Dillon Cleckler stopped Justin Thornton in the first round of their bare-knuckle boxing match under the BKFC banner last August, but unlike most combat sports contests, Thornton did not regain consciousness and was promptly rushed to a nearby hospital.
The 38 year-old Mississippian never recovered.
“As a fighter nothing prepares you for the news I received this morning on my way to training,” Cleckler wrote on Facebook. “Some of you may not of heard yet but my last opponent Justin Thornton passed away last night due to pneumonia. I can’t help but feel absolutely devastated about this because I’ve known Justin for years. Not many people know this but we fought eight years ago and he told me right away he wanted the rematch. I know that when he got the phone call to finally get that rematch on a bigger stage he saw a huge opportunity and took it.”
Thorton, who finished 6-18 with 11 knockout losses, was paralyzed following his knockout to Cleckler and placed on a ventilator. The promotion has been assisting with medical expenses but the family has also set up a GoFundMe page to help with additional costs.
“Justin is a warrior. It’s in his blood to fight. He loved it. He fought anyone, anytime and anywhere and when I didn’t have an opponent, he still jumped at the opportunity to get in there with me again,” Cleckler continued. “Any man or woman who steps in the ring or the cage is special, they take a risk 99.99% of the world would never take and sometimes I still don’t know why we do it but Justin was a fighter his entire life and deserves nothing but respect! My thoughts and prayers are with Justin Thornton and his family at this time. RIP warrior.”