A Young Warrior's Tribute to his Grandmother

Went to an exciting MMA fight card recently, “Battle on the Bay” by Rocktagon MMA, an Ohio-based company’s first fight promotion held in the San Francisco Bay area. It was great. I ended up sitting next to this very pleasant, frail, little elderly grandmother and her two adult daughters. She seemed so out of place in this big room filled with muscle shirts and skinheads and tattoos and waitresses in bikinis and burly security guards and huge waves of testosterone energy washing over the crowd and electrifying the place.

She was there to see her grandson fight, John ‘JT” Donaldson, a 19-year-old bantamweight Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu specialist from Livermore, California, just starting his professional mixed martial arts career. She told me she was nervous for him but very excited and very proud at the same time.

I instantly connected with this beautiful, little grandmother and her young grandson starting out in this extremely dangerous and brutal business. JT’s fight was third on the card. I was shocked to discover he was fighting Ernard Rosic, a guy who trains at the same UFC gym in Concord, CA, where I work out, the only fighter on the card that I’d ever met in person. My allegiance sorely tested. Who should I root for in this fight? My intuition kicks in, no way my man, I’m definitely going with JT.

The bell rings, the match a whirlwind of action. These lighter weights so quick, so explosive, they’re flying all over the ring, exciting stuff. JT gets thrown on his back, covering up from huge ground and pound attack, arms and legs flying everywhere, the crowd goes crazy. Suddenly, a huge roar, the people in front of us jump up screaming, can’t see what’s happening, pandemonium, the ref waves the fighters apart, it’s over. Oh my gosh, what just happened?

It was surreal. Crowd screaming, we’re screaming, can’t tell what happened, both fighters still tangled on the canvas. And then, as if in slow motion, with the “Rocky” theme playing in my head, JT jumps to his feet, fists in the air, like the phoenix rising from the ashes. Oh my gosh. HE JUST WON! HE WON! Woohoo, we all go absolutely crazy. He had managed to lock in an armbar, won the fight by submission. Unbelievable! Incredible finish! Then the real magic started. JT’s hand is raised.

The crowd goes nuts. He pulls on a blue t-shirt, gets taken to center ring for his post-fight interview. With his voice trembling ever so slightly, he says “This fight’s for you Grandpa. I love you and I miss you.” He then explains to the crowd that his grandparents raised him, his grandfather died two years ago and he really misses him, and then . . . he points directly across the ring to this little, delicate, frail woman sitting back in the crowd right next to me, and says into the microphone . . . “and I LOVE YOU GRANDMA.”

Everyone in the pavilion turns to look at her, huge cheers and loving energy from all the people in the room directed at this little woman . . . and I’m sitting right there just basking in her reflected glow. It was a special moment I’ll never forget. These two people touched the lives of thousands of fight fans that night. I was so honored to be one of them.

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