Blood on the Tracks
In the early ’90s, a group of motocross racers gave a middle finger to the bloated, corporate-run sport. Tired of being told what to do and how to act by the suits behind the scenes, this small pack of riders split off to invent an entirely new sport called freestyle motocross (FMX) . Guys like Mike “The Godfather of FMX” Metzger, Carey Hart, Travis Pastrana, Larry Linkogle, and Brian Deegan began bulldozing their racetracks and replacing them with jump parks where they borrowed the tricks they saw in BMX and adapted them to dirt bikes. Freestyle whittled motocross racing down to the bone. It took all of the boring crap that happened between jumps and left it in the dirt. One team of tattooed misfits called the Metal Mulisha didn’t just push the limits of what was possible on two wheels–they beat the shit out of it. The result was flashier, more over-the-top, and infinitely more dangerous than motocross racing, and it wouldn’t be long before it eclipsed racing’s popularity completely. Whether the Metal Mulisha could survive that transformation was another story.
Brian Deegan, founding member of Metal Mulisha: I grew up in Omaha, racing dirt bikes since the age of 10. I raced through the amateur circuits and won championships. I ended up going out to California when I graduated high school. I told my dad, “Give me a year to give it a shot. If not, I’ll go to college.” I ended up getting a deal with a race team and won the Los Angeles Supercross. I ghost rode my bike across the finish line and threw up the middle finger. I had a bad attitude, and I couldn’t get much help because I was kind of a punk, you know? I walked away from the sport and started the sport of freestyle motocross around 1997 with Mike Metzger, Travis Pastrana, and all of those guys.
Larry Linkogle, founding member of Metal Mulisha: Supercross is controlled by the grips of corporations. The corporate claws. You can’t do this, the only way you’re going to get into this is if you know this person…you know how the politics are. And the politics of that sport just drove me so bananas that I couldn’t take it. I always rebelled against the politics, so I always got the worst equipment, I always got the worst gate pick, always got the worst of everything from the corporations because, here I am, I’m the rebel.
Deegan: There were too many rules. They wanted you to look a certain way, very clean cut. And we were more into colored hair, tattoos, and piercings. We were ahead of our time.
Linkogle: Motocross corporations wanted the golden child—the guy that holds an energy drink in the air and walks around with 10 million embroideries on his collared shirt like NASCAR. Here I am wearing a GG Allin shirt, cutoff Dickies, and mismatched socks.
Deegan: Our deal was that we’re just riders. We’re going to ride our bikes, and we don’t need sponsored gear. Freestyle motocross was all about personality and individualism. I built my own personality on being the bad-boy rebel, the guy who showed up wearing all black with no sponsors, just big plastic spikes coming off my shoulders like GWAR. Went out and did heavy metal and death metal and just set a standard that was we were the rebel gang of dirt bikers.
Linkogle: That’s how Metal Mulisha started. My friend Nathan Fletcher, the pro surfer, and I decided to make up a name and start all of this propaganda.
We were both huge Metallica fans, and Nathan came up with the name Metal Militia after the song. I was like, “Hell, yeah, dude. But let’s spell it wrong.” I don’t like the way “militia” looks, so we spelled it like it sounds. That way, it really makes it look like we don’t give a fuck. The whole thing with Metal Mulisha was that it was nothing. It meant nothing.
Mike Metzger, freestyle motocross champion and Metal Mulisha contemporary: Larry and Nathan, probably in a drunken stupor, started writing Metal Mulisha all over the place with Sharpie markers.
Linkogle: We’d scribble it on our bikes. We’d make stencils. We’d spraypaint it on everything. People would ask, “What’s Metal Mulisha?” And the response was, Metal Mulisha is nothing, but someday it’s going to be something.
Deegan: Larry and I started writing Metal Mulisha on our bikes and helmets with marker. We wore all black and just ran with the whole image and attitude, but we backed it up by winning events.
Linkogle: Nathan took off to pursue his surfing career. Brian Deegan and I started hanging out a lot, and we became really close friends. Brian really grasped on to a lot of talented riders and got them to join our crew.
Deegan: I met Ronnie Faisst racing motocross back East. He was all tatted up and just seemed to fit the image. We got along—he was over the racing scene, too.
