Professional MMA fighter Westin Wilson sees no conflict between the religion he lives and his profession in Mixed Martial Arts. In fact, the father of two uses his fame and publicity as a platform to share the gospel.
On Friday, November 3, he competed in a high-profile, nationally televised event that led to interviews across the country. The event, which was broadcast on Axis TV, was part of Legacy Fight Alliance and resulted from Wilson's earlier win over L.J. Hermreck in Bellator 184. However, Friday night Wilson didn't see the same success after submitting to Charles Cheeks III.
From talking about paying tithing on prize money and sharing Mormon beliefs in interviews to living his standards both inside and outside of the cage, Wilson doesn't back down when it comes to sharing his faith. "I’m in a sport where there are not a lot of members and I have been able to be an example to others because of it. I’ve had a lot of great missionary experiences because of it. . . . I've been able to break a lot of stereotypes because of it," Wilson says. "Everyone knows I am a member of the Church. . . . In MMA there is somewhat of a party culture among fighters and they know I won’t participate in it. So they ask, 'Why is he different?' and I bring up the Word of Wisdom. I also don’t train on Sundays and make that clear."
Though Wilson finds opportunities to share why he believes and lives the way he does, he also shows respect for his fellow MMA fighters and their beliefs. "I am just living my beliefs," he says. "I am not forcing anything on anybody."
While Wilson is breaking down stereotypes about Mormons—he's also breaking down stereotypes in the Church.
"The stereotype in the Church is that [MMA] is this brutish, violent sport and it’s just all these men with bravado. But fighting is a great equalizer. The better man wins regardless of religion, regardless of color, regardless of their beliefs, regardless of their socioeconomic status," Wilson says.
He continues, "I don’t fight because I am a violent person. I don’t fight because I have anger issues. I don’t fight for any of that. I fight because I think of the 13th Article of Faith a lot where it says, 'We have endured many things and hope to be able to endure all things' and 'if anything is of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.'"
Wilson has seen how MMA has helped him gain more patience to endure, how it has helped him build friendships despite language barriers, and how it has brought a deeper understanding of the gospel into his life.
Becoming an MMA Fighter and Father
Since he was in fifth grade, Westin Wilson knew he wanted to be a professional MMA fighter. At that time Wilson was what he calls "a late bloomer in life," "a runt with little-man syndrome." But Wilson enjoyed competing in high school in the one sport where his size wasn't an issue: wrestling.
But when his family moved to Brazil because of his father's work with the DEA, Wilson found his new school didn't have a wrestling program. But there was an MMA gym near his house, and Wilson quickly began training. Late in high school and on his mission Wilson grew eight inches, no longer fitting the description of a runt, but by then he had already found the sport he loves.
Wilson isn't all masculine sports and competing, however. He has two little daughters that he jokes "definitely take that masculine edge off. . . . They definitely keep me more sensitive. I've watched Frozen probably 100 times and all those other girly princess movies."
In fact, if you ever get the chance to watch Wilson train for one of his upcoming fights, you might also catch a glimpse of him dancing with his 3-year-old girl in between rounds. "[Family], that’s my big motivation, and when you have kids and your family is your motivation, you're less likely to fail because it’s about more than just yourself," Wilson says.
In fact, when Wilson tore his ACL over a year ago, his unique perspective carried him through the painful recovery.
"Tearing my ACL and being out for a year was the greatest blessing that could have happened to me through an unfortunate event," Wilson says. "And I think it is because of the gospel that I get this perspective . . . I was becoming very obsessive over the sport and it was almost as if this was God’s way of saying, 'Take a step back; let’s reprioritize; it goes wife, kids, other things, and then fighting. . . . Winning, losing, none of it really matters because in the end, I’ll always have my family and I will always have the gospel, and those are the important things."
How an MMA Fight Is Like the Gospel
"When I am in a fight, I am so focused on what’s right in front of me, I don’t see everything else going on in the cage," Wilson says. "[But] I’ve got a coach who can see everything; he’s got that outside perspective. And there’s a lot of commotion—you’ve got people yelling, you’ve got referees, you’ve got judges, you’ve got music playing—and I have to be trained to hear my coach’s voice, and that’s exactly how it is in life. We’ve got so much going on and we are focused on so many different things, you can either get caught up in that or you can listen to the Holy Ghost. But you have to have that relationship. You have to build that relationship up. I can’t just have somebody in my corner that I don’t know telling me, ‘Hey you need to do this or that.’ I am not going to trust that. But when I’ve got my coach, I trust my coach 100 percent, so when he says, ‘You need to throw a kick,’ I throw a kick."
He continues, "I’ve learned that’s the same relationship I need to have with my Heavenly Father and the Holy Ghost. And I have learned that is only done through doing the small and simple things. . . . Satan also works through small and simple means. If he can get us to not read our scriptures, if he can get us to skip church, these small things eventually start adding up. . . . The more reps I put in, the easier it is to do a move. It is the same thing with our testimonies and the gospel. The more reps we do, the more prayers we say, the more times we fulfill our callings, the easier it gets and the more natural it gets when the Lord tells us to do something, we can do it."
Through his gospel-focus, Wilson has discovered a larger motivation for being someone who breaks stereotypes as a Mormon MMA fighter.
"I hope through my fighting, whether it is in the cage or out of the cage, I hope to inspire others, particularly Mormon youth. [I want them to see] whatever you want to do you can do it and you can be active in the Church and hold onto your gospel standards . . . even if it is in an industry where partying, Word of Wisdom issues, and breaking the Sabbath is the norm. You don’t have to give up your gospel standards to excel and be successful."