A Monster Among Us?: The Dark Descent of War Machine

A Monster Among Us?: The Dark Descent of War Machine
Design by Ziarekenya Smith

(Warning, there is graphic language contained throughout this article. There are also videos that might not be suitable for work.)

Chapter I

Former mixed martial arts fighter War Machine, who changed his name from Jon Koppenhaver in 2008, faces the biggest fight of his life.

But this battle will take place outside the cage in a Las Vegas courtroom next summer—and War Machine’s biggest opponent may very well be himself.

The 33-year-old ex-Bellator fighter goes on trial in July 2016—the new date was set this week—for the alleged two-hour brutal beating of his former porn star ex-girlfriend, Christy Mack, and her former boyfriend, Corey Thomas.

War Machine is charged with 34 felonies, including attempted murder and sexual assault, for the alleged attack inside Mack's home on August 8, 2014.

He pleaded not guilty but faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole if he’s convicted.

War Machine’s public relations manager, Amanda Earley, told Bleacher Report that he wouldn’t be doing any interviews "due to potential interference with his impending trial." But War Machine has provided his personal rants and insights on Twitter in what’s become a self-produced reality show.

Earley said that War Machine writes letters longhand from prison and then mails them to an anonymous friend who posts them on the ex-fighter’s Twitter account.

In one recent tweet on June 11, War Machine admitted wrongdoing:

What I did was bad enough, it’ll send me to prison for long enough, why must they punish me for stuff I didn’t do on top of it all, that’s "justice"? ...

I’m only going to be found guilty of the stuff that I really did, the stuff that I would confess to and sign a deal for right now. ... I was ‘raping’ my porn star girlfriend during our relationship and she never reported it, still wanted to marry me, and only made accusations AFTER I beat her and her lover? If that doesn't have R-E-V-E-N-G-E written all over it, then I don't know what does. Juries are that stupid guys.

War Machine, who tried to commit suicide in October 2014 while awaiting trial, has also been citing Bible verses on Twitter.

The caged former MMA fighter, who helped create Alpha Male T-Shirts and once tweeted about raping Mack, has suddenly found God.

Some might consider War Machine’s well-timed religious tweets to be an attempt to gain leniency from a jury that will decide his fate. But one of his friends said he’s actually a changed man.

“Right now, if we went to prison, you would see the real Jon Koppenhaver,” his friend and former strength and conditioning coach Brad Dryer told Bleacher Report. “The Jon that talks about Jesus Christ, the Jon that’s compassionate and concerned about people. It’s not because he was reformed in prison, it’s because he was on all that s--t. He was on antidepressants, and he was on steroids. That’s a lot of the conversation.” 

“I'm sure he’s changed into a slightly different person now,” Mack told Bleacher Report.

Bleacher Report interviewed numerous sources and reviewed 197 pages of sworn testimony from Mack and Thomas from a preliminary hearing that took place last November. Koppenhaver, as he is referred to in court documents, didn’t testify, which is a typical practice during that kind of a court hearing.

War Machine’s upcoming criminal trial is the most publicized case of alleged domestic violence in sports since former Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice was caught on video knocking out his fiancee (now wife), Janay, in a hotel elevator last year.

A sordid tale of sex and violence is about to unfold.


Photo Courtesy of AP

Chapter II

On August 7, 2014, just one day before the alleged attack, Mack and Thomas had lunch and went shopping to buy supplies for Mack’s upcoming appearance at a Las Vegas tattoo convention, according to testimony.

The pair had been seeing each other for two months, and Thomas said he knew that Koppenhaver was an ex-boyfriend and an MMA fighter. By her own testimony, Mack admitted that she was seeing both men. While Mack and Thomas once had a sexual relationship, she claimed their status changed to more of a friendship.

After they finished shopping, Thomas picked up some salads and headed over to Mack’s home. They ate dinner, watched Netflix and fell asleep on the couch. They woke up and moved to Mack’s bed around 12:30 a.m., according to Thomas’ testimony. Mack’s two pit bulls were in bed with them.

On August 8, shortly before 2 a.m., War Machine used a key to enter Mack’s Las Vegas home, according to Mack’s testimony.