Ronnie Faisst, early member of the Metal Mulisha: I moved in with Deegan, into this little house. Neither of us was making any type of living, so we had no furniture, just a TV sitting on a milk crate. I guess I was in the Mulisha right off the bat because I was his roommate.
Deegan: We built the first jump park ever on Larry’s property, and only Mulisha guys were allowed to ride it. People were tripping.
Linkogle: It was pretty much “Fuck racing.” All I want to do is hit the jumps anyway. So we ‘dozed my course and turned it into a gigantic freestyle course. That was the first-ever freestyle course. It was like a giant skate park for dirt bikes. This was unheard of. People were like, What the hell is going on?
Faisst: We built another one on some land we rented at the local motocross track. We fenced it off and put up big signs saying “Metal Mulisha Only — No Trespassers.” People got so pissed. It even listed guys by name that weren’t allowed to ride. Metzger was on the list. Brian and Larry always did stuff like that just to get under people’s skins.
Deegan: We met Twitch at one of the first-ever freestyle events. He was cussing out of the middle of nowhere during a riders’ meeting, and I was like, “This guy is sweet.”
Faisst: He just stood out right when we saw him— just a tattooed, scrawny kid with the worst mouth. Everyone that got into our group, they were outcasts. People who didn’t fit in. It’s almost like the more jacked-up you were, the better chance you had of being in our crew. Twitch was perfect because he was just this white-trash bad mouth from San Diego who told everyone to F off. He used to flip everyone off. He was just a punk. Right when we saw him, we were like, This guy is in for sure.
Jeremy “Twitch” Stenberg, member of the Metal Mulisha [speaking to Fuel.tv]: I have Tourette’s. I got diagnosed when I was about 5 years old. The government used to think I was retarded.
They used to pay me, like, a couple of grand a month until I turned 18.
Deegan: We nicknamed him “Twitch.”
Deegan: In ’99, freestyle became part of the X Games and we just launched. We were on TV, and they were portraying us as the bad asses. It was good versus evil. Travis Pastrana versus Metal Mulisha.
Phil Orlins, coordinating producer, X Games: It wasn’t a hard story to tell. Brian and the guys were willing to play the role. How much of it was real and how much of it was an image we were happy to help them cultivate? Like everything, it was probably a mix of a little fact and a little fiction.
Linkogle: Brian and I worked really well together as a team. We’d work off each other to come up with ways to shock people. In interviews, we’d say the most shocking things we could think of to piss people off. We’d talk about launching our bikes into the crowd to see how many people we could decapitate. Anything to piss off the promoters and the industry. I looked at them as a bunch of tight-spandexed, rollerblading ten-speeders. They’ve never even thrown their leg over a motorcycle. Here they are telling me how to run my sport that I created. It made me sick. I hated these people with a passion. I didn’t care about the money. I just wanted these people out.
Faisst: Most of us were heavily tatted with shaved heads, and everyone wore black. Plus, there were no teams back then, so you could pick us out in a crowd anywhere.
Orlins: They had a different aura about them that wasn’t exactly in line with the rest of the X Games. There’s a tendency with the X Games for everyone to be in it like brothers and to be happy for each other and to be in it for the progression of the sport. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s how action sports have differentiated themselves from mainstream sports. But then the Mulisha came around, and suddenly it was okay to win. It was okay to kick some butt. They brought a competitive edge to X Games that was important.
Linkogle: The motocross scene was really knocking on freestyle. You know, “These are a bunch of degenerates trying to ruin our sport; this is fly by night; it’s gonna go nowhere.” It really just fueled the rebellion. Suddenly I’m getting all of this exposure. I’m getting magazine covers. And I’m getting this and that. Now these people want to start giving me stuff: “What can we do for you, Larry? How can we help you, Larry?” Just three months ago, you guys fired me, and now you want to help me? Fuck you.
Deegan: It basically went from the anti-establishment thing into the X Games. Then companies wanted to endorse us. People were throwing big money at us. We started getting sponsors that fit our image and that started turning it into a lot of money. The first year I made over 100 grand, I was tripping. That was back in ’98, ’99. Our sponsors grew from there. Making over half a million a year in sponsorships was sick. It just comes in your mailbox and you’re fucking stoked.
