MMA Fighter Justin Thornton Dead At 38 After Brutal Bare-Knuckle Knockout

A 38-year-old MMA fighter has died at 38 years old after getting knocked out during a bare-knuckle championship match.

According to reports, Justin Thornton (pictured above) passed away at a Gulfport, Mississippi hospital on Sunday, more than a month after he was knocked out by Dillon Cleckler in the first round of a heavyweight Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship event on August 20 in Mississippi.

BKFC President Dave Feldman confirmed the sad news on Monday, saying in a statement to MMA Fighting:

“This morning we were very saddened to be notified of the passing of one of our fighters, Justin Thornton, who competed at BKFC 20 on August 20, 2021. We join the rest of the combat sports community in sending our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones.”

Mississippi Athletic Commission Chairman Jon Lewis said the death came as loved ones were trying to get him into a spinal institute, sharing:

“It’s tough for me because I’ve known Justin on a personal basis. I conversed with him for 20 minutes at the hotel the day before the fight, just talking nothing about the fight but just, ‘How you doing, what’s been going on?’ I’ve known him in this fight game for quite a while.”

Thornton appeared in 24 fights throughout his MMA career, with an 8-16 record. During his last fight with Cleckler — a rematch of their 2013 fight that Cleckler won — the computer repairman was knocked out 18 seconds into the match, after being hit by a right hand thrown by his opponent and being sent head-first into the canvas. Lewis continued:

“He got knocked out, like any other knockout. But when he fell, he fell in a diving motion and he hit the top of his head first — causing a neck compression — and he had a spinal hematoma.”

TMZ reported that the fighter stayed down for several minutes. He was hospitalized and suffered serious injuries. According to a September 23 post on the athlete’s Facebook page, Thornton hadn’t been able to move his arms and legs, required assistance breathing, and also suffered an infection in his lungs and spinal cord.

However, his on-off girlfriend Amber Willard said at the time he was in good spirits, awake and joking, despite his injuries. Lewis said that he had started regaining some sensation, making his loved ones think a recovery was possible.

But sadly, his health declined — and it’s currently unclear why. His cause of death has not been publicly confirmed. Bare knuckle boxing is sanctioned in six states. The sport’s website lists upcoming events in Seneca, New York; Billings, Montana; and Wichita, Kansas.

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