The death of recent Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship opponent Justin Thornton hit Dillon Cleckler hard.
Clecker, who had built a relationship with Thornton over the years after their MMA bout under the Island Fights banner in 2013, released a statement on his Facebook page reacting to his friend’s passing. An “absolutely devastated” Cleckler said that Thornton ultimately died due to pneumonia.
“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,” Cleckler wrote. “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 died on Monday at 38 years old. He suffered a knockout loss to Cleckler at a BKFC event in Biloxi, Miss., on Aug. 20. Thornton was taken from the ring on a stretcher and had reportedly been hospitalized since the fight. According to a Sept. 23 post on Thornton’s Facebook page, he was paralyzed and place on a ventilator with a tracheotomy.
Thornton compiled a 6-18 mark in MMA over the course of a professional career that began in 2008. He entered the BKFC bout vs. Cleckler on a five-bout MMA losing streak in which he was finished by each of his opponents inside of a round — two via knockout or technical knockout. Thornton previously faced Cleckler at Island Fights 20 in 2013, losing via TKO in 65 seconds. Cleckler owned an 11-1 MMA mark and was coming off a pair of knockout wins in BKFC.
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