Just once, a long time ago, I interviewed Jon Koppenhaver. This was back in 2007, right after he'd been on The Ultimate fighter 6, and before he changed his legal name to "War Machine."
It was also before a long series of arrests, convictions, disturbed and disturbing tweets and blog posts. Long before an alleged assault on a man and his girlfriend led to a man-hunt and arrest last week.
Even so, seven years ago, it was clear that something was wrong inside Koppenhaver. Something angry, sure, but also something sad.
While on TUF 6, the welterweight alternately displayed physical talent and emotional instability and volatility. His coach on the show, Matt Serra, repeatedly shook his head, smiled wondered what was up with the fighter after his unpredictable outbursts.
"Physically, he could be a problem for anyone. But, I'll tell ya, mentally, he's definitely got some issues.
War's kind of a piece of work, you know? He just..you know...man, what a nut," Serra opined, lightly.
Then, more soberly, the accomplished fighter and coach gave an honest assessment of Koppenhaver. "I don't think that War's a bad guy," he said of the man who was turning into "War Machine."
"I just think he's a guy who thinks the chips are always stacked against him."
That characterization certainly appeared to the outside world to be true in the following years as "War Machine" got himself into trouble time and again with fights outside the ring and offensive things said in blog posts, interviews and on social media platforms.
Our brief conversation was before the UFC firing, however, before the arrests, prison time and bad "jokes" about rape, murder and suicide, from "War Machine." No one could guess that Koppenhaver would go on to be involved in so much destructive drama, but it was clear even back then that the young man had struggles and illness he needed help working through.
Most important, however, Koppenhaver seemed to have the self-awareness and humility to recognize he needed help, back then. When we spoke, very little time was spent discussing his last or next fight in the cage.
Instead, I asked relatively uncomfortable questions of Jon. Questions about his happiness, about his temper, about feelings, really. After I did, he was anything but defensive, irritable or avoiding.
Jon eventually worked his way up to his characteristic rapid-fire cadence in California bro-speak tone but at first he was quiet and pained sounding. He spoke about feeling targeted by the world, about getting angry over it all.
But he also spoke about how he needed help learning to cope and control those feelings of persecution and the real sadness behind them. Moreover, Jon said that he was planning on getting psychological help.
"It doesn't mean I'm weak if I deal with my feelings and my past," he said.
Perhaps he was trying to convince himself of it as he said it. But, of course, that was a true statement and one hoped that this was the beginning of a new stage for the talented young fighter.
I don't know what treatment Jon Koppenhaver ended up getting for his psychological issues, or how hard he fought to get and stay happy and control the sadness that has so often erupted in rage, but he does not appear to be winning the battle. When the cops caught up with War Machine last week, who was wanted for allegedly beating up another man and his girlfriend, he wasn't in Canada or Mexico, fleeing hard.
He was back in a California town he used to live in, holed up in a hotel with some cash and pizza.
War Machine will have another day or two in court, sadly, and we'll learn more about what happened the day of this most recent alleged assault. But, his girlfriend - a woman he's joked about raping and hitting in the past - is broken and swollen in a hospital bed, claiming that he's the one who beat her up.
From every conceivable angle, this is a tragic story, and one that seems so far away from the quiet, reflective and earnest voice I heard that day years ago during our conversation.
From a distance, our view of War Machine has revealed him, first, as hurt and immature, then insensitive and lacking or ignoring self-awareness, then reckless and dangerous to himself, and now, potentially quite dangerous to others as well as himself. Back then, those many years ago and for a few minutes, he seemed more man than monster, more "Jon," than "War."
Jon Koppenhaver talked to me about wanting and working to get well. War Machine, would later instead go on to often write and talk about going out in a burst of flames.
One way or another, I hope this is War Machine's last, horrible stand. None of us yet know the facts of this case but it has been clear for a long time that War Machine needs to go away.
He's not helping anything, least of all himself. Jon Koppenhaver, on the other hand...well, I hope that he still gets and takes the help that, at least for a moment or two many years ago, he knew he needed and wanted to get.
- Jon Koppenhaver