Finding an identity in life is one of the most important things people must do in order to achieve happiness and joy. Some find their identity in music, others find it in public service, or in family. Then, there are those who find it in sport.

Amateur fighter Jim MacDonald found his identity through MMA. It’s an identity that helped him through the trials and tribulations of adolescence. An identity that helped him through a war. An identity that continues to help him cope with the memories of battle. And it’s an identity that will likely lead to a professional fighting career.

“MMA is just something that I can’t really escape,” MacDonald told The MMA Corner. “And what I mean by that is, I started at a young age and I didn’t really have a lot of friends and I was a pretty overweight kid. I got picked on a lot and I found MMA, and it kind of saved my life. I had all kinds of problems as a kid growing up—just basic stuff, nothing crazy—but MMA kind of saved me. It gave me a personality, and it gave me somebody to be.

“Then I joined the Army and I tried to get away from fighting, and then I got back from Afghanistan. And everyone deals with their transition back from Afghanistan differently. Some guys get back and they go out drinking and they go clubbing, spending money. The only thing that made me feel right when I got back—the only thing that made me feel good—was when I was in the gym. It just seems like no matter what I do and where I go in life, fighting is just going to be a part of me. At this point in my life, I am just going to follow it as far as I can and see what I can do with it.”

MacDonald (Rich O'Sullivan/Rich O's Photography)

MacDonald (Rich O’Sullivan/Rich O’s Photography)

MacDonald, unlike many soldiers, has found a true outlet to work through the issues caused by being deployed to a war zone. But MacDonald insists the stress of simply being in the military is more that most can imagine. Military life can be detrimental to relationships. Soldiers are constantly pushed to the brink. Without some kind of release, bad things happen.

“It’s not just the deployment aspect,” MacDonald explained. “The Army takes a toll on guys even here in the United States. It ruins family ties, it ruins friendships, it ruins marriages and it is a very,very, very stressful job, especially when you are in the infantry. Then the deployment makes it 10 times more stressful. So the training just helps me use that emotion and all those feelings and put them in a positive way, because a lot of my buddies, I hate to say it, they don’t really know what to do with those feelings and emotions. They get in trouble. They get DUIs and whatnot. There is a lot of…my unit here in Colorado has one of the highest suicide rates in the U.S. Military. Guys just do a lot of fucked up shit, and I wish there were more guys who would get into MMA and fighting, because it is a real relief.

“It’s a shame that a lot of these guys get back, and here we are, 12 years later, and the war is still going on. And they start drinking and doing stupid shit, and the next thing you know, they are dead in the fucking ditch somewhere. It’s a shame because a lot of those guys…I found when we were overseas, we had a little gym on base, and I had some of my equipment shipped over, and I got some of the guys into the fighting and they loved it. It was a great stress relief on Friday nights in Afghanistan when we were bored. We would just go in there, glove up and beat the shit out of each other. We’d leave being best friends, and everyone’s stress would be gone.”

Finding some normalcy and little moments of escape are key to keeping it together in the military. Without those moments, the grind and fatigue sets in and soldiers begin to lose their grip on reality.

“It’s everything,” MacDonald said about finding an escape on base. “The hours you are working don’t even make sense to regular human beings. You are up all night, you are doing patrols, you’re exhausