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The Cult of Lloyd Irvin

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"It was about calling me at 1 a.m. saying that he needed some video," Camacho says. "Or that someone is coming in from airport, and you'd pick him up at 3 a.m. No questions asked. We were in Lloyd Irvin's world."

"There was a lot of control," adds Shultz. "Some people trying out for the team would pass out. It was kind of an initiation, like hazing. Looking back, I think he was trying to relive his fraternity days in the school. He wanted absolute obedience."


Lloyd Emory Irvin, Junior was born in 1969 to Rosalee and Lloyd Irvin, Sr. Dubbed "hyperactive" by doctors, he claimed in a 2006 interview that medication was suggested. Instead, his parents enrolled him in martial arts classes. He was boxing by eight and took up wrestling in junior high before attending Bowie State University in Maryland. There, he pledged to the "Que Dogs," an unofficial offshoot of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity and one that prized hyper-masculine behavior. Irvin's Facebook page recently showed the Dogs in a reunion, throwing up "hooks," the group's signature gesture.

On October 7, 1989, Irvin and seven to nine other men congregated in an apartment at River Park Tower, where one of them had led an unidentified female attending nearby Hampton University to the bedroom. She claimed she was punched and slapped, according to The Daily Press in Hampton, Virginia, and heard one man muse how easy it would be to throw her off the balcony.

The men allegedly ripped out her tampon and took turns raping her. A physician who later examined her indicated she suffered from vaginal spasms, indicative of forced intercourse.

In the morning, she was allowed to shower and was driven back to her dorm. Three of the men were quickly rounded up by Newport News Police, a number that would grow to eight as the investigation continued.

In the spring of 1990, a 20-year-old Irvin and co-defendant Terrence Gatling were the first to be tried for rape. Both pleaded not guilty.

Irvin's defense: though he wanted to participate in what he believed was consensual sex, he was unable to achieve an erection.

Because the jury believed that the woman couldn't positively identify him as one of the men who penetrated her, he was acquitted. A less fortunate Gatling was found guilty of forcible sodomy.

"I feel the girl was raped," one juror told the Press. "But the room where this happened was dark, and with all that was going on, it was unclear who was doing what."

The victim, 17 years old and 98 pounds, told her story in court three times over 15 months. Of the eight charged, four men were convicted and sent to prison; one received a suspended sentence; and two cases were dropped due to insufficient evidence. Irvin exited the courthouse a free man.

He returned to school and graduated in 1992 with a business administration degree. There was no firm career path. He was athletic, strong, and enjoyed martial arts, but none of those things could be monetized in a culture glutted with instructors teaching dubious self-defense techniques. Most fighters made poor businessmen, and their doors were frequently shuttered.

After watching an early UFC event in which Royce Gracie used jiu-jitsu to subdue much larger men, Irvin became intrigued by grappling. He studied for six months at a Washington, D.C. school, then opened his own dojo.

Irvin's move coincided with the emergence of Billy Blanks' Tae Bo cardio kickboxing fad. Within three months, 500 enrollees at his school were looking for a Blanks-style experience. Irvin accommodated them, but watched as retention ebbed.

"I went from 500 to zero women because of no contracts," he told Internet marketer Daegan Smith in a 2012 podcast. "I got in financial trouble, two months behind on my mortgage and rent on the school."

Irvin told Smith he began seeking out self-help and business advice, though little to none of it was written expressly for the struggling martial arts instructor. Then he came across the teachings of Dan Kennedy, an evangelical marketing guru who offered advice to small businesses on recruiting and keeping customers. Irvin paid $3,000 for a front row seat at a Kennedy seminar and was rhapsodized.

On the verge of bankruptcy, he soaked in Kennedy's lessons on the kind of hyperbole needed to draw attention to himself. He offered 30 days of free classes to new attendees, appealed to soccer moms and organized after-school programs. Business improved, with the weekend warriors supplemented by serious grapplers who could secure his reputation as a potent teacher.

"I didn't have enough money to pay the rent," Irvin testified in a 2011 Kennedy endorsement video. "Life now after Dan's influence has been amazing...I've gone on to generate millions and millions of dollars in these different businesses...we've got a 12,000-square-foot facility now. We have eight guys fighting in the current UFC."

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Jake Rossen