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Foxcatcher: Tragedy on the Mat

Mark Schultz

On January 26, 1996 the wrestling world lost a titan when multimillionaire John Eleuthère DuPont murdered 1984 Olympic Champion Dave Schultz. The murder rocked every level of the wrestling community from Schultz’s Team Foxcatcher camp to the rest of the field that was training for the ’96 Olympics. Schultz and his brother Mark are legends in the wrestling community, and the now a film studio is looking to turn their story into feature film entitled Foxcatcher, starring Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as the aforementioned brothers. MMAFrenzy takes a look back at the relationship between DuPont and the Schultz brothers leading up to Schultz’s tragic death.

A Little History

Actor Mark Ruffalo will play Dave Schultz in Foxcatcher.

Actor Mark Ruffalo will play Dave Schultz in Foxcatcher.

Dave and Mark Schultz were one of the best pairs of brothers US wrestling has ever seen. While Dave was always known as the phenom in the family, Mark developed into the sport later in high school. Dave Schultz arguably had one of the most amazing high school senior years in wrestling history, as he would win the Tbilisi tournament in the Soviet Republic of Georgia and then come home to win his state tournament despite wrestling two weight classes higher than usual. Both wrestlers wound up being standouts at the University of Oklahoma after transferring from other schools. From there, it was only natural for the two to try their hand at the Olympics.

Dave and Mark Schultz would both win gold medals at the 1984 Olympic games with their trademark aggressiveness in full display. Mark would actually find himself disqualified from a match after using a Kimura attack that broke his opponents arm. Dave Schultz was also known for his revolutionary use of the front-headlock series to score on and control his opponents. Despite their natural talent and skills, wrestlers, like most Olympians, are completely dependent on their sponsors to allow them to pursue the ultimate prize.

It is hard for most people to fathom the amount of work that goes into an Olympic run in any sport and that is especially true of wrestling. Your entire life becomes consumed with training, practicing, dieting, etc and you simply have almost no free time, much less time to work. So you have to find ways to afford your training by finding sponsors, which is where Team Foxcatcher founder John Eleuthère DuPont entered into the lives of Dave and Mark Schultz.

A wealthy heir to the DuPont Chemical Company fortune, DuPont was an avid sportsman who sponsored multiple athletes in various sports under the Team Foxcatcher banner. The camp situation was a godsend for many athletes, including the Schultz brothers, as DuPont built a massive training center on the grounds of his Foxcatcher Farm estate and allowed some athletes to stay on the premises as well.

Despite what seemed like an athletic nirvana, there were signs that all was not well. DuPont displayed erratic behavior on multiple occasions, something that often was accepted by both the athletes and the local police department due to DuPont’s generosity in the community. The elder Schultz had befriended the heir, and often tried to help reign in his friend when he struggled with substance abuse and other mental health issues. The behavior only got stranger, such as DuPont showed up at the 1995 World Championships in Atlanta in an orange jump suit and asked to be called the “Dalai Lama.” Schultz would repeatedly try to help his friend but, unfortunately, it would not be enough to stave off tragedy.

January 26, 1996

Former Schultz protege Kurt Angle.

Former Schultz protege Kurt Angle.

On January 26, 1996, John Eleuthère DuPont would fire three shots from his vehicle into Dave Schultz, killing him in the driveway of his estate. The murder shocked everyone, with police unable to find any motive. The ordeal did not end there however, as DuPont would barricade himself inside his mansion and stated during negotiations that he killed Schultz because he believed Schultz was part of an international conspiracy to kill him. The standoff would end after two days, when police apprehended DuPont as he walked outside to fix his heater that the police had shut off in an effort to expedite the negotiations.

DuPont would be convicted of third degree murder but mentally ill a little over a year later. A judge would sentence the man to 30 years behind bars in a minimum security facility. DuPont would be up for parole in 2009, but was denied and died nearly two years later due to various health issues.

The athletes training for the 1996 games were left with a regret, the loss of a mentor, the loss of a place to train, in addition to the normal stress of the games. Nancy Schultz would step up to form the Dave Schultz wrestling club to help out wrestlers like Kurt Angle, who would fend off his emotions en route to picking up an improbable gold medal in Atlanta. Angle was one of many athletes who expressed regret over everyone’s inaction prior to the incident, telling the New York Times, “People saw it coming; no one did a damn thing about it.”

The tragedy at the Foxcatcher Farm would have a lasting effect on those closest to both men, as it all seemed so senseless and somewhat preventable.

About the Film

The saga of the Schultz murder and the events leading up to that fateful day are now set to hit movie screens later this year in a film fittingly named Foxcatcher. The movie will be told from the perspective of Dave’s younger brother, and one-time UFC fighter, Mark Schultz (played by Channing Tatum). Playing the key part of Dave Schultz, will be The Avengers Mark Ruffalo, a former wrestler himself.

Ruffalo fully devoted himself to the role, training with former teammates and friends of Schultz to prepare for the role, “I started training with these guys; it’s a tight knit group of people. Honor and respect come from your accomplishments in the wrestling world and Dave Schultz is one of their beloved wrestlers so there’s a lot of caution and pride around him. You had to prove yourself,” Ruffalo told USA Today.

The Office’s (US version) Steve Carrell will be playing eccentric millionaire and eventual murderer John Eleuthère DuPont. While Carrell is largely known for his comedic roles in larger releases, the actor has shown better range in many of his appearances in independent films. Carrell’s performance of the character will be key, as it would be relatively easy to go too far towards comedy when playing the late-killer.

Ruffalo hinted that what makes the film special is how wrestling is shown on the big screen, something that has been attempted often but rarely down well. Said the actor, “No one has ever shot wrestling this way. I don’t think anyone has captured it quite the way (Foxcatcher) does — its financial struggles, its sense of loyalty, its tradition, the quality of the people involved. Though in the movie there’s a tragic outcome, what is evident is the beauty of the sport, the commitment of the athletes, the quality of the athletes. I do think it’s going to be a great boost for wrestling.”

Foxcatcher is currently slated for a release later this year, though no official date has been named at this time. Studio’s often hold movies they believe can pickup possible Academy Awards until the final months on the calendar, so it is likely that it will be awhile before an official date is announced. Foxcatcher will be one for wrestling and MMA fans to watch for, as it will be interesting to see how this story comes to life on the big screen.

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