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Jon Koppenhaver, known as “War Machine” from Spike TV's reality series “The Ultimate Fighter,” pleaded guilty Thursday in Superior Court to a felony assault charge.
The professional cage-fighter choked a Las Vegas man unconscious and hit him in the face outside San Diego's Undisputed fitness and training center early Sept. 2.

Koppenhaver also faced a battery charge, but that was dismissed as part of a plea agreement reached during the preliminary hearing Thursday afternoon.
The victim, Darren Zatkow, testified during the hearing that he was visiting San Diego with his then-girlfriend when he was assaulted outside the fitness club after a night of drinks on the town.

Zatkow said he made a joke as he walked out with friends, calling a group of men standing outside the club without shirts “tough guys” while holding his hands up to his shoulders with palms open before he was surrounded by the men. “I cracked a joke and I got hit for it,” Zatkow said.

Zatkow said he was grabbed from behind in a carotid choke and dragged a few feet by one of the men. Zatkow said he did not see who grabbed him.

Zatkow, who practices martial arts but has never competed in tournaments, said he became unconscious 10 seconds after he was choked and came to moments later. Friends of Zatkow's who testified said he was punched in the face while he lay unconscious on the ground.

San Diego Police Detective Fernando Ramirez said a Las Vegas doctor who saw Zatkow days after the assault determined that the facial blow caused four fractures to his left eye socket. The injuries could cause temporary or permanent nerve damage, Ramirez said. The extent of the injury is not yet known because Zatkow is still recovering, he said.

Koppenhaver, 26, of Simi Valley, is skilled in mixed martial arts, according to his profile on the Ultimate Fighting Championship Web site, and also is a resident trainer for San Diego's Undisputed club.

Last week, he won with a technical knockout against Jared Rollins in the third round of Spike TV's Ultimate Fighter Finale held in Nevada.

Judge Frank Brown said the change in plea could result in a misdemeanor punishment. Zatkow told the court he thought a reduced punishment was OK because he believed a felony conviction would destroy Koppenhaver's career.

“I'm not interested in destroying somebody's life,” Zatkow said, noting that fighting should stay in the ring.


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