Stuart Wheatman 'The Machine's' Biographer
Interview with Ian Freeman's biographer Stuart Wheatman.
SFUK : first of all tell us how you and Ian hooked up?
Stuart Wheatman : I was pretty sure I'd heard of him before because he was always in the Sunday Sun (local paper). It was just after Ian won the Travis fight when I read the next article about him and it will always stick in my mind: "I may be just some guy from Dipton but I've just beaten one of the hardest men on the planet" - as soon as I read that there were fireworks going off in my head! I read on and Ian said something along the lines of 'I hit him as hard as I could', and seeing a picture of him I knew that it must have been like being hit by a truck. I knew I had to get in touch with him so I contacted the paper and we arranged a meeting.
We had a few phone conversations before meeting up and it developed from there. The first time we met was in Sunderland just before Christmas '99. We got through around a gallon of coffee and myself, Ian and Carl (Ian's mate and corner man) had an excellent ice breaking chat about anything and everything. On the way back to Newcastle on the train I was sure it was going to be the start of something big - I was that excited I even phoned my girlfriend to rant and rave about it! A few more calls and we left things until the new year ... but on Sunday the 2nd of January, Ian phoned me to wish me a happy new year. I was kinda off guard (and hung over) so it was right then that the friendship started and the rest looked sure to follow. It was obvious that we would do something .... but early on we weren't sure what. We started talking more and then we both knew it would become a life story type of book. It had to be heard.
SFUK : Are you a fan of MMA or did you know Ian from his reputation outside of the sport?
Stuart : I've always been into fighting, action movies and all that - but more as a spectator! It's a fascination to me. As far as I knew, the likes of this only happened in films - but then I found out that people are actually out there and doing it. What I'd heard about MMA was minimal and I only thought it existed in the United States, if at all. Me being someone who tries to keep his head to the ground, the whole scene then was underground. Something like the Octagon....I just thought it was pure mythology. Then seeing the Travis Fulton fight I knew it was real. Since meeting Ian, Julian and getting together with TMA - it's came a hell of a long way. Of course I'm no expert, but people come up to me now and strike up conversations about it. That shows how much it's progressed - even my mother knows how to tap someone out!
But yeah, I knew of Ian (vaguely) through his reputation as a hard man of the region. Every area has them but not every area has one quite like Ian....then it turns out that he's not just a local hard man but an international one. It was only after I'd met him to discus his achievements in the sport when I realised he was that same person I'd heard of. While we were getting to know each other Ian invited me to a meeting. This was a meeting of some of the people who worked for him - all massive hard geezers packed into a room and then me sitting in the corner trying to look like I do that kind of thing every day. God knows what they were all thinking with me being there - I only knew Carl. Then Ian turned up and to see the respect he was given was phenomenal. This wasn't because of what he is - it was because of who he is: A genuinely sound bloke. That was when I was sure of his reputation outside the ring. No one had to tell me about him - I could see it for myself right then. People I knew were worried about my safety for even going to the meeting (sounds mad now) but I knew I was going in there as the safest person in the room.
SFUK : Your writing style is gripping, is this your first book?
Stuart : Cheers! Yeah it's my first book but saying that - it's our first book. It's all team work between the both of us and if it is gripping to read, imagine the reality of it! It's Ian's enthusiasm that shines through and because we are both a bit handy at what we do for a living, I think it's a good combination. I teach and write screenplays as my 'day job'. I've got another book / film I started before this - a gangster type thing I had in mind and then 'Lock, Stock' came out. I was like, 'D'oh!!' So hopefully if our book is well received it might mean I can get on with projects like that and use this one as my track record - who knows! (Already got Ian and Dave Courtney in mind to star in that one) Most writing projects are based on track record so it's great to finally get something out there.
I've got a few scripts that are 'in development' or waiting for production funding - so hopefully this will encourage people to invest some money in me. I've been working on a sitcom with a company that want to take it into production - but in the end, most things like that come down to money and the lack of it. Frustrating for a lot of people. It's the best thing in the world when people say it's gripping. A friend phoned me to say he was nearly crying with laughter while reading it on the bus. That kind of response makes it all worthwhile... it's something we've spent a lot of time on: For people to actually read it is good enough but to get the feedback like that is even better.
