Navigating a career in the sport of the mixed martial arts is a difficult task. It is more so than other traditional sports in the United States. There are far more risks involved in simply the management aspects of fighting than hockey, baseball or football. A collegiate draft doesn’t exist, nor does insurance tied to an athlete’s predicted value. Development could mean a whole list of differing ideas simply depending upon who is speaking. In a way, mixed martial arts and fighting are one of the last ‘traditional’ sports. In the sense that it is yet to feel the stain of commercialization, to the sport’s core. There is still a massive struggle for MMA athletes, from the start of their careers through the finish. For CES 54’s William Knight, struggle is a major aspect of his life as is pushing through with heart and determination.
It began for Knight as a child. The struggle began in school, where he was bullied from a young age. His shy personality made him an especially desirably target for his local bullies. The sensitivity of Knight rose due to being a target of this unwanted attention. He felt a need to respond and retaliate to everything. This behavior led to his transfer to a school for children with behavioral issues.
In his mind, this wasn’t necessary. Even counselors and teachers said as much, later in his stay. Although he knew his place wasn’t there, the routine sucked him in, altering his state and causing him to slowing change into the exact person the school was designed for. Someone he truly wasn’t.
Counselors pitched athletics as a possible way to cope with the nagging feelings that confused him. Naturally, many who knew the athletic ability Knight possessed thought football was a perfect match up for youngster. While the style of aggression and combat that the sport displayed seemed to fit, the complexities of the game drew any of his interest away.
It wasn’t until a couple friends of Knights pitched the sport of wrestling to him that the idea of athletics enthralled him.
“A (couple) friends of mine, they introduced me to the world of wrestling. They were like, ‘Yo, Will I found a sport you’ll like. It’s almost fighting but it’s not fighting.’ So I was like, ‘Alright, what is it?’ and it was wrestling. No lie, my sophomore year when I joined the team, I lost to one of the seniors and I had to wrestle 215 regardless. Mind you I was 187, not even 215 and I lost every single match. Every single match, I lost every one of them. I was getting pinned and guys would practice on me and tech fall me like I was getting bullied… My junior year I believe I lost 5 times… And then my senior year, I lost once. I lost once to a kid from Norwalk, but then I got him back in double L’s. I pinned him in the second round. So I evolved, learned very quickly it was just a whole mindset behind it.”
Wrestling a Way Out
This was the very first athletic team Knight was apart of. The experience did wonders for him. It almost forced him to grow out of the state of mind of that brought him to Manchester Regional Academy in the first place. Wrestling gave Knight a way out of the system. It didn’t push him out, Knight found his own way. Yet, it wasn’t entirely on his own. Wrestling helped but in his case a mentor also pushed him towards the right path.
“A teacher of mine that believed in me, Mr. Martin. He passed away. Before he passed away, he had a deep conversation with me. He was always talking to me. Him, Tim Lewis, Jill Tallberg,” He paused for a quick moment. “See that’s crazy, years later I still remembered their names. It’s like you remember the name of people who impacted your life, believe or not. Even if you forget about them, you’ll always remember their name. So, Dr. Wendy, these people sat here and they literally talked to like, ‘Will, you’re not a bad kid. You need to understand you’re not a bad kid. It’s the company you keep. You keep hanging around these kids, they’re getting in trouble and they are dragging you with them. It’s not more so that you’re doing it, its because you are with the crowd of people who’s getting in trouble.’
We went by a rule, you are with them, you are all going to be in trouble. So I started to separate myself from them because when Mr. Martin passed away, he was telling me, ‘Within the next year or so, you should be out of this school. You came here, you were quiet, we were going to send you back and then you started hanging out with these individuals and you started to get into trouble. You are trying to fit in. Sometimes you have to be a leader and not a follower.’ It really started to take note on me after joining wrestling, learning how to controlling my emotions and everything else. There’s a discipline behind it.”
Life After School
After school, there was a long while before William Knight found fighting. Speaking candidly, Knight wasn’t aware of the local mixed martial arts circuit. In his mind, the only way to compete in MMA was fighting for one of the top organizations like the UFC or Bellator. One day, Knight stumbled upon a video which a friend posted online. The video was of said friend competing in a mixed martial arts fight but it wasn’t for the UFC or Bellator. His friends’ fight happened to be for Reality Fighting.
Upon this discovery, Knight reached out to the friend. He asked what and where he fought. The friend explained to Knight, Reality Fighting was a local organization that put on MMA fights. He explained that if Knight wanted to fight he’d have to train and then meet the owner to book a fight.
Grappling and Martial Arts
Coming into the sport as a wrestler, Knights interest fell more towards the grappling arts. He competed in several NAGA’s and other grappling tournaments. Yet when it came to cage fighting, Knight showed potential not seen very often. Despite his natural athletic ability and talent, he looks at MMA as an escape currently.
“The cage is exactly what I need, that’s my out. People take it serious, I respect it. People want it as a career, that’s my out, that’s my fun, that’s my guilty pleasure. In that cage, I have the most fun. It’s like, this is a place where I can do whatever I want. I’m not saying I’m a serial killer or nothing but you almost bring a man to near death without going to jail.
So now, things that are built up in my mind I don’t do out here in the open public to other people because they didn’t do anything to me. But now I’m standing across the cage from a person I’ve never seen before. Then to have the mental state of me when I was younger to now, years later. I’m here thinking what has he gone through in life? He’s in here to hurt me, he’s in here to hurt me more than I’m trying to hurt him. What is the game plan? What is he thinking?”
While it is an escape for Knight, he does have dreams of taking his fighting career outside the United States. The one promotion that is at the forefront of his mind is the Singapore based organization, ONE Championship.
“No lie, ONE Championship does both Muay Thai and MMA so that is one promotion that I really would love to fight for. I would love to fight for them, ONE Championship. That right there, that is on my bucket list. UFC, if it comes it comes, if it goes, it goes.”
CES 54 presents an opportunity for Knight. At the event, he faces Kevin Haley. Haley is an experienced professional with 10 pro fights to his record. While Knights pro record only sits at 3-0, he is still confident in every aspect.
“People believe that I’m cocky. But I’m not cocky, I’m just confident in what I do. They say, ‘Oh you’re always winning, you don’t know what it feels like to lose.’ Even when I get my hand raised or I don’t, I was losing for a long time before this. I was taking loss after, loss after loss. You guys wouldn’t know what a personal loss is to a sport. This is a sport, we win some, we lose some. But growing up failing and losing consistently, that plays on your mental state man. That bothers you and you’re a child. Mind you a child into a pre-teen, into a teenager, into an adult. Certain things altered but you’re still sitting here. I’m almost 30 years old and there’s still things I have not established yet. There are still things I need to achieve. I’ve been losing.
So even when people say you got your hand raised, you won. Okay, I won the fight but I’m still losing the war. You have no idea what I need to accomplish to be comfortable where I am. Me getting my hand raised it gives me a sense that there’s still a chance. That’s all it is to me when my hand gets raised and they announce the winner it’s just a sense of realization okay there is still a chance, I can still do things, I can still get things done… it gives me a calm sense that you can still achieve things outside of here.”
In the moment he had only a small set of desires. One that stood out was cage time. Despite having a stellar amateur career, one that saw him go the distance multiple times, Knight wants to see the latter rounds.
“I hope this fight goes into the second and third round. I’ve been busting my ass for almost three years, I’ve literally been busting my ass. I’ve been learning new styles, new attacks. I hope im able to display them and this fight doesn’t end quick. I really hope I am able to display my technique.”
The future looks bright for the Connecticut fighter. Not because of his immaculate record and impressive finishes. But because he is in control. Mentally, he holds a firm grasp over himself, so much so it will take him as far as he desires.