Skip to main content

MMA Fighter Justin Thornton Is Dead At 38

Justin Thornton shirtless fight
(Image credit: YouTube)

A Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship member and MMA fighter is dead at 38-years-old, weeks after he suffered a knockout during a sanctioned fighting event. Justin Thornton had a fight against Dillon Cleckler at BKFC 20 and later died as a result of those injuries. 

Reports of Justin Thornton’s death came from BKFC President Dave Feldman, who shared the news to MMAFighting.com. In a short statement, Feldman confirmed the passing of the fighter and offered condolences to his friends and family:

This morning we were very saddened to be notified of the passing of one of our fighters, Justin Thornton, who competed at BKFC 20 on August 20, 2021. We join the rest of the combat sports community in sending our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones.

Justin Thornton’s fight against Dillon Cleckler at BKFC lasted 19 seconds before a flurry of shots to the head sent him face down into the canvas. Footage from the event doesn’t appear to show concern out of the ordinary amongst the participants and staff, but TMZ stated that Thornton was unconscious for several minutes before being hospitalized for his injuries. 

Following the fight, Justin Thornton's fans received an update on his health from his Facebook page. Amber Willard, a woman with a history with Thornton, revealed that Thornton was left paralyzed after the event. Thornton was on a ventilator with a tracheotomy and in the process of receiving medication via IV for a lung infection as well as his spinal cord injury. Willard maintained that in spite of his condition, Thornton was in good spirits and made jokes. The update had a posting date of Thursday, September 23, and it's unclear when his health declined. 

Justin Thornton had a professional MMA record of 6-18 and fought professionally for over a decade. Thornton had a storied career and squared off against notable fighters in the UFC like heavyweights Chase Sherman and Walt Harris. His death is mourned by fans of combat sports and fighters alike. 

News of Justin Thornton's death comes at a time where many amateur fighters without a lot of experience are competing in sanctioned events for a large payday against trained fighters. His passing proves that unexpected can happen to well-trained fighters and that safety is not guaranteed in any sporting event. 

Famed boxing promoter Lou DiBella spoke out about the safety of the event overall, noting on his Twitter page that Justin Thornton's final fight was his sixth consecutive first-round stoppage. DiBella went on to call the state of combat sports regulation in America "atrocious," perhaps suggesting Thornton's fight should've never happened in the first place.  It remains to be seen what, if any, consequences will result from this tragic incident.  

CinemaBlend would like to offer its condolences to the family and friends of Justin Thornton and wish them well during this difficult time.  

Mick Joest

Mick likes good television, but also reality television. He grew up on Star Wars, DC, Marvel, and pro wrestling and loves to discuss and dissect most of it. He’s been writing online for over a decade and never dreamed he’d be in the position he is today.