Natchez Native, MMA fighter Justin Thornton dies at 38

Published 9:40 pm Monday, October 4, 2021

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Natchez native and MMA fighter Justin Ray Thornton died Monday more than a month after he collapsed in the ring in a Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship event on Aug. 20 in Biloxi.

Thornton owned and coached at an MMA gym in Natchez called Swamp Donkey Mixed Martial Arts on North Palestine Road.

Funeral services for Thornton are incomplete at Laird Funeral Home.

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On Aug. 20, Thorton, 38, was knocked out by Dillon Cleckler in a heavyweight bout at BKFC 20. Thornton stayed down for several minutes after he hit the mat. He was taken out of the ring on a stretcher and transported to a gulf coast hospital after suffering serious injuries.

BKFC President Dave Feldman confirmed Thornton’s death on Monday.

“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,” Feldman said in a statement to MMA Fighting. “We join the rest of the combat sports community in sending our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones.”

A Facebook post on Thornton’s page on Sept. 23 said the fighter was paralyzed, on a ventilator, being treated for an infection in his lungs and being given medication for a spinal cord injury.

What contribution the knockout in August played in Thornton’s death is unclear.