Remembering The Demolition Man You Never Knew

By Jordan Breen Feb 26, 2008
Last week I hung out with my father to bond in the most convenient and thoughtless, though perhaps effective, method that Canadian fathers and sons know how: the hockey game. As I attempted to ignore Pierre McGuire's pre-game hyperopinionation, Dad asked, "Did you hear about that kid in Junior?"

I hadn't.

"Some kid just collapsed and died. He was only 19," he told me with some measure of disbelief. "Just collapsed in his house, and they couldn't bring him back."

He was referring to Mickey Renaud, the teenage captain of the Ontario Hockey League's Windsor Spitfires. He was a 6-foot-3, 220-pound centerman who had been drafted by the Calgary Flames last year. He'd played a game just the night before and, if nothing else, didn't seem to be anywhere near death's door.

Death is always sobering when it happens to someone so young, but the circumstance made it all the more absurd. Renaud was my age; kids that age just don't fall down and die.

Bearing that, it is impossible to articulate exactly what I felt Wednesday afternoon when I came home to a message from Sherdog's Andy Cotterill informing me that a young local fighter, Rene Ayangma, had died.

When I first read the message, I expected to hear about drunk driving or a nightclub altercation or something of that ilk. You know, the sort of travesties that we're trained to expect in the deaths of young adults.

Instead, cardiac arrest was the cause. Yes, a 20-year-old, multisport athlete had died of cardiac arrest while training. Light training, no less. This guy only three days younger than myself, who would've at least seemed to be in the upper, upper percentiles of physical health, had a heart attack and could not be resuscitated.

I was fortunate enough to cover Ayangma's pro debut, which regrettably now also stands as his swan song. It was a freezing cold night in Moncton, and the trek there had been considerably aggravating. Along the journey a radiator exploded, and my pants were covered in coolant. I had to wash them in the hotel sink and dry them with a hair dryer. Yet I was marginally thankful that I wasn't the mechanic who got sent to the hospital after taking a coolant shower in the face.

By the standards of both local MMA and a King of the Cage Canada bill, the card was pretty damn good. Among the undercard debutants, Ayangma was perhaps the most impressive of all: He was well built, looked every part the natural athlete and was clearly a precocious fighter.

I laughed when Andy told me he was only 20 years old. Looking twice his age and fighting at twice his experience level, Ayangma was a fairly Oden-esque figure. He donned a pair of black and orange board shorts like Alistair Overeem (Pictures)'s and didn't fight terribly unlike "The Demolition Man" either. He pelted his opponent on the feet and connected with some vicious knees to the body. His soccer background maybe even crept through a bit, with his natural and fluid footwork. Even though Ayangma could've easily starched the guy he was facing on the feet, he took him down, effortlessly took his back and choked him out, as if he just wanted to show off the balance of his game.

After the evening's fisticuffs had ended and the "work" component had begun for me, I ran into Ayangma in one of the overcrowded dressing rooms -- simply a curtained-off block in a massive, concrete showroom with some mats on the floor. After obligatory congratulations, I asked him about his choice of attire.

"You rocked the Alistair Overeem (Pictures) shorts and you had a pretty nasty clinch game. You trained in Holland or anything like that?" I asked.

It seemed presumptuous, but honestly, who buys a pair of Demolition Man shorts? I couldn't tell if he was embarrassed or if he thought I was an idiot.

"Oh no, no, no man," he replied. "I just really like him, how he fights."

Apparently, Rene Ayangma bought a pair of Demolition Man shorts.

Now, two months later, he's gone. I don't want to write about the coroner's ruling that his death was due to "natural causes" or baselessly opine that Ayangma must have had a pre-existing heart condition. Medicine isn't my specialty. Neither is sentimentality, really. If you look over the local news stories regarding his death, I think you'll get a seemingly accurate depiction: a talented collegiate soccer player who gave up futbol for fighting; a Biology major by day and a waiter, doorman and mixed martial artist by night. By all accounts, a great guy who people generally loved being around.

Those things don't surprise me, but I can't personally attest to them in the deepest fashion. What I can say is that in less than five minutes of professional prizefighting, I was greatly impressed with him. The night he died, I was actually looking over an upcoming local event on which he was scheduled to face Kyle Sandford. The bout was easily the most appealing to me on the entire card, and I was extremely excited to see what Ayangma could do against a high-level grappler with years of experience.

Would Rene Ayangma have ever worn gold in the Octagon or headlined a major pay-per-view?

You never know, but no, probably not. But one of the special things about sports, especially prizefighting, is sometimes the first time you see an athlete, you know they've got a little something special. Ayangma had something. At the very least, he would've been a talented national-level competitor, and I would've looked forward to seeing him every time he fought.

A couple of thousand people watched Ayangma debut that night in Moncton. How many people remember him, or his name?

Likely a paltry few, just those who were sober and actually had enough of an interest in the sport. Meanwhile, people in the MMA world will now connect his name with his tragedy rather than his ability, having never seen him fight.

That's largely why I write this -- the feeling I've got a secret that I'm obliged to share and the notion that Ayangma's last testament should be more than human interest press clippings and a wobbly camcorder video on YouTube.

More than 1,200 people -- in some cases, the attendance of a local MMA event -- showed up to Mickey Renaud's funeral. His story was national news, not just sports fodder. The emotion attached to Renaud's story is intensified not only because he was so young but also because he was an NHL prospect and thus had a bright future ahead of him.

Rene Ayangma was young, and even if he didn't play the great Canadian pastime, he too was a prospect. He could fight, and that still means something.
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