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Things got more problematic the following year, when TapouT brought in Marc Kreiner, a former disco-era music producer who, more than 30 years ago, had gone from serving ice cream at Baskin-Robbins to amassing a fortune by making records for booty-shaking groups such as Chic and Sister Sledge. According to Diaz, the decision to bring in Kreiner marked the beginning of the end for TapouT as it was.
It's clear that Kreiner brought a troubled history to the company. In a March 24, 1980, feature in People magazine, Kreiner was described as a 26-year-old "personally unpretentious, wide-eyed ingenue whose biggest talent is his self-confidence." At the time, Kreiner's business reaped a reported $30 million per year, and he lived in a $4.5 million LA beach home once owned by Marion Davies, longtime mistress of William Randolph Hearst. His lifestyle included models and actresses, as well as parties with the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Dudley Moore and Rod Stewart. In 1987, he pleaded guilty on racketeering charges involving the hiring of a couple of alleged mobsters to beat up two former business associates over a buyout deal for his Highrise Entertainment Corp., a recording label.
Kreiner wasted no time moving in on TapouT's fortunes, Diaz recalls, quickly becoming a managing member. By the end of his run in TapouT, Diaz and other former insiders say Kreiner was known as the "fat disco fuck."
According to Diaz, in late 2007, TapouT, led by Kreiner and co-founder Dan "Punkass" Caldwell, offered to buy Hitman, promising to expand the brand name and give $1.25 million to Diaz, as well as an employment agreement, if he agreed to give up his contract with Roxwell. In fact, Diaz says, Kreiner told him that by the time TapouT was done building up the Hitman brand, it would be worth $100 million and that "11 percent of $100 million was $11 million."
The deal was made through a company called Fight Industries, of which Kreiner was president, says Diaz, who saw his employment with Fight Industries as a way to maintain some control over how Hitman would be marketed and developed. He estimates that after the sale of Hitman, Roxwell sold more than $10 million in TapouT apparel, and he lost at least $1 million by being duped into giving up his contract right to 10 percent commission in the sale of TapouT gear through Roxwell.
Those close to sales operations at the former Grand Terrace headquarters of TapouT say Hitman was only marginally pushed. "We were so pressured to push sales that Hitman became secondary because TapouT was the hotter brand," says Mike Siregar, a former sales manager for TapouT. Siregar, a Huntington Beach resident and mixed-martial-arts (MMA) fan since before the fights were on pay-per-view (he has known fellow Orange County natives Tito Ortiz and Tank Abbott for years), worked for TapouT for about three years before leaving in 2010.
A keen salesman with deep experience in apparel marketing, he was convinced by Howard Bass, an action-sports-apparel veteran, to join the company. Siregar had sold the popular Silver Star brand in No Fear stores, a brand that Bass had a key hand in building. One trip to the TapouT offices was enough for Siregar to come aboard. During his time there, he put 180,000 miles on his white Cadillac Escalade, driving from Huntington Beach to the company's Grand Terrace headquarters.
"I was impressed right off the bat," Siregar says. "I didn't know how big the operation was. I've never been a part of anything like that before, where it grew in such a short period of time. The offices were ridiculous. It was like 'Pimp My Office.' We had flat-screens in the hallway, marble floors and chandeliers. It was like a palace, if you will. Spare no expense."
TapouT grew from a clothing company whose goods were sold out of the back of car trunks in the 1990s to a reported $200 million annual business in 2009. But its designs remained relatively simple compared to Hitman, which was a cool brand with an edge to it, Siregar says. While TapouT was mainly worn by fighters and wannabes, Hitman appealed to a broader base of MMA fans who weren't necessarily into trading blows themselves, he says.
The dress code at work allowed for the wearing of either brand, but Kreiner, who became president and chairman of the company, wasn't thrilled when more and more employees started wearing Hitman, Siregar says. It came to a head as Kreiner brought fighters to the TapouT office only to have them see so many of Diaz's shirts sported by the workers. "He banned everybody from wearing Hitman on days that business suitors announced they were visiting the offices," Siregar says.
Diaz has always suspected that sales representatives were discouraged from selling his label. But, Siregar says, that wasn't the case. However, a red flag was raised once when he inquired about the sales reports. "Speaking on behalf of sales, we had quotas; we had to hit certain numbers," Siregar says. "I was told Hitman numbers don't count for overall sales numbers. That was kinda weird."
Friends with Lewis, Caldwell and third founding member Tim "SkySkrape" Katz, Siregar says, he's not talking shit; he's talking experience. TapouT was a tight-knit, family-like environment and a great place to work, he says. There were always rumors of bad dealings going on in the company, but he had no direct knowledge of them, and for every bad story told, he could easily share a positive experience. Siregar kept his focus on putting products in stores and monitoring distribution. "We all knew we were sitting on a gold mine," he says. "We all wanted to keep our jobs and do [our] best."