Dana White reacts to tragic death of BKFC fighter: ‘Is anyone shocked?’

Dana White was saddened but not surprised to hear the news about Justin Thornton.

Thornton, a one-time BKFC fighter, died tragically this week at the age of 38 after his knockout loss at BKFC 20. Thornton had been hospitalized since losing to Dillon Cleckler in 19 seconds on August 20. He was reportedly partially paralyzed in the aftermath of the fight and battled an infection from a spinal cord injury before succumbing to his injuries.

White was asked about the dire situation at the Contender Series press conference after the fight on Tuesday night.

“First of all, is anyone shocked?” the UFC president told reporters in Las Vegas. “I mean, bare-knuckle fighting? I’m not a big fan. And I get, I think I’d call it concerned when I see some of our people as they leave here and go there. It’s like, oh my God.

“But if you look at this, we’ve been fighting for 25 years. I’ve done over 7,000 fights with no serious injuries in the UFC.”

In addition to bare-knuckle boxing, Thornton was also an MMA fighter who put together a record of 6-18 over 24 fights. Most notably, he fought Titan FC COO Lex McMahon in November 2020, taking on eventual UFC veterans Chase Sherman and Walt Harris during his 13-year career.

Several former UFC fighters have signed to BKFC in recent years, including Paige VanZant, Chris Leben, Hector Lombard, Rachael Ostovich and Chad Mendes.

Following Thornton’s untimely passing, BKFC President David Feldman wrote in a statement that the promotion was “deeply saddened” to be informed of Thornton’s death and expressed “our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones” on behalf of BKFC.

In recent days, Thorton’s death has brought more attention to boxing and the role of state athletics commissions — and in White’s eyes, that scrutiny is well deserved.

“Every year we spend over $20 million on sports medicine — $20 million a year — health and wellness or whatever it may be,” White said. “And we send 25 percent of our athletes to specialists. So a guy comes and his brain test doesn’t come out, it will be erratic, so we send him to a specialist. If there’s something wrong with his heart, he or she goes to a heart specialist, and we spend the money to find out what’s wrong with him.

“And as a result, our pre-fight screening, over the past 20 years, we found 10 athletes who had life-threatening medical problems with them and ended their careers that they shouldn’t be fighting — that if they were’ in the UFC they had probably fought and probably died.

“So we shouldn’t even be called in the same sense as bare-knuckle boxing,” White continued. “They are two completely different worlds. And yes, we are very sorry to hear that this man has passed away, but you will never see any of these other organizations doing the kind of health and safety testing and medical testing that we do for our athletes.”

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