The Many Adventures of Shonie Carter

Shonie Carter knows how his stories sound to other people. Far-fetched, is one way to put it. Like something you wouldn't believe if you saw it in an action movie, is another. The tales may be outlandish, but they're all true, says the MMA veteran of 23 years.

"It's hard to tell people how crazy my life is sometimes. I'm probably one of the craziest reality shows that's not on TV. The Kardashians would have to work just to keep up with me."

Perhaps the most famous of Carter's exploits occurred when the Chicago native says he went out partying with some new friends, hopping from nightclubs to limos to, eventually, a private plane. In case you were wondering, yes, alcohol played a role in all this.

A self-described "sissy drinker," Carter says he had one too many and passed out on the plane, bound for points unknown. Many hours later, he realized this was a mistake.

"I wake up thinking I'm in Detroit. I look outside, the sun is barely up, and I see a Turkish flag. And you have to imagine, that's not something that registers immediately. Most people don't even know what a Turkish flag looks like, but I'm 'Mr. International.' I'm hungover, thinking, why am I looking at this Turkish flag? I'm also wondering, how am I going to get back without a passport?"

The first thing Carter did was locate a computer in a hotel's business center and ask for help on the Underground Forum. Many of the MMA fans who knew him for his wild antics thought it was a joke. But Carter says a check of his IP address revealed that he really was in Istanbul, and with no way to get back.

So he did what any reasonable pro fighter would do: he agreed to an impromptu no-holds-barred match against a muscle-bound Macedonian in exchange for his passage home.

"I ain't gonna lie, [the fight] was kind of hard. I was out of shape. Plus, when I party, I party hard. I act up. So I was still feeling the effects of that. It went about nineteen, twenty minutes, but I finally got him with a kimura. Then they put me on the back of a truck, drove me back across with my stuff, and took me to the Istanbul airport, handed me some papers, and I'm back. I didn't even have to go through customs, which was strange enough. I was not asking any questions by that point."

With good reason, Carter is a little concerned that people won't believe this. He points out that he still has a bottle of water that he filled up in the Black Sea as proof, inviting anyone who questions him to have it tested in a lab.

He has the same concerns about his career accomplishments. Nearly 38 years old, he fights mostly on small shows now. His last fight in the UFC was in 2006, where he lost a decision to Marcus Davis. Many MMA fans are too new to the sport to remember his spinning backfist knockout of Matt Serra at UFC 31. Some are too new even to remember his time on "The Ultimate Fighter," where he taught Georges St. Pierre how to be a pimp and, as he puts it, "had a damn ball."

But there's a part of him that worries he might have come along too early in the evolution of MMA. Even with almost 80 official pro fights to his credit, and many more that were never added to the tally, he says, he wonders how he'll be remembered once his time is up. As the guy who landed the spinning backfist? The guy who used to saunter down to the cage in a tailored suit, sipping from a jeweled chalice? The guy who never failed to entertain, but never won the big fights in the big shows?

He thinks about this, he admits, especially when he runs into fans who ask him if he's still fighting after all these years.

"The problem is that I'm not on Strikeforce or the UFC, where I think I should be, so people don't think I have what it takes to compete at that level. I'm fighting all over the place, internationally, in higher weight classes, and if I lose, I lose by decision. I don't get knocked out. I don't get submitted. You look at my record, yeah I've got losses on my record, but it's mostly decisions."

What he really wants, he says, is another shot in the UFC. Maybe a rubber match with Serra could be his ticket. Why not? The UFC has brought back several stars from the early years, he points out, and not all of them had stellar records.

He'd really love a chance to fight at UFC 124, his "centennial." He'd even prefer a preliminary bout, just like the one he fought at UFC 24 against Brad Gumm. That was ten years ago now. Since then he's been up and down and everywhere in between.

"There's a bunch I look back on and think, 'Damn, I wish I could have knocked him out.' But it's the past. I'm still fighting to win. I'm having fun. People accuse me of being drunk because I look so happy when I get in there. I don't do all that staring people down, bumping foreheads, acting tough. I go out there and, win or lose, I still look good."

There are also a couple of things he wishes he'd get more credit for. Things like being an underground street fighting legend long before YouTube made a hero out of Kimbo Slice, who Carter says made a name for himself by doing bare-knuckle boxing matches and not real street fights. "Diet street fighting," as he puts it.

He's also more than just a career fighter, he says. He was a U.S. Marine, an art student, a college wrestler at Carson-Newman, and a world traveler with black belts from Japan. Outside of the cage he's a father and an instructor at Keller's Martial Arts in Chicago.

But even if it ends tomorrow, Carter says, he has no regrets. As much as he doesn't want to be the guy who hangs on too long, taking losses against nobodies in a series of tiny promotions in nowhere towns, he also can't walk away just yet.

"People say, 'His career is running on fumes.' That might be true, or it might not be. But even if it is, my fumes are probably longer than a lot of people's careers," Carter says. "If I get knocked out two or three times in a row, then I'll know it's time to quit. If I begin to hate going to the gym and training. If I can't remember my address. Then I'll know. But until then, I'm still here."

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