Over a decade ago, you wouldn’t be considered wrong for believing mixed martial arts and Mormonism didn’t mix. When Westin Wilson began practicing MMA 12 years ago as a high school student, the sport’s label of violence made it seen as something that Mormons simply shouldn’t do, according to Wilson.
Mormons’ Early Perception of MMA
“We’re not violent people and everything like that, and that’s what the perception was,” Wilson, 30, told MMASucka. “It was a little more taboo then. It was tough because people would tell my parents, ‘I can’t believe you’d let your son do something so violent,’ or they’d say that to me and treat me different, like I was a terrible person. That was 2007-08.”
Wilson, who is from Orange County, UT, launched his amateur career in 2012. After a 2-2 run, he turned pro in August 2014 and has since amassed a 6-3 record. He wrestled as a kid in Oklahoma, and initially got into MMA while living in Brazil.
Wilson is something of a pioneer for Mormons in MMA. He says he knows a few who are training and coming up on the regional scene, but Wilson is known to be the only one who has fought for promotions like Bellator and LFA.
Acceptance of the Sport
The Mormon Church, which extends worldwide, has come a long way towards accepting MMA as a sport, Wilson said. He said he originally fell in love with MMA due to the strategy and competition that fights and the preparation are based on. Educating his religion and community in those core values of MMA has become something of a personal mission of Wilson’s.
“Being an example to other kids, whether it’s in the Mormon Church or not, has always been something I take pride in,” he said. “Showing people you don’t have to give up your values and the things that you’ve been raised on while pursuing something the general population of that religion might initially think is bad. But then it’s come a long ways and a lot of people see the sport for what it is; it’s not so much this violent thing where two guys are getting in and just bloodying each other up. They’re starting to be educated on the sport.”
Being a Role Model
Wilson wants to follow in the footsteps of other famous Mormons like Steve Young and Donny Osmond, saying that he would like to become known as “the Steve Young of MMA.” He wants to be regarded as someone who isn’t only a great fighter, but also someone who is a great person outside of the ring; someone who maintains his values while being active in his community and church.
Wilson has started to partake in speaking engagements, and wants to be more active in speaking to youth. He doesn’t care so much about his social media following (156 followers on Twitter and over 2,600 on Instagram), though he noted it’s a metric many consider to determine one’s influence nowadays.
“If I’m just helping people, and people are reaching out to me, and I’m able to help them, that’s kind of where I know I’ve made it,” he said. “If I’ve got a ton of people saying, ‘Hey, I’ve been having these problems and your story really touched me,’ and I can keep helping them, that’s really what it’s all about for me.”
Budding MMA Career
He says representing the Mormon community in MMA is “super important” to him, and to do so, he acknowledged he needs to meet some goals in the sport.
“Getting to fight in a top organization against the best people and proving myself and testing myself there in the sport, that’s kind of where I’d feel like, ‘Okay, I’ve reached those milestones,'” Wilson said.
Reaching the UFC is one of Wilson’s goals, but added he’d be happy to sign exclusively to any promotion that has an international platform. For example, Wilson had a Bellator fight in which he defeated LJ Hermreck via submission back in 2017; he said he’d love to sign with Bellator exclusively. He listed the Professional Fighters League as another option, but he wouldn’t feel ready for that competition until Season 3 in 2020 at the earliest.
“I want to be able to have a national platform where I can hook up with a promotion that can help get my name out there in the MMA community, and I can get the promotion’s name out there in the [Latter Day Saint] community,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s MMA career continues on Thursday, February 21, against Javier Garcia under the Fight Club OC banner. Wilson says that based on watching Garcia’s fights from the amateur to professional levels, his opponent hasn’t really evolved. He sees Garcia as someone who likes to grapple and maintain top position, but looks uncomfortable in the stand-up.
“I see him trying to get the takedown and me obviously countering off of that,” Wilson said. “I’m going to make him chase me around the ring trying to get the takedown and him trying to strike with me. I’ll be setting up traps and forcing him into hard shots. When he does shoot, I’ll be ready for the takedown, either countering with knees, elbows, or uppercuts. Or when he does go and take me down, I’ve got a lot of counters off of the shots, so it’s going to be a difficult night for him to take me down.”
All four of Garcia’s career victories have come via submission, which validates Wilson’s assessment that he’s primarily a ground fighter. Wilson, meanwhile, has finished all six of his wins (four T/KO, two submissions).
Between his wrestling base and the striking that Wilson has come to use as his primary means of attack, he feels he has the tools to beat the ground-oriented Garcia.
Wilson spent the last five weeks training with Bellator Kickboxing champion Raymond Daniels. And whenever Wilson travels to South Carolina for business, he trains with UFC welterweight Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. In fact, he opted to train with Daniels because of the similar MMA backgrounds Daniels and Thompson shared.
Training with them has influenced Wilson’s stand-up into a long, rangy, karate-style. He stays long and plays the counter game, while throwing a lot of front kicks. He’s also adopted the adage of hitting without getting hit in return.
As a 6’1″, 145-lb. southpaw featherweight, Wilson said he also tries to emulate certain fighters who fit his mold.
“I try to copy anybody who’s tall, I try to study them and copy whatever they’re doing,” he explained. “The Diaz brothers, I’ll study them a lot even though I’m not a high-pressure fighter. Conor McGregor because he’s a rangy southpaw. Stylistically, I don’t think I’m one person in particular. I think I’m kind of my own style.”