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, May 10, he will compete in a Legacy Fight Alliance (LFA) nationally televised event at the Maverick Center in Utah. While many might find it difficult to juggle a full-time career, faith, family, and MMA, Wilson says he continues to fight for his two, soon to be three, daughters. "A big reason I continue on this journey is I want my family, my kids, and their kids, etc. to see that if you have a dream you can achieve it. You can provide for your family and do the things you have to and pursue your dreams," Wilson says. "We live in a society where we are told we have to choose between providing for your family [and your dreams] so we take a nine to five job that might not make us happy but it provides for your family. I am trying to prove to everyone you can do it all and have it all."
From talking about paying tithing on prize money and sharing Latter-day Saint 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. In fact, he often shares gospel insights on his website about the life lessons he's learned in the cage.
"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. "No matter where I go whether it is a new gym or a promotion I fight for they know I am a member of the Church and often times they ask me questions about the Church and how I can do this sport and stay active. . . . . 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."
Because of his unique experience, Wilson has also been able to reach out to and help many members of the Church.
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 Latter-day Saints—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 about masculinity and competing, however. He has two little daughters and a third on the way 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 catch a glimpse of him dancing with his girls 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. "I know at the end of the fight, no matter the result, my daughters will still love me. My wife will still love me. The result does not matter because at the end of the day I have my family to return home to."
In fact, when Wilson tore his ACL several years ago, his faith and family 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 Latter-day Saint MMA fighter.
"I hope through my fighting, whether it is in the cage or out of the cage, I hope to inspire others, particularly the 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."
While faith, family, a full-time career, and MMA can be a lot to juggle at times, Wilson knows his dreams are worth the sacrifice. He also recognizes that the Lord has been with him every step of his journey providing support and perspective.
"I think the best thing about being a member of the church is having an eternal perspective on things," Wilson says. "The wins, the loses do not matter they are great and bring me happiness but it does not bring that joy that the gospel brings."