SFUK : Now I know Ian's a great story teller, so was writing the book easy?
Stuart : As Ian says - fighting for him is not a chore and writing for me isn't. He's a brilliant talker - a natural in any interview, conversation - whatever. He's not the type who just waffles on. In the early days of the research interviews we didn't even know if we'd get it published but we started recording everything and it built up from there. I think the research was probably the hardest thing. I was all over the place meeting up with Ian's friends and family to record interviews. All of them made me feel welcome and spoke freely about everything - made some friends along the way! Then I had to transcribe every interview, every tape, every conversation, so in that respect it was laborious.
I used to go to Ian's place at about 8am and leave at 5pm - then go home and type it all up, but even when spending time together without the tape going, we were still working. Even if we couldn't find the time to talk face to face I'd send the questions over, Ian would tape his responses and mail it back. Writing it was the most enjoyable thing I've done. We were each others shadow for so long I almost felt I was Ian at times! There was always gonna be points here and there that weren't right so every bit I was writing Ian would read it and we'd talk it over and change things. I think if it was too easy for us we would think something was up. It was important for both of us that it sounds like Ian. If it sounded like me (or anyone else) talking it would show straightaway. You'd know it was just me living out Ian's life but in the writing it was like I was possessed by him. I could see him doing something or could hear him say it as I was writing. The main thing was contact: Even if we went for a day or two without seeing each other, we'd be on the phone, email and fax all the time.
SFUK : Where there any events that were traumatic to write?
Stuart : Too right, mate. Sounds weird saying this but there were a few times where I was writing with a lump in my throat. That was real emotion coming from the both of us and I think it does show. We were both going through it all. There is one particular incident that was traumatic for Ian. This was the first chapter I put together because it was the most personal one in the book. When Ian read it it brought it all back and until you know what he's been through, it's impossible to understand. When he read it he phoned me to tell me he should hate me because it brought it all back, but at the same time we knew that if it moved him that much then it was heading in the right direction. I got off the phone and I was shaking - sort of upset but happy at the same time, but it was excellent to start it off on the right foot.
Getting those emotions out and understanding what it was like was quite draining for us. Same as the emotion / anger of a street fight: Ian knows that it was probably just a fluke that he didn't kill someone. I used to imagine what it would be like getting on the wrong side of him......now that was traumatic! He even shouted at me once and after that I had a good idea of being on the wrong side of him. Just like method acting! I was bricking it. It's not just a book where Ian grows up, becomes a bouncer - hits a load of people, then hits a few more in the ring. We go through everything with him - love, hate, depression, happiness - the lot.
SFUK : I've been lucky enough to have read a preview of a few stories and it's a rollercoaster ride of excitement, terror and courage. Ian has stressed that the stories are 100% true with no exaggeration, c'mon tell us is it really so!
Stuart : I don't think anyone could make this sort of thing up and get away with it! One of the first things anyone notices about Ian is his honesty. When he says 'I could have killed someone and I didn't care' - you believe him. When he says 'If I had a metal bar on me at the time I would have smashed his skull in' - you believe him. If he says, 'Don't take my politeness as a weakness' - you know he's not kidding. Because there are that many people who were around Ian when these things happened, if they were not true he'd lose his credibility. The people he's fought will know that none of it is made up. There was a few times where I got a bit too carried away and started writing all kinds of things into fights and Ian would stop me. I'd be like, 'Whoa, this sounds good and that sounds good....' and Ian would tell me it didn't happen like that. When it came down to detail he was meticulous - he wouldn't feel comfortable with over exaggerating.
The thing is, even with the extreme violence there is always some element of comedy somewhere that creeps into it. It was hard to decipher some of the interview tapes for all the laughing. It's not really in his nature to make things up and in that sense it is a real credit to him. To read everything he's been through and know it's not just some made up story really gets you thinking.
