A professional mixed martial arts fighter who pleaded guilty to felony assault for choking and punching a man outside a North Park fight club had the offense reduced to a misdemeanor Thursday and was placed on three years probation.
Jon Koppenhaver, 26, who is known as "War Machine" on the Spike TV series "The Ultimate Fighter," pleaded guilty Dec. 13 to felony assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury.
Judge Frank Brown said the crime was not one he would normally reduce to a misdemeanor, but he felt Koppenhaver was worth giving a second chance to.
"No good comes of calling you a felon," he said while warning Koppenhaver to stay out of trouble and lead a law-abiding life.
Brown told Koppenhaver that the victim, Darren Zatkow, did not want to jeopardize Koppenhaver's career with the Ultimate Fighting Championship and asked only for $2,300 in restitution, which the fighter has already paid.
"He was very compassionate to you," Brown told the defendant.
Deputy District Attorney David Williams III successfully argued that police officers should be able to search Koppenhaver at any time without notice during his time on probation.
"This is the defendant's last chance," the prosecutor said, noting a future offense would likely result in prison time for Koppenhaver.
The judge also ordered Koppenhaver to continue counseling with his private physician.
Defense attorney G. Cole Casey said Koppenhaver has a 10-fight contract with UFC, with his next fight coming May 24 in Las Vegas.
A felony conviction would have voided the deal, the attorney said.
Outside court, Casey said Zatkow was a "stand-up guy" who didn't want to see Koppenhaver's career ruined.
Zatkow testified at a preliminary hearing last year that he was surrounded by a group of men as he left the Undisputed fight club on Sept. 2.
The witness -- a non-competitive martial arts fighter -- said he was choked unconscious and punched in the face while on the ground.
A doctor who examined Zatkow days after the beating said he had four fractures to his left eye socket, according to court testimony.
Casey said outside court there were conflicting versions as to who did what during the melee.
A party was going on inside the club when the fracas broke out, the attorney said.
Koppenhaver was also ordered to do 30 days of public work service.
"If he can't pick up a beer can on the freeway, he shouldn't be fighting," the judge said.
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