As described in one of War Machine’s tweets, he was going to surprise Mack with an engagement ring.

Koppenhaver allegedly walked into Mack’s bedroom, turned on the lights and spotted Mack and Thomas in bed together. He allegedly started screaming, jumped on Thomas and, according to Thomas, “started wailing in my face.”

Thomas said that Koppenhaver put him in two chokeholds as they struggled in the bedroom and bathroom.

“I was looking up at the ceiling…thinking to myself, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m going to die in Christy’s bathroom,’” Thomas testified.

Thomas broke free, but Koppenhaver allegedly got him in a third chokehold and started asking him questions.

“‘Who are you? What are you doing here? This is my girl,’” Thomas testified that Koppenhaver said during the alleged attack.

Then he said Koppenhaver started talking to Mack.

“He was saying, ‘Tell him you love me. Tell him you asked me to marry you,’ and she did,” Thomas testified.

“She said, ‘Yes, you’re right. I asked you to marry me. You’re right. I told you I love you today,’” Thomas testified he heard Mack say.

Thomas described Mack’s demeanor: “My face was covered in dripping blood all over the side of the bed, so I could look up and see a little bit of her,” Thomas testified. “I’ve never heard her voice that way before. She was scared, very scared to death.”

Thomas decided to ask Koppenhaver some questions: “What do you want from me? Do you want to kill me, or do you want me to walk out of this room?”

Thomas said Koppenhaver told him not to contact police, or he’d send “Hell’s Angels and Navy Seals friends out to find me and kill me if I did say anything.”

Thomas grabbed his things and left Mack’s home.

“It never crossed my mind that he would hit her or beat her or do things to her,” Thomas told the court.


John Locher/Associated Press

Chapter III

Christy Mack’s chilling 911 call during Koppenhaver’s alleged beating of Thomas summarizes the horror of that August night: "Stop it. Stop it! Jon, Jon!"

She called 911 as she watched Koppenhaver allegedly punch and choke Thomas. After a lost connection, the operator called back. But Mack ignored the call. She testified that she deleted her original 911 call from her phone history.

“Because I knew Jon was coming after me next,” Mack told the court.

Mack testified that Koppenhaver attacked her after Thomas left her home.

Koppenhaver allegedly told her to get into the shower. Mack said she wasn’t wearing any clothes.

“I don't remember the first hits,” Mack told the court. “I just remember being in the shower, and he was screaming at me, and I could taste my own blood.”

According to her testimony, Mack ended up on the bathroom floor, naked and cold. Koppenhaver allegedly went through Mack’s cellphone, looked at whom she was following on Instagram and Twitter and then unfollowed them.

“He would hit me if he found something he didn’t like,” Mack told the court.

Mack testified that she told Koppenhaver that she needed help and asked to go to the hospital.

“He said, ‘They can’t help you,’” Mack told the court. She said he threw a dog’s blanket over her.

Mack said Koppenhaver got one of her dull steak knives, which she often used to open packages, during the ordeal.

“He cut all my wigs up with it,” Mack testified. “He sawed off my hair. He had the knife in my ear, and he was screaming at me, and just kept pushing it deeper and deeper.”

Eventually the knife broke, but Mack said Koppenhaver continued to use it on her to cut her head and hand.

At one point, Mack tried to get up to leave, but he allegedly kicked her.

But there was more to the alleged attack than a brutal beating. There are also allegations of sexual assault.

“He licked his hand, and he wiped it on my vagina,” Mack testified. “He said, ‘This is my p---y. I’m going to take it back now.’ He looked at me, and he was so upset, because he said he couldn’t get hard. He was so mad about it, but he did not have sex with me.”

During the preliminary hearing, Mack gave an inventory of her injuries. Her nose was broken in several different spots. Her eye socket was shattered. Some of her teeth were knocked out. She also had a lacerated liver and a serious leg injury.

During the alleged attack, Mack testified that Koppenhaver recognized the severity of her injuries.

“He says, ‘Now I have to kill you,’” Mack told the court.

