It’s hard to imagine a more emotional day than the one C.J. Keith had just over a week ago.
The young 8-0 fighter was sitting at home just after a morning workout when he got a call from his manager Jason House at Iridium Sports Agency with the news he had been waiting for. He was offered a four-fight deal with the UFC.
Like any fighter, Keith was ecstatic about the news. Coming up as a high school wrestler, he always felt he was destined to do something competitive in his life, he just wasn’t sure what that was until years later. Some advice he got from his wrestling coach back then stuck with him, and actually continues to serve him as he embarks on his MMA career.
“My wrestling coach told me I think it was my junior or senior year, but he told me I was the only dude that could step in a pile of (expletive) on a wrestling match and come out smelling like roses,” Keith said with a laugh. “He told me no one can hold you down, and he told me there was more to wrestling than being pinned.”
A three-year tour in the Army ended after he was medically discharged following a serious knee injury. It didn’t take long for the taste of competition to get back in Keith’s blood and a friend who had picked up MMA recently said he should do the same.
“I got out and I was just working and one of my friends he already had two fights and asked me if I wanted to try it, so I was like ‘yeah, I’ll try it’,” Keith said. “I basically did it just to prove everybody wrong cause where I come from we like to joke around a lot and doubt each other, and make bets and stuff. A lot of people didn’t believe I was going to do it, and I did it.”
Amassing an 8-0 record with a variety of finishes including a nasty flying knee knockout three fights ago, Keith got the call that the UFC was giving him a shot was just about the best news ever. It was the call he got later that day, however, that gave him something different to fight for all together.
“To tell you the truth, I’m still like shocked. I took a lot in yesterday. I got the call at 9:30 a.m. to say I actually got the contract for the UFC. It didn’t even settle in and then by 9:30 that night I got another call, and my dad’s house just burned down,” Keith revealed. “I’m going through a lot right now. I’m staying positive. It hit me, but it hasn’t hit me all the way that I made it. I’m still trying to take it all in.
“Dad and everybody is fine. Just lost a lot of memories. A lot of material thing, but you can replace material things; you can’t replace the lives.”
It’s with a heavy heart now that Keith has to help his family pick up the pieces of such a devastating tragedy, but he’s still keeping his head up because brighter days are ahead.
When Keith makes his debut he’ll still be fighting to prove the doubters wrong, but after such a personal loss struck so close to home, he’ll be fighting for his family’s future as well. CJ Keith will make his UFC debut later this year.