By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
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."
His salesmanship leaned toward hyperbole. At one real estate investment seminar — another avenue of business he once plied — Irvin was introduced as a "Man of Greatness" who once appeared on the cover of Fortune. The latter wasn't true. Though he later claimed he was "featured" in Forbes, it turned out to be nothing more than a paid advertisement.
Irvin has repeatedly cited Kennedy as an influence. Kennedy has made no secret about how his approach toward marketing and the skills of thought reform are intertwined.
"What business are you in?" Kennedy asks rhetorically in one of his newsletters. "CULTS."
In mid-2012, an instructor from out of state pulled Irvin aside at an event.
"I heard Nick Schultz is with you now," the instructor, who asked not to be identified, claims he told him. "You need to understand something. This kid will burn your school to the ground."
Irvin laughed it off. Had he listened to what his colleague had to say — that Schultz had a history of shoplifting, criminal trespass and erratic behavior — New Year's Day 2013 might have turned out differently.
Schultz, 20 and no relation to Jordon Schultz, had come to Irvin's school from San Diego, where his former instructor had booted him from his gym for theft. He had not broken the habit. "I observed him stealing on daily basis," Jordon Schultz says. "Small things, food items, DVDs. He was one of those guys."