HIGHLAND, Calif. – An inspirational mixed martial arts veteran who conquered cancer used his final fight to spark what may become a new tradition in the sport.
After beating Brandon Anderson at a King of the Cage card last week, John De La O, a 42-year-old from Huntington Beach, Calif., bowed in all directions to the crowd at the San Manuel Indian Resort and Casino before laying down his gloves in the middle of the octagon and leaving the arena. De La O says he did it because it ‘felt symbolic’ and hopes it will becomes a trend in the rapidly growing sport of MMA.
"I am leaving my competitive career behind but I left my gloves behind to show that my heart as a fighter remains,” De La O told Yahoo! Sports. "I hope it is something we see more fighters do moving forwards. MMA is such a new sport so there is not a lot of tradition yet like you see in other sports. It was something for the people who believe that values, history and tradition in sports are worth something."
Following his first-round submission victory over Anderson, De La O also made a cutting motion on his own body to signify his successful battle with cancer. Five years ago he was diagnosed with defused B-cell lymphoma and considers himself fortunate to still be alive, let alone fit enough to compete in the fight game.
"I almost checked out a couple of times but I made it back," said De La O, who runs De La O Jiu Jitsu, a martial arts training center in Southern California. "I got rid of the lymphoma, but then I almost lost an arm because of a blood clot."
De La O fought five times since returning to MMA in 2010 and although he did not make it to the pinnacle of the sport, he was a popular and well-respected member of the fight community, especially in California.
"John is a great guy and a lot of young fighters who think they know a lot could learn a thing or two from him and what he has been through," said Mike Low, King of the Cage promoter. "John has got a bit of a mouth on him and sometimes people take it the wrong way but he is the kind of guy you love to see fight because of how dedicated he is. I would love to see more guys go out the way he did, complete with the little ceremony at the end."
While De La O received almost universal support after his cancer struggle, his last opponent, Anderson, managed to incite his anger. After De La O responded to what he perceived as a discriminatory comment from Anderson on Facebook, Anderson allegedly taunted De La O about his disease.
A stream of insults flew back and forwards, with friends of both fighters also getting involved. The social media storm was enough to convince Low to make a fight between the men on his next card – a truly 21st century piece of match-making.
"After what went down there was no way I was going to lose to him," De La O said. "Especially in my last fight. When I had cancer I would lay there, not able to run or train or do a single push-up, and I told myself if I ever got back then I would [work harder than everybody else]."
De La O's last triumph was not rewarded with a belt or a blockbuster paycheck, but for a man who has seen it all in the sport it was mightily sweet. And, as he bids farewell to MMA, he may very well be leaving a fresh tradition behind.
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