Each mixed martial artist fights for a different set of reasons. Money, fame, glory, competitive drive, family, or perhaps a combination of everything. Sometimes, it’s something personal that motivates a fighter. That’s the case for Chandler Cole.
Cole, 23, fights for the memory of his deceased grandmother. When Thelma Marie Cole passed away on March 29, 2015, during the middle of Cole’s amateur career, it gave the word “fighting” a whole new meaning to him.
“One thing that always motivates me is that when you actually watch someone fight for your life like my grandma did, it shows you a whole new meaning how to fight,” Cole, a native of Coeburn, VA, told MMASucka. “Not just in the cage but in life in general.
“Someone in their 70s, who’s small and brittle and on chemo, seeing someone fight like that, who says I can’t fight? What was she going through? She never made an excuse. She’s the toughest fighter I’ve ever met. She fought as hard as she could.”
Cole lived with his grandmother and grandfather, Rev. George Cole, with one of his brothers and sisters each from the time he was a baby. Cole isn’t biologically related to Marie and George; they adopted his mother when she was two weeks old. However, Cole’s mother had gotten in trouble when he was young and had to spend time in jail, and his father has also spent time incarcerated (Fortunately, both his parents are out now and are doing really well for themselves). That’s where Marie and George came in for young Chandler.
The fighter considered his grandparents to be his actual parents growing up. He said it was awesome to be able to live with them.
Unfortunately, in 2008, when Cole was 13, his grandpa died of a stroke. That led to Cole’s grandma being his primary caregiver.
For the next two years, everything was fine. Sadly, bad news came in November 2010.
Cole was playing in the last game of his high school football season when he heard his grandmother had to go into the hospital. Things then took a turn for the worse on Monday morning.
Cole was at his high school gym for a wrestling practice. While he was practicing with a fellow teammate, he saw his brother enter the room with a grim look on his face that could only mean one thing: their grandma was diagnosed with cancer. Cole approached him, saw his brother’s face, and the two began crying. This was the start of Marie’s (that’s what she went by) five-year battle with cancer, which was on-and-off.
“She would go into remission and it would come straight back,” Cole said of his grandma’s fight. “She was talking to the doctors and she was asking them why it keeps coming back and they told her the way the cancer is, it would never disappear. Grandma would be fighting it until she died. She knew. She fought through it. Even after they told her that, she stayed on the chemo. That’s another reason why I respect her more than anybody.”
Cole described how his relationship with his grandmother shifted over those five years.
“I was so used to having her,” he said. “I went from her taking care of me to me having to step up and really help her. It opened my eyes because at the time, it was just me and my grandmother.”
Cole’s brother had become romantically involved with a girl he ended up marrying, while his sister had just started a family with her boyfriend.
“I was living with her, taking care of her, balancing an MMA career. I felt I got hit the hardest because it changed my life more than anyone’s. When she passed away, I felt like I was the one who had to start a new life.”
Cole began his amateur career in August 2013 and transitioned to professional in the middle of 2016, so his grandmother’s struggle overlapped with the second half of his amateur run.
Marie succumbed in 2015 when Cole was 20. Her battle motivated Cole both inside and outside the cage and gave him a new purpose behind fighting.
“I fight for all the things I had to go through that were hard,” Cole said. “Fighting’s easy. Watching Grandma pass away. That was hard. Not having people in my life that I needed at the time. That was hard.”
Even though Marie ultimately lost her battle with cancer, Cole still feels that she was a winner in the end.
“She touched so many people in her family and brought us together,” Cole said. “She set a really good example for us: whatever comes at you, you have to keep pushing forward. If she just got cancer and died, I feel like she would have lost the battle. She proved to us there’s no excuse not to fight, not to push, not take the chemo and fight for your life. In the end, she may have passed away, but she definitely was a winner.”
Cole (3-1 MMA) returns to action on July 21 at Valor Fights 51 ahead of the biggest bout of his MMA career. He takes on Aaron Bush for the promotion’s vacant heavyweight title. After just falling shy of being on The Ultimate Fighter: Season 28, Cole has added motivation to win.
A belt. Proving Bush opponent wrong when he says he’s the better fighter than Cole everywhere. His UFC dreams. Cole will be fighting for all of those things. However, those reasons will eventually become lost to Father Time’s rear-view mirror as Cole’s budding MMA career progresses and he notches goal after goal. Hell, it could be sooner than he thinks. Cole could win the Valor belt, finish Bush and get a chance to compete in the UFC.
One thing he’ll never not fight for is the memory of Marie and everything she taught him. Though in addition to his grandma, Cole will be fighting for someone else soon.
“My girlfriend’s pregnant. The new thing is to help bring this kid into the world and hopefully make him or her proud of me.”