Slowly rising from the dark mass of sheets, a figure stiffly waddles from the bed to the bathroom, switching on the light and watching it leave the room as he closes the door behind him. The clock reads 4:13 A.M. as he and a cloud of steam greet the bedroom from the shower. The kitchen sink begins to fill with a frying pan still singeing egg residue and a purple, fruity blender lid from the remnants of breakfast. Equipped with a book-filled backpack, extra clothes, and his gym bag, Blake Benson starts his day.
Benson has a different lifestyle than the typical 21-year-old. He doesn’t frequent bars or parties; his friend group, while loyal, remains small and docile; hell, Benson’s perfect night is alone in his room playing video games and getting eight hours of sleep. But one other trait sets Benson apart from his peers, his generation, and his society; he has been committing himself to his life dream for over seven years. Blake Benson is determined to become the “best MMA fighter in the world.” Mixed martial arts, or MMA, is a sport in which two fighters utilize a combination of boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, and almost all martial arts to fight against one another. Although strenuous and often painful, Benson dedicates himself to his passion with full expectations and confidence that he will succeed. Benson’s drive, however, has not always been directed at MMA. In fact, there were moments when his drive had seemingly vanished altogether.
Benson moved from Tulsa, OK to El Dorado Hills, CA with his mother and two younger siblings in the summer of 2003. His parents just split up, and he was about to start second grade. Benson was a playful, happy and eager child. For fun, he played video games or jumped on his trampoline, role-playing Star Wars and reenacting lightsaber battles. Benson’s early fixation on fantasy left a mark on his psyche, a mindset to always fight for what you believe in.
This carried on throughout his childhood, adolescence, and currently his early adulthood. His conscious is that of a stereotypical “hero.” He must do what is right, his loyalty and dependence on friends shows only strength, and he believes in what is fair for everyone. He portrayed these qualities from the earliest memorable moment, but it is hard to truly judge a person’s character before they reach any real obstacles.
In 2007, Benson entered the sixth grade. The transition from Elementary to middle school is heavily influential on a child’s mental formation, and Blake struggled with personal boundaries and moral obligations. Entering sixth grade an inch shorter and ten pounds lighter than every boy will single a kid out. That’s how Blake was. He was a runt. He was born prematurely and weighed less than five pounds in the hospital. Match that with Christian innocence and a distinct hatred for cussing, Blake was the perfect kid to bully. His best friend fell under the pressures of social status and tossed him aside, leaving Benson with a couple of xboxes and free time. Benson used this free time to his advantage. How could he avoid torture at school without changing his moral values? Fight the oppressors. He turned his time into working out: running, sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups. Overtime he got bigger, stronger, and eventually taller than most boys in his grade. One day, when a boy threw Benson’s backpack into a trashcan, Blake decided to act. He confronted the kid, whilst surrounded by his bullies, and challenged him to a fight. After hesitation and shock, the bully agreed. He lost. Benson was not bullied from that day forth. His action propelled him to the highest ranks of social status, although seeing the pointlessness, Benson continued to spend his time working out and playing sports like wrestling, volleyball, and basketball
In 2009, Benson was playing basketball primarily, excelling in the sport with his unmatchable athleticism and work ethic. He started to notice these pains in his knee, but brushed it off as a pulled ligament. Later, as the pains continued, it was a torn ligament… then maybe a torn ACL. Benson could not afford proper treatment. The economic recession of 2007–09 forced his parents to close their business and the lack of insurance made it difficult to assess his injury. After months of uncertainty and random treatment attempts, Benson received an MRI and found a tennis ball-sized tumor eating away at the tibia just below his right kneecap. The top 3 inches of his shin were essentially gone. He underwent surgery, where the tumor was removed, determined benign, a metal plate was attached to his bones, and the healing process began.
Benson was on crutches for nearly two years, until the metal plate was removed. His physical condition declined in that time, losing almost 30 pounds of the muscle he worked for. What was worse, his mental condition fell for the first time. Blake had been disappointed before, but he never felt as hopeless as he did then. Pulled out of school, bed-ridden, and body deteriorating, Benson experienced depression, questioning his worth and his usefulness.
After a couple of months away, Blake returned to school and immediately gained back confidence. He used his dependence on crutches as a way to start working out and practiced crutching without any feet touching the ground. Eventually, he stopped needing them and hobbled everywhere until 2011, when his tibia finally grew back and the plate was removed. At this point, Benson had regained most of his physical strength and had even begun boxing classes. Boxing turned into boxing and jiu-jitsu, and boxing and jiu-jitsu turned into MMA.
Now, three years out of high school, Blake is still pursuing the sport. He wakes up at 4 A.M. and trains until 8 A.M., where he leaves for college classes. At around 1 P.M., he gets food and returns to the gym until its closing at 8 P.M. He has a 3–1 record in the amateur league, and by next Spring will hopefully compete professionally. Benson believed in himself, never questioned his morals, and fought through the pressures honorably, never cutting anyone down or giving up on himself. When asked what time he’d like to go back to in his life, his response was “now.”
“I know who I am now,” he explains. “I know what I want and I know what I need to do to get it. I’m comfortable with myself and wouldn’t change anything about where I am right now.”
He ends his thought with a sentence through a chuckle, “Well, maybe more cash, ha ha.”