VERNON "TIGER" WHITE
By Larry Goldberg
In a career that has lasted over 14 years, Vernon White has established himself to be one of the more versatile and skilled masters of the mixed martial arts. Known throughout the world as "Tiger," he is recognized globally indeed, having fought for no less than sixteen different promotions during his long career (Pancrase, WVC, Fighter Extreme, SF, IFL, Extreme Fighting, WFA, WEC, Valor Fighting, King of the Cage, WMMAA, Pride, WPC, Caged Combat, and of course the UFC).
A veteran of over 50 fights, he is as experienced as any man alive. In a sport where many competitors are sprinters, he is most definitely a long-distance runner, exhibiting a level of stamina and durability that is rarely seen in the business. He has a background in pure martial arts, possesses uncanny ability as a striker - having knocked out 10 of his opponents - and is also a submission specialist of considerable renown.
He is also a colorful personality who is never at a loss for words, and his presence has been known to add to the atmosphere of any mixed martial arts event.
Before he was "Tiger," Vernon White was born in Palo Alto, California, at Stanford University Hospital, on December 3, 1971. His training in early adulthood included taekwondo, and in an effort to expand his horizons as a martial artist, he entered the Lion's Den in Lodi, California, a training center run by wrestler/submission artist Ken Shamrock that would one day become legendary in its own right.
As part of his apprenticeship, Tiger would go through a strenuous daily regimen that included 500 push-ups and squats, not to mention full contact drills with Shamrock himself that left Vernon, in his own words, "beat up." At the end of the day, he then had to clean out the gym. Such a schedule may seem demeaning on the surface, but it was a way of life at the Lion's Den, where over the course of time, aspiring fighters acquired a very unusual level of discipline and toughness.
Shamrock had been competing in professional wrestling in Japan, and one of his objectives at the Lion's Den was to prepare fighters to travel to Japan to compete in a newly-formed organization called Pancrase that would engage in "shoot-fighting," which can best be described as a catch-as-catch-can, no-holds-barred brand of fighting/wrestling that, unlike some forms of pro wrestling, was not choreographed and did not have a pre-determined victor.
White fought in the very first Pancrase event in September of 1993 - the same one where Shamrock choked out the great Masakatsu Funaki. This event actually preceded the first-ever event for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). As Shamrock joined up with the UFC and started to develop a reputation in America through those events, White stayed with Pancrase. As he was getting his sea legs, so to speak, White took some early lumps in Japan, but eventually became a mainstay of the Pancrase promotion, fighting for over three years there, competing with such legendary figures as Bas Rutten, Frank Shamrock (Ken's adopted brother), along with Funaki and numerous others who were dominant in the Far East.
Subsequently he competed in the World Vale Tudo Championship, and from there he fought a memorable match in Australia in March of 1997. At "Caged Combat 1," White encountered one of the great Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu masters in the world, Mario Sperry. The "Tiger" fought Sperry at least on even terms and indeed had the edge over Sperry in the opinion of most of the people who were in attendance. The fight went a full 15 minutes (three 5-minute rounds) and the judges, who reportedly were pre-disposed to prefer the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, gave the points decision to Sperry in a verdict that drew a chorus of boos from the crowd.
There was some winning in losing, however, as Vernon "Tiger" White was given the opportunity to fight for the International Fighting Council (IFC) six months later. What resulted was another defeat that carried with it some controversy, as rules favored his opponent, Russian Vladimir Matyushenko, who eventually won the fight on a neck choke after five minutes and 44 seconds.
White got the chance at revenge over Matyushenko in October of 1999, again in the IFC, this time in Montreal. In a grueling match that lasted 25 minutes, Tiger handed Matyushenko the first defeat of his pro career and in the process captured the IFC's world heavyweight championship. That was great, but Tiger White had some more work to do.
In his very next fight, Tiger added more prestigious hardware to his mantle when he blasted Todd "El Tiburon" Medina, a protege of legend Carlson Gracie, in just nine seconds to win the middleweight championship of King of the Cage (KOTC). It was without a doubt one of the fastest knockouts in championship competition in the history of mixed martial arts. That gave Vernon two titles, in two different weight divisions, in a period of a little more than six months, and came in the midst of a period where he won nine out of 10 bouts, fighting in four different promotions, defending his two titles a total of five times.
After the KOTC middleweight title had been re-classified as a light heavyweight title, White stepped in with Jeremy Horn in May of 2003 with belt in hand. When he walked out 25 minutes later, he had lost a decision - and the title - to Horn in what was considered by scores of veteran MMA observers to be one of the biggest highway robberies in the history of the sport. Tiger, undeterred, was in the octagon just three weeks later, fighting for the UFC as a late substitute for his mentor, Ken Shamrock, against Ian Freeman, whom he fought to a three-round draw. White had gone into battle with two rough-and-tumble opponents, fighting 40 excruciating minutes and taking the measure of both, within a period of 21 days, and had come through that without a victory to show for his efforts.
More controversy followed White into his next UFC appearance, against Chuck Liddell in August of 2005. In the first round, Liddell's blows caused damage that was going to be difficult to correct. X-rays would later show that one of Liddell's fingers went into Tiger's eye, creating a painful injury that still bothers him a bit to this day. After the fight, which ended at the 4:05 mark, Liddell headed to a UFC light heavyweight title fight (which he won over Randy Couture), while White headed for surgery to repair a bone that was fractured near the eye socket.
White's career experienced a rebirth in the International Fight League (IFL), a well-organized, innovative new mixed martial arts organization that utilizes the team concept, while at the same time preserving the individuality of each fighter. White became a member of the Reno-based Nevada Lions, coached by his longtime friend and teacher, Ken Shamrock.
Tiger's IFL debut was in April of 2007 - a win over UFC veteran and former "Ultimate Fighter" competitor Sam Hoger, whom he choked out in the second round. Vernon went into that fight with a back injury, but "toughed it out" nonetheless.
The future looks good for Vernon "Tiger" White. he anxiously awaits a rubber match with Matyushenko, who also competes in the IFL (A third fight was supposed to have been held between the two in the year 2000, but Matsyushenko pulled out).
His intention is to fight for at least five more years, something that is quite possible given his work ethic and strict training regimen at the Lion's Den under Shamrock, as well as a bag of tricks that only a grizzled veteran can possess. On the personal front, Tiger was married in April of 2007 to the former Melissa Cline, an occupational therapist (which comes in handy, he jokes) and lives in the state of Nevada.