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

According to Mack’s testimony, Koppenhaver got up, took her phone and his phone, and walked to her kitchen. Mack said she heard the drawers rattling.

“I thought he was getting another knife,” Mack testified. “I thought he was going to come and kill me because the other knife had broken.”

At that point, Mack ran out onto her balcony, jumped two fences and knocked on her neighbor’s doors. One of her neighbors called police as Mack hid behind a wall. The police arrived, and Mack was taken to the hospital, ending a night of terror.


Chapter IV

Several hours after the alleged attack, Dryer said that he received a text message. It was War Machine, and now he was on the run.

“I see the message,” Dryer said. “I’m like, ‘What’s the matter?’ He said, ‘I’m in big trouble.’ So then I said, ‘What did you do? You screwed up? Like you hit a girl? You hit somebody?’ I actually said that. Never got an answer.” 

Later that afternoon, Dryer said he and a mutual friend of War Machine’s drove to the fights in Long Beach, California.

“My friend tells me that War Machine called the gym and started describing that ‘there was blood all over the place. It was a nightmare. I got hurt. They hurt me. I hurt them.’ In a jumbled, mangled way, I heard this story,” Dryer said.

Later that day, Bellator fired War Machine, citing a “zero-tolerance policy” for domestic violence, according to TMZ.

On August 10, 2014, two days after the alleged attack on Thomas and Mack, Dryer called War Machine using a new telephone number. He heard what had happened, and he was angry.

"I call him up on the phone, and we have the conversation, like the Last Supper,” Dryer said. “I was asking him different questions. He was telling me different things. "What do you want to do?" Dryer said he asked War Machine. "'My lawyer said, Wait until she makes a statement in the case.’ I said, 'What are you talking about? You’re not going to win this, man. I don’t give a s--t what happens, you ain’t going to win this.'"

Three days after the alleged attack, Mack tweeted the shocking photos of her injuries. It dominated the news and social media as War Machine was on the run.

On August 15, 2014, seven days after the alleged attack, U.S. Marshals captured War Machine in a hotel room in Simi Valley, a suburb northwest of Los Angeles.

Days later, UFC President Dana White, who was concerned about his organization’s MMA brand being tarnished, criticized reporters for referring to War Machine as an “ex-UFC fighter” after he appeared in only two UFC fights many years ago.

“It’s horrible, man, horrible,” White told reporters.


Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Chapter V

Koppenhaver and his younger sister and brother grew up in Simi Valley. Their father, Gregory, was an L.A. police officer and detective. Their mother was a nurse.

Their parents divorced when they were all just kids. Jon lived with his father. His sister, Melissa, and brother, Michael, lived with their mother, who later remarried.

Greg Koppenhaver died of a heart attack when Jon was just 13 years old. Jon performed CPR on his father but couldn’t revive him. His nine-year-old brother, Michael, watched in horror.

“He was just a kid trying to jump on his dad, trying to push on his chest, trying to blow in his mouth,” Michael Koppenhaver told Bleacher Report. “It’s not a pretty thing. He feels responsible.”

“His father was his whole world,” Dryer said. “This powerful man just disappears out of his life like that. He didn’t have anyone to lean on.”

Neither Jon nor Michael got along with his stepfather.

“He was not a good person,” Michael said. “Once my dad died, he takes full control. His concern is no longer for the children. It’s more, ‘Let’s go to the bigger house. Let’s get a better car. Let’s just do unnecessary things with the money, as opposed to taking care of the family and the kids' future.'”

That strained relationship continued while Jon went off to college at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, where he studied biology.

He attended off and on in the fall semesters of 2000 and 2001, as well as several days the following spring semester, according to a school spokeswoman. Koppenhaver’s last day at The Citadel was on January 27, 2002. The school won’t disclose the reason he left, citing a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.

In an interview last year on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, Koppenhaver said, “I beat my stepdad almost to death” in a dispute over unpaid tuition at the school.


Chapter VI

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Koppenhaver’s first fight as an MMA fighter took place in 2004. But as the years went by, he got into trouble with the law for fights outside the cage.

In 2008, he had assault charges reduced to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to three years' probation after he pleaded guilty to choking a man unconscious outside a San Diego fitness center.

