Brandon Wilson’s story could be the basis of an Oscar-winning screenplay, just like the film classic "Rocky."
Just like cinema’s ultimate underdog Rocky Balboa, Wilson has overcome stumbling blocks to reach a top prize in his sport – mixed martial arts.
After fighting through a bracket that started in April, the former La Serna High School wrestler won his final bout last Saturday to capture the title of California State Mixed Martial Arts Champion.
Wilson, who grew up in Whittier was representing Black Mat Mixed Martial Arts studio, 12200 E. Washington Blvd., Suite J.
The nonprofit organization teaches mixed martial arts to boys and girls, young adults and, most importantly, helps "at risk " and "under-privileged" kids in Whittier and surrounding areas, founder Phillip Koon said.
It was founded in Koon’s garage in 2003.
"The young man who lived next door asked if he could train with me," said Koon, 51, the former wrestling coach at La Serna.
"It just grew from there, and soon there were dozens of young people training inside my garage," he said.
It was a place that provided boys and girls, and young adults a safe haven – a place where they could feel safe, be respected, and be treated with dignity and honesty, Koon explained.
"It’s a place where they can grow as a martial artist, but most importantly as human beings," he said.
Wilson, 24, was one of those who came to the garage, and started the transformation to the man he is today.
Although he still attended classes, with passing grades, Wilson didn’t see many options for his life except partying.
"I was doing drugs and drinking alcohol, hanging out with a punk gang," he said. "I ended up sleeping in the park."
But once he joined the wrestling team, coach Koon became a mentor and strong male role model.
"I came from a broken family with no adult supervision, so I got into trouble," Wilson said.
His parents separated when he was 3 months old.
Going to the coach’s garage saved him from self destructing.
"I would be dead now if I didn’t meet coach Koon and my other role models," Wilson admitted.
The two others were kickboxing hall of famer George Valdez, 54, and assistant coach Rico Ortiz, 59.
"These men have shown what it takes to be a man inside the cage and outside of it," Wilson said.
Each one brings a different element to the young athlete’s training – Koon for the wrestling and submission wrestling moves, Rico for the stand-up fighting and Valdez for kickboxing.
"It was easy to add kickboxing to his training because of his work ethic and his talent," said Valdez, owner of Valdez Muay Thai Kickboxing in Whittier.
"I knew right away he was championship material," he said.
"Brandon has always been good at wrestling," Ortiz said, "but when he started kickboxing, he just exploded."
Wilson, who enters the ring wearing a black cowboy hat to the tune of "16 Tons" by Johnny Cash, is rebuilding relationships with his parents.
"I’m working on it," he said.
Wilson called his own family, wife, Jazmin and children, Brandon, 2, and Bella, 7 months, his foundation.
"I work hard to provide for them," he said of his 50- to 60-hour week in sales for an organic food distributor.
"God has given me this family, and it’s all I need," Wilson said.
For more information please visit our website at www.blackmatmma.org or contact Coach Koon at 323-864-4385
Article written by Sandra Molina, Whittier Dailey News