Fighter dies weeks after knock out during Mississippi event

NATCHEZ, Miss. (AP) — A 38-year-old mixed martial arts fighter has died more than a month after he was knocked out in the ring during a Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship event in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Justin Ray Thornton died Monday, the Natchez Democrat reported. He was a Natchez native, and he owned and coached at a mixed martial arts gym in Natchez.

Laird Funeral Home in Natchez, which is handling arrangements, said Thornton died in Gulfport.

Thornton was knocked out Aug. 20 by Dillon Cleckler in a heavyweight bout during the event in Biloxi. Thornton stayed down several minutes after he hit the mat. He was taken out of the ring on a stretcher and taken to a Gulf Coast hospital with serious injuries.

A Sept. 23 post on Thornton’s Facebook page said he was paralyzed, on a ventilator, being treated for a lung infection and being given medication for a spinal cord injury.

Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship president Dave Feldman confirmed Thornton’s death on Monday.

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

Cleckler posted a message Tuesday on Instagram saying he respected Thornton and was praying for his family. Cleckler wrote that he and Thornton fought eight years ago and Thornton wanted a rematch.

“Justin is a warrior,” Cleckler wrote. “It’s in his blood to fight. He loved it.”