He talked about his troubles in this 2009 interview with ESPN Radio 1100.

On Oct. 31, 2009, War Machine announced on his now-defunct Myspace page that he was getting into the porn business while continuing his career as an MMA fighter.

“In life I have come to learn that all I enjoy is eating, sleeping, fighting and f-----g,” he wrote, according to MMA website MiddleEasy.com. “I'm living the dream, getting paid to fight and f--k! What more could I ask for?”

Michael Koppenhaver said he didn’t agree with his brother getting into the porn business. But the fighter was having sex with so many different women anyway that he was called the “Whore Machine.”

“He had sex every day, multiple times a day, with multiple girls sometimes,” Michael said. “So you might as well get paid at some point, right?” 

A few weeks after War Machine’s first porn shoot, he allegedly went on a rampage.


Chapter VII

Former porn star Brooke Haven performed with War Machine during a porn shoot in November 2009. While she had reservations at first, Haven told Bleacher Report that War Machine was “very, very friendly” on set.

She invited him to her birthday party, held at a Van Nuys, California, porn studio, that Haven estimates about 60 people attended—most of them from the adult film industry.

Although War Machine arrived early and actually helped blow up balloons, “By the time I showed up at the party,” she recalls, “he was wasted.”

Haven said that War Machine’s date for the evening was porn star Alanah Rae (Rae didn’t respond to requests for interviews for this story).

Haven said she saw War Machine slap Rae in the face after he saw her talking to Joey Granath, who runs the sports site TerezOwens.com.

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

“A few of the guys kind of approached him (War Machine)” Haven said. “It was like, ‘Hey man, don’t be hitting girls, that’s not necessary here, we don’t need that.’ And he just went into a rage. The look on his face was like a silverback gorilla on a rampage. He just had a blank look on his face and just started hitting people—anybody who was in his way.”

Granath published pictures from that night on his site.

War Machine said the incident was a “huge misunderstanding” in an interview with a porn-industry blog that appeared on FightersOnlyMag.com back in 2009. He said he was “swarmed” by up to 10 men at the party after they said he hit Rae, an allegation that he and Rae denied.

“Once the initial blows were thrown, I continued to punch anyone that came toward me that I thought was a threat,” War Machine told the website. “I was working my way toward my car, and everywhere I looked there were angry people trying to block me off. At one point even a girl, I think Brooke Haven, was punching me in the head.”

A Los Angeles County District Attorney spokesperson said that he has no record of War Machine being tried for that case, but War Machine has served time for other offenses.

In August 2010, a judge sentenced him to a year in jail and three years' probation for assaulting a female bartender and punching a bouncer in separate attacks in San Diego.

In 2012, he served a year in a Las Vegas jail and was also given probation for an attack on a patron at a gay nightclub where he worked as a topless bottle server.

Despite spending two years in jail, War Machine continued to face allegations of violent behavior.


Chapter VIII

Christy Mack met War Machine in May 2013 during a porn shoot for the January 2014 issue of Hustler. They had sex during the photo shoot, and then they started dating.

During Koppenhaver’s preliminary hearing, Mack testified that as their relationship progressed, it became evident that he wasn’t happy with her porn career.

“He would tell me he was disgusted with me when I would come home,” Mack told the court. “He was always very displeased with me if I couldn’t have sex with him, and it would make him extremely angry, so he would always ask me to quit.”

Mack said that she and War Machine jointly made the decision for her to stop performing in adult videos about several months into their relationship.

Meanwhile, according to Mack’s testimony, the couple argued a lot, and those arguments soon turned violent. She said War Machine hit her at least once per month.

“Mostly in the face,” Mack testified. “He would choke me a lot. He would always hit me openhanded.”

Even an argument over a ferret cage that Mack gave her mother allegedly turned violent.

“He thought I was giving him attitude,” Mack testified. “So he picked me up by the throat and carried me into the laundry room, slammed the door behind him and continued to choke me and hold me down.”

