Justin Thornton died this past weekend, weeks after he suffered a KO in a bare knuckle boxing contest at BKFC 20. He was 39 years old.
Thornton, who was knocked out in the first round by Dillon Cleckler and fell head first to the canvas, was transported directly from the fight to a local hospital. He remained in hospital until his passing.
Thornton was making his debut in BKFC. He held a 6-18 record in MMA. He had lost his past five contests, two by stoppages due to strikes. Clecker has an 11-1 MMA record and had won his first two bouts in BKFC, both by stoppages.
Thornton and Clecker fought in MMA back in 2013, with Cleckler getting the win.
Cleckler recently took to social media to express his sadness over Thornton’s death.
As a fighter nothing prepares you for the news I received this morning on my way to training. Some of you may not of heard yet but my last opponent Justin Thornton passed away last night due to pneumonia. I can’t help but feel absolutely devastated about this because I’ve known Justin for years. Not many people know this but we fought 8 years ago and he told me right away he wanted the rematch. I know that when he got the phone call to finally get that rematch on a bigger stage he saw a huge opportunity and took it. Justin is a warrior. It’s in his blood to fight. He loved it. He fought anyone, anytime and anywhere and when I didn’t have an opponent, he still jumped at the opportunity to get in there with me again. Any man or woman who steps in the ring or the cage is special, they take a risk that 99.99% of the world would never take and sometimes I still don’t know why we do it ... but Justin was a fighter his entire life and deserves nothing but respect!!! My thoughts and prayers are with Justin Thornton and his family at this time. RIP warrior
Thornton’s death has been met with anger from the Association of Boxing Commissions. That organization’s President Mike Mazzulli called for increased scrutiny into the safety of bare knuckle boxing and the match-ups found there.
“These guys are recycling these MMA fighters that shouldn’t be fighting any more,” he said in comments to MMA Junkie. “They will not pass tests to be an MMA fighter so they go to bare-knuckle boxing. … This is a fine example of what is wrong with bare-knuckle boxing and what they are doing to these fighters. It bothers me. We talk about fighter safety and protecting the fighter at all costs. … This has got to stop.”
UFC President Dana White reacted to the news of Thornton’s death by asking, “Is anybody shocked?”
“In bare-knuckle fighting… I’m not a big fan. I get — I guess I would call it concerned — when I see some of our people when they leave here and they go there. And it’s like, ‘Oh god.’”
Thornton is one of three combat sports athletes who have lost their lives after suffering a T/KO the ring or cage. In September Lucas Gabriel Peres, 22, died after an MMA fight in Brazil and Jeanette Zacarias Zapata, 18, died after a boxing match in Canada.