brand broken and his bank account bleeding.

But prior to the awful end, his business blossomed, and Diaz, whose shirt designs and fight gear were hailed as innovative and durable, saw his products sold in stores such as No Fear, next to the likes of Metal Mulisha and Travis Barker's Famous Stars and Straps. "My success in there bothered [TapouT]," Diaz says. "I'm pound for pound kicking their ass."

Still, Diaz says he faced a problem of scale; he couldn't afford to give stores enough clothing on credit to replace the merchandise that sold out. But as he continued to design his Hitman gear, as well as perform design services for other clothing brands, he eventually stumbled onto what he thought was a business opportunity that would get his name in stores all over the world and make him rich in the process.

* * *

Diaz sits in a dark booth inside the Fling, a crusty dive on Tustin Avenue in Santa Ana. He doesn't drink anymore and tries to ignore a couple of middle-aged white guys with beer bellies who sit at the bar, listening to Hank Williams Jr. on the jukebox and watching the Summer Olympics. They occasionally turn to look at Diaz, whose just-try-me glare and rising voice is a startling reminder that you can take the boy out of the fight game, but you can't take the fight out of the boy.

He struggles to keep his voice low as he recounts a litany of grievances he has been nursing as though they were a fine scotch whose angry, burning flavor has only grown stronger over the years. It all started, he says, in 2005, when Diaz entered into a contract with Russell Lin and a company called Roxwell. Diaz would take a 10 percent commission on anything they made for TapouT.

Diaz thought he was on the fast track to fortune, but his problems started quickly. Initially, he says, TapouT allowed him to work out of his Huntington Beach office to spare him the commute to the company's headquarters in Grand Terrace, near Riverside, but then it ordered him to break the lease and slog into the Inland Empire every day.

Diaz waited out his lease, paid to store his inventory in Orange County and made the commute to the 909, where he discovered he wouldn't have an office for the first three months. As the company began to bleed money and staff, Diaz says, he was moved into a small office with another employee and eventually got a corner office vacated by a formerly high-ranking salesman.

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