Mack testified that War Machine often took her cellphone so she wouldn’t call her mother after one of his alleged violent outbursts. She told the court that on four or five different occasions he threatened to kill Mack and her mother if Mack reported the alleged abuse.

But Mack continued to date War Machine, despite allegations of violence and sexual assault.

“I was in love,” Mack said. “After each incident, things changed for the better for a small amount of time. But the cycle never really changes, and you’re just kind of so stuck in the cycle that you don’t realize that it’s never going to change; that nothing will ever get better, that things will continue to get worse—until it comes to this huge explosion, like mine did.”


Chapter IX

A War Machine tweet on Jan. 7, 2015 reads:

Where to begin? It’s sad to say that I am 1,000 times more embarrassed of what I'm about to tell you, than I am of being accused of the crimes that have landed me in jail. It’s a testament to how screwed up my way of thinking is, as well as to how screwed up our society has become. At first I blamed this whole situation on Christy and that guy. Then I blamed my bad luck. Then I blamed my bad karma. Then I blamed myself. Then I blamed steroids. Then I blamed the programming job done to my subconscious mind…A product of a traumatic childhood and a poor choice of role models. One of them has to be the culprit, there must be some reason that, though I always have the best of intentions, I keep landing myself in huge messes. 

Brad Dryer said he saw War Machine take steroids and antidepressants.

“He was using steroids,” Dryer said. “Testosterone, in limited amounts. But that stuff has a huge effect on your personality. When he wasn’t on it, he was a much nicer person. When he was on it, it was like a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde thing kinda going on.”

Harrison Pope, M.D., professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School and director of the Biological Psychiatry Laboratory at the Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, is an expert on steroids. In an interview with Bleacher Report, he spoke in general terms about the impact of an athlete taking large amounts of the substance.

“People on steroids do not necessarily just suddenly explode into anger,” Pope said. “They may have a sort of slow boil that will go on for a long period of time and which may gradually develop into severe anger or which may continue to simmer along for a period of time. Sometimes, guys (on steroids) will describe that they will just get sort of obsessed with something.”

But Dryer said War Machine was doing more than just steroids. He said War Machine also took an antidepressant called Lexapro.

Photo Courtesy of AP Images

“He was taking Lexapro,” Dryer said. “That I know for sure, because he asked me to take it.”

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Lexapro and other antidepressants can cause serious side effects such as suicidal thoughts and agitation, as well as aggressive and violent behavior in some patients.

Here’s one NSFW example of War Machine’s over-the-top behavior. In this video that was posted on YouTube in March of last year, Koppenhaver complained about a 7-Eleven clerk who refused to serve him a Slurpee because he wouldn’t take off his hoodie.

Dryer said War Machine got angry or violent once every five or six months.

“A ticking time bomb where he’s not going to kill someone, but he’s still a ticking time bomb,” is how Dryer described his friend. “He’s still, verbally and physically, more aggressive than what the situation calls for. … And to add gasoline to the fire, he had anger issues toward women, which are really bad.”


Chapter X

Christy Mack’s alleged brutal beating at the hands of War Machine transformed her.

The beautiful, tattooed ex-porn star, who required surgery for her injuries, has covered up the “Property of War Machine” tattoo on her back with a new one.

She’s kept her hair short since the alleged attack and wears wigs in an apparent act of defiance. “He (War Machine) hated when I wore wigs,” Mack testified last year.

She’s also become an advocate for domestic violence victims and advises those who reach out to her.

“You know, when you’re in this kind of situation, you feel very helpless,” Mack said. "You feel that you can’t go anywhere. But I want to let them know that life does go on, no matter what. If you choose to leave your abuser, life will go on, and you will be OK, and you can make it.”

Jon Koppenhaver faces a much bleaker future. He may spend several years, or even the rest of his life, behind bars because he made the wrong choices at the wrong time. He lost his father at a young age and lost direction in what became a rudderless, dysfunctional life.

Instead of rising above adversity, Koppenhaver morphed into the War Machine character that he created. The man who battled others both inside and outside the cage may have just beaten himself.


Brian Pia is a freelance investigative reporter and former television reporter, having worked for the ABC affiliate in Birmingham, CNN and Good Morning America, among others.