SFUK : As Ian's biographer you must know him better than most now. Do you feel that becoming a MMA champion, and achieving the incredible success, that his personality has changed along the way?
Stuart : I think he has changed along the way and hope that it comes out in the book. When he was a doorman he's the first to admit that there were times when he was a hated and feared man. Even his friends didn't know when he was about to lose his temper. He was known as some kind of monster.....barred from every night club......you name it. All those people are still his friends and would describe him as a totally different person now. I know listening to them talk about 'those days', he literally was a different man. He'll not make excuses about it or try to detach himself from it. When you know what was in his head at the time you see that he was reacting to it. He was handling things the only way he knew how. When you speak of him now, the first thing you'll say is that he's a gentleman. He is. His MMA success hasn't changed him as a person, I don't think. He knew the success was in the post. He's not the type to let things go to his head.
SFUK : What strikes you most about 'The Iron Ambassador'?
Stuart : His suntan! (only joking Ian!) I think it's his courage, drive and determination. Anything he embarks on he'll take it as far as he can. You just need to look at his fighting record to see that. He just won't give up. I don't think he'd know how to. When he lost the first UFC fight I wasn't sure what was going to happen. It was his first ever loss and even he didn't know how he'd react to it. It just made him more determined to get back there. He couldn't wait and I think that's a good message to all other fighters. A lot of people were watching him and how he would cope. I think most of all it's just the fact that he's not what you expect. You may not think he's gonna be clever, witty, funny or whatever when you see him in the paper in a story about violence. When he was on 'Close up North' to defend MMA, no doubt they were licking their lips at the prospect of him falling flat on his arse but he took it all in his stride and proved a lot of people wrong.
SFUK : Do you think the book glamorises violence or is it ultimately an ANTI VIOLENCE book?
Stuart : Not too sure. I think we all love a good punch up but it doesn't mean it's glamorous. It's in no way a moral stance where Ian is saying he was a nasty man and has changed his ways. It doesn't say it is a good or a bad thing but it does say it exists. Like it or not it goes on everywhere. The book doesn't have a message in that sense - most fights that take place start off in a club and it is a punter wanting to take the world on. That was quite a big concern for us because we don't want it to have a sort of subliminal 'violence is great' message in it. In the days when Ian worked the doors he would get into at least five fights every night. He enjoyed it. If he didn't, he wouldn't be doing it. It was (and is) his job to fight. I think in any kind of street fight these days he's got control. It's controlled violence as opposed to the days of being a madman. I think it brings home the truth.
Violence is unpleasant and at times the will shock. At the same time it's hard to say we're not glamorising it because we've produced a book featuring it. Some of the ways Ian describes fights are entertaining to say the least. It will be interesting to hear other views about it. On the anti-violence side of things it probably does have a message - don't mess with The Machine!
SFUK : When is it launched?
Stuart : It's due out in March of next year. We'd hope for it to be earlier - next week would do! When we started on it, it seemed like a lifetime away and even though it sounds a long time now - we'll be promoting it in other ways leading up to it.
SFUK : Will you and Ian be doing a promotional book tour?
Stuart : That would be excellent. I hope so. Again it's something we've discussed and would love to do it. Ian would like to meet all his fans and it would be a good way of showing our appreciation.
SFUK : How do you think it will do in terms of book sales?
Stuart : From what I understand, there are advance sales. Ian fighting in USA and Japan has increased his popularity so we are looking towards a Japanese version too. It would be excellent for it to sell in the same proportions as all the other biographies, so who knows. I think when people realise that it's not just a book for fight fans or a martial arts book, then it has a good chance of selling well. It's the sort of story that will appeal to people of all ages. It gives a good insight into a certain lifestyle. It would be good to have a best seller on our hands - no doubt about it.
SFUK : Good luck with it, I'll be buying a copy for sure.
Stuart : Thanks a lot mate. We'd both like to give a big thank you to SFUK for allowing us to publicise the book. Thanks to everyone involved for their support, encouragement and all the kind things you've all said about it. Cheers
SFUK 31 August 2000
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