Anthony, 16, has been interested in mixed-martial arts (MMA) for as long as he can remember. He grew up watching Power Rangers and kung fu movies and always hoped to learn more about MMA so he could be more like the fighters he watched on television.
When he was approached about a wish, Anthony chose to become an mixed martial artist so he could learn to be tough and strong in the face of a very scary opponent – cancer.
“Anthony was first diagnosed with a germ cell tumor in 2014 and it was so hard for all of us,” said his mom, Mayra. “When you hear cancer, you automatically think the worst. Even when Anthony beat his cancer, it wasn’t the end of our battle.”
One month ago, the unthinkable happened. Anthony’s cancer had returned.
“I remember him saying it was going to be so much harder because now he will have to go through everything over again,” said Mayra. “It’s easy to be negative, but doctors told Anthony to keep fighting. When he found out he could have a wish, I saw life in his eyes. He was ready to fight.”
Anthony’s wish was simple. He hoped to learn more about MMA and spend a day in the life of a martial artist. But the team at MMA LAB, a specialized mixed-martial arts training facility here in Arizona, had other ideas for Anthony’s wish.
“When I heard Anthony’s story, I couldn’t wait to help,” said Benson Henderson, professional fighter and co-owner of MMA LAB. “It meant a lot that I could be a part of his wish and feels great to give back.”
When the big wish day arrived, Anthony and his family walked into the gym and were surprised by more than 40 fighters, wearing “Team Anthony” shirts to show their support for his fight against cancer.
“We were so surprised! All the attention was on him,” said Mayra. “Anthony doesn’t smile a lot, so seeing him that happy meant everything.”
Benson welcomed Anthony and gave him a tour of the gym. Anthony watched fighters sparring in the ring and then received one-on-one MMA and Tae Kwon Do training lessons to learn their skills.
Fighters showed Anthony many MMA techniques, like blocks and counter attacks. Anthony practiced some of the physical moves, but he was most excited to learn about the mental discipline.
“They taught me a lot about perspective,” said Anthony. “I wasn’t physically able to do all the things they taught me, but I learned that training your mind is a huge part of MMA.”
“I think the mental training really helped Anthony,” said Mayra. “It will be great for him to have that in mind while he’s going through his treatment and stay positive.”
And Anthony’s wish didn’t just last one day. Benson surprised Anthony with the exciting news that he will receive training lessons from MMA LAB for the entire year!
“Coming back to the gym will really give him something to look forward to,” said Mayra, who hopes to take Anthony to training lessons a few times a week.
“At first, I thought it was all going to be too good to be true but I was so surprised!” said Anthony. “My wish was more than anything I ever expected.”
Anthony’s favorite part of his wish was being able to meet all the fighters. He still receives chemotherapy every three weeks, but he is really looking forward to watching the fights at the gym on Saturdays.
“I couldn’t imagine any better wish!” said Anthony.