Justin Thornton, MMA Fighter, Dead at 38 a Month After Knockout Loss

Justin Thornton, an MMA fighter who previously competed in the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC), has died, the organization announced. He was 38 years old. The cause of death has not been announced but it happened more than a month after Thornton was knocked out by Dillon Cleckler in a BKFC event on Aug. 20 in Mississippi. 

"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," BKFC president Dave Feldman said, per MMA Fighting. "We join the rest of the combat sports community in sending our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones."

MyMMANews was the first to report Thornton's death. Amber Willard announced on Thornton's Facebook page on Sept. 23 that he's been with the MMA fighter off and on for the past seven years. She wrote that Thornton is paralyzed and "does not have a pacemaker." Willard then went on to reveal more info on Thornton's health, stating that he's on a ventilator and has a tracheotomy. She bathes him four times a week as well as feeds him and gives him drinks. 

The fight lasted just 19 seconds with Thornton falling face-first to the canvas after being knocked out. It was reported that Thornton was partially paralyzed after the fight and he remained hospitalized for several weeks. He was also dealing with an infection from a spinal cord injury.

Many fans paid tribute to Thornton on social media. "Sad news hearing of the passing of fighter Justin Thornton," one person wrote. "Could have been anyone of us who've stepped in there. My thoughts go out to his family and friends. Also with his opponent Dillon Cleckler who is no doubt going through a horrendous time.


"R.I.P Justin Thornton…sucks when someone loses their life in the ring or in the cage," another person added. "Not a good look for BKFC to have a fighter die so early in the organization's lifespan. In hs MMA career, Thornton posted a 6-18 record. He competed in several regional promotions and took on notable UFC stars such as Chase Sherman and Walt Harris. Before the Aug. 20 bout, Thornton lost his last five fights.