Deegan: When freestyle started out, all the OG dudes were covered in tattoos. I have a sleeve on my left arm, and both legs and my back are pretty much covered. My right arm is the only body part left. My favorite is the first one I got, which is my name on my lower back. I had it done at Soul Expressions in Temecula, CA. It took fours hours, which was when I realized, “Fuck, tattoos hurt.” Faisst: I’m covered. All I have left is to tie my inner left thigh and butt cheek into my back. Then, once I do my ribs, I’ll have a full suit. I grew up in a dojo since the age of 5, so pretty much all of my tattoos are Asian-inspired except for the portrait of Jesus and Mary on my hands and a cross on my back. Metzger did my whole right arm when I first got to California. He’s also a tattoo artist.
Metzger: Anyone I’d run into at races, I’d tattoo them right in the back of their van. Ronnie Faisst’s arm is definitely one my favorite tattoos I’ve ever done. I did a Buddha, a geisha girl, and some clouds and flowers in the background.
Linkogle: It’s not mandatory, but pretty much 90 percent of our guys have Mulisha tattoos. It’s like getting your family crest. I’ve got at least 10 M’s on me. I’ve got two giant ones blasted on my chest and “Metal Mulisha” across my back. I’ve also got tons of skulls, gargoyles, and Nordic Viking stuff. My first ever tattoo was the demon on my head. I just went for it. That’s my alter ego, I guess. It’s the side of my personality that makes me sketch out and do stupid things—the side I try to keep under wraps. I try to keep hair on him nowadays because when I shave my head, I kind of lose my marbles.
Deegan: In the early ’90s, the style was to have a shaved head, so we all had them. I really think because of that and because of the music we listened to and because of some of the people who associated themselves with us, people picked up the racist thing to try to point fingers at us and make us look bad. We didn’t really care. We ignored it, and eventually we squashed it.
Twitch [speaking to DUB]: People tell me, “You have ‘WHITE BOY’ on your knuckles, that must mean you’re racist.” Um, that’s what I am—I’m a white boy. I’m tired of hearing that. I’ve worked so hard to get away from that. It’s the complete opposite of who I am.
Faisst: Just because I have tattoos and a shaved head, I’m a racist? You ever seen a white supremacist tattoo himself with Asian art? They don’t tattoo other cultures on themselves. Spend one day with me. I’m the furthest thing from a racist.
Deegan: I ended up buying a piece-of-shit house next door to Larry. We moved the jump park there, and it became the party house. I had all my buddies living there, and we just went nuts: Chicks, fires, guns, and parties every night and just ripping on dirtbikes by day.
Faisst: There was definitely drinking and drug use, for sure.
Linkogle: Lots of fire, lots of explosions, lots of gas. Good old fun.
Deegan: Here I am, this kid from Nebraska who was a nobody in high school. I come to California, and I’m like, “Whoa. I can get paid to ride a dirt bike and basically just party and get mad-hot chicks. This is sick.”
Faisst: It was pretty crazy back then. It was constantly packed with young girls who were pumped on guys who rode motocross. I remember one time, this chick passed out and someone put sunglasses on her and a spoon in her mouth. They posed her throwing the West Side sign and took pictures. I don’t know what the point of it was, but it was funny.
Deegan: Once we took some chick’s keys and aired her car off of all these bike jumps. Then we just put it back in its parking spot with all of the fallen-off parts resting around it as if nothing had happened. We also had the riot police come up once after we were shooting off machine guns—I guess they wanted to make sure no one was dead.
Metzger: I could see that hanging out with Larry and the other guys would be troublesome, and I don’t like to find myself in trouble. Larry especially likes to do things just for shock value. I decided I needed to separate myself from their antics because they weren’t looking at freestyle motocross as a sport anymore. They were treating it more like WWF wrestling. It was a joke.
Faisst: The last couple of years, I’ve taken some crashes. I fractured my wrists and separated my shoulder in August ’06. I came back from that and tore my ACL. Then I broke my foot. So it’s been back-to-back injuries.
Twitch [speaking to DUB]: I suffered compound fractures to my tibia and fibula and the talus in my right ankle. I was in a wheelchair for three and a half months, then a cane for about a month.
Deegan: I crashed at Winter X Games and broke both of my wrists. It sucked having two broken arms—my chick had to wipe my ass for me. In ’05, I was flipping on Viva La Bam, crashed, and blew up my kidney and spleen.
Bam Margera, pro skateboarder, Jackass star, and friend of the Metal Mulisha: We had skate ramps and all of these big piles of dirt we’d made into jumps. GWAR was playing in the middle of all of this, and I was ollying over the band. The Mulisha guys were jumping over the band and me. Deegan tried for a backflip, but the wind blew him sideways, and he landed crooked. His whole stomach cut open. He couldn’t move at all. Everyone had to pick him up and put him in the ambulance. He told Ronnie he was going to die right then and there.
Linkogle: I had a handlebar stick through my stomach and rip my intestines out. I lost a foot of intestine and a spleen on that one. I had to go to the hospital holding my guts and trying to push them back in as we’re going 90 to the ER. Ever felt you own guts? It’s not a cool feeling. Then I was asked to be Vin Diesel’s stunt double on the movie XXX. I was supposed to jump this big exploding cocaine truck with a helicopter following me. I shoot up 75 feet in the air, and suddenly I see the bubble of the Huey helicopter. I’m like, “Fuck, I hope this guy doesn’t hit me.” Next thing I know—BOOM—the loudest screech I could ever imagine. I wound up ripping the fontal lobe of my brain from the skull, which left me with permanent brain damage. I really sizzled my noodle.
Linkogle: Brian definitely saw a lot more potential in the business side of the Mulisha. But when we decided to turn it into a business is when it got a little weird.
Metzger: The guy who actually started Metal Mulisha is Larry Linkogle. Then Brian Deegan got his hands involved in the company, and next thing you know, Brian and Larry are equal partners. I’ve been there. I’ve seen them fight about it.
Deegan: Basically, I got sick of being a screwup. I ended up having a kid and I needed to clean up my act. As a dad, I needed to start putting money away and start thinking about the future. Instead of just a name, I wanted to build Metal aMulisha into something that made money.
Linkogle: One day I get a call out of the blue from Brian, this guy who is supposedly my best friend. He tells me to come over so we can re-sign our LLC to protect us. What he was really trying to do was have me sign over my percentage of the company. He’s like, “Here’s the bottom line: I’m the one doing the X Games, and I don’t see why, if Metal Mulisha gets a check for a million dollars, I have to split it with you.”
Deegan: Larry doesn’t really care about winning events or being good on a dirt bike anymore. So I had to separate myself from him. In the beginning, I thought it was cool to hang out with the guys who don’t give a fuck, but I had to grow up a little bit. Larry is his own trip. He’s part-owner of the company, but I don’t really talk to him too much anymore.
Linkogle: Everyone’s got his own version of the story. Brian probably had his reasons. I’ll be the first to admit it that I really went off the deep end with drugs for a while. So I’m not one to judge. Today, the company is doing great. It’s able to support our team of riders like we never could before.
Deegan: Two years ago, the company grew so big that I couldn’t ride a dirt bike, win events, be a dad, and run a clothing brand all at the same time. It was too much, so we licensed Metal Mulisha to a bigger company that runs O’Neil and Rusty. They do the manufacturing, and I approve the designs. I still run the team—I just don’t do any of the grunt work. Today, we’re definitely a multimillion-dollar company. We’ll be battling the bigger brands eventually.
Faisst: Deegan got married and had kids. Twitch has kids now, too, and everyone is older. No one parties like we used to anymore, but you can’t party and compete in our sport anymore—you’d kill yourself. Deegan: Once the backflip came into the sport, winning events got a lot harder. You can’t backflip hungover.
Faisst: The sport is on a whole new level now, and training is a full-time job. You have to go to bed early, wake up early and ride twice a day to stay on top. Everyone’s chill now. Back in the day, we used to stick to ourselves. Deegan hated everybody. Now we’re cool with everyone.
Deegan: What’s next for the Mulisha is a reality show. We’re doing a pilot now, which is a day in my life, hanging out with my buddies, screwing around on dirt bikes, and running the company. Hopefully it goes on MTV.
Linkogle: I’m the black sheep of the family. Brian and I don’t get along, for obvious reasons, so the Mulisha is divided into two separate little entities: Brian’s world and Larry’s world. I’m the underground face of the Mulisha. I am the true Mulisha. I’m the beating heart of the real roots of the real Mulisha. On the Mulisha blood tree, I’m that bleeding little heart. I am the root.