It's been a long, painful life-journey for Justin Weaver, 21, but the payoff is on the horizon as he prepares for his final amateur mixed martial arts fight before turning professional.
Weaver, current Sugar Creek Showdown Flyweight (125 pounds) and Bantamweight (135 pounds) champion, has battled with personal demons as well as experienced the recent loss of his mother.
"I feel like I wouldn't be where I am today if I wouldn't have started doing martial arts, because I was going down a bad path," Weaver said. "I got into a bad place and I started hanging out with the wrong crowd and doing things I shouldn't have.
"But then I started training and I started to meet some guys who have been doing this for a while," he continued. "They welcomed me with open arms and helped me straighten my life out. If it wasn't for marital arts I probably would have stayed down that same path and ended up dead."
Sugar Creek Showdown is the Premier Amateur Promotion in Oklahoma.
Weaver (6-4) is set to take on Douglas Hurst (4-0) on August 12 at the Batesville Community Center. Five of Weaver's victories have come by knockout, submission or referee stoppage. Hurst has won all four of his fights all submission.
Weaver, who is a well-rounded fighter, said he is dedicating the fight to his mother who passed away on June 22 at the age of 50.
"My mother hated the idea of me fighting," he said. "She was like 'no chance, I'm not going to go watch that,' Well, she hadn't missed a fight until she was hospitalized.
"She was amazing person," Weaver continued. "She served in the United States Army during Desert Storm in the Air Borne division. We actually didn't have a very good relationship for the longest time until about three years ago."
He said their relationship was strained because he felt a little bit of resentment towards her when he was growing up because he was adopted and was forced to move to Arkansas from Tulsa, Oklahoma when he was 10 years old.
"That put a big block in me and my mother's relationship," Weaver said. "But then I finally got myself together and I started treating her how she deserved to be treated."
Weaver said his mother was diagnosed with Lupus when she was 26.
"She lived until she was 50," Weaver said. "It has been a lot to deal with because she was in-and-out of the hospital for the majority of my life. That was a huge reason as to why my depression was so bad."
He said mixed martial arts has given him a sense of belonging and helped him overcome his battle with depression.
"It has always been like one thing or another," Weaver said. "When I go to the gym I don't worry about any of that. All I can say is it saved me."
Emotional battles are not the only adversity Weaver has faced, he has also rebounded from severe physical trauma.
Weaver said the worst hit he has ever taken was in a fight against Brennan McKisick on April 2, 2016.
"About 30 seconds into the fight, he comes out and throws an inside leg kick that's high and I'm squatting at the same time," Weaver said. "It kicked in the cup and it breaks my cup in half, like clean in half. I hit the mat. Out of all 10 fights, that was the worst thing that has happened."
On November 19, 2016 against Kyler Vowell, Weaver broke his right hand 45 seconds into the second round.
"At the end of the round I told my corner, 'I just broke my hand on his chin,'" Weaver said.
His trainer asked him if he wanted to give up.
"I just looked around and everybody is cheering and I was like 'Well no, I don't want to do that,'" Weaver said.
His trainer responded "Well, I don't want to hear about your hand then."
"So I went back out and I continued to fight," he continued. "I hit him with it a few more times until it really started hurting."
Weaver went on to defeat Vowell two minutes and 31 seconds into the fourth round by technical knockout after catching him with a knee.
Six weeks ago, Weaver tore his medial collateral ligament during a training session.
"I took a kick to the side of the knee and it folded through," Weaver said. "I'm probably about 75 percent, but I'm on my way to the gym right now, so it is doing all right."
Weaver said he instantly fell in love with MMA at the age of 18, but he feels like the sport sometimes gets a bad rap.
"I have never once had the intention of hurting an opponent," Weaver said. "I actually look forward to testing and bettering this person, not just as a fighter but as an athlete."
He said the most rewarding part of competing in MMA is the camaraderie and sense of family he has formed with his training partners.
"That and getting to help so many people who have the same problems," Weaver said. "There are so many people who started doing the sport because they had depression and anxiety. They started doing jiu-jitsu or kickboxing and that went away because it helps with your self-confidence. It helps with a lot of things."
Weaver said after turning professional, he hopes to get a contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) in the next two or three years.
"I will get to the UFC," he said. "I'm going to be the 125-pound champion of the world. That way I can make a huge impact on not just people in my town, but people all over the country and world."
Weaver said his main goal in life is to give back to the community. He said he would eventually like to get his black belt in jiu-jitsu and open his own gym so he can help people who are facing similar issues.
"That was a big issue in my family, that we didn't have a lot of money," Weaver said. "I don't want that to be problem for people I am helping."
Weaver said his wife, Lacy, was nervous when he first started competing in MMA, but she softened her stance when she saw the joy he got out of the sport.
"She sees that it is all worth it," Weaver said. "Now she is kind of the backbone of the whole thing. Days where I don't want to go to the gym she is like 'Well, you can do that but then you're just further away from being a world champion. So, you need to go ahead and get up and do that,' So, of course I do it."
Weaver said he is not sure what fighting or life will be like without his mother backing him.
"I know she would want me to go out there and try my hardest, and that is what I am going to do," he said.