Mixed martial arts is one of the world’s most violent sports. Two combatants climb into a cage and attempt to pummel one another into submission using almost any fighting style they choose. Unlike boxing, which is governed by strict rules, fighters in MMA matches can hit and kick almost any part of their opponent’s body, twist arms behind backs, throw opponents to the mat and force a concession by contorting limbs into painful positions or using chokeholds. MMA fighters are injured more than four times as often as amateur boxers. From 2007 to 2017, six fighters died.
I was an MMA fighter for six years, and I loved it. I had a lot of anger, and I used that anger to dominate opponents. In the ring, my wreck of personal life (and believe me, it was a huge wreck) no longer mattered. I had one focus: to survive and conquer. I was in control. I was the victor.
Then, three years ago, it all fell apart. I was so addicted to the drugs I used to numb the pain of injuries, I couldn’t even fight. I lost my job at an MMA gym. I was homeless, sleeping in a drug dealer’s house and making deliveries for him to pay for my opioid habit. I used to be cut—five foot seven, 155 pounds— but I wasted away to 119 pounds.
My parents wouldn’t let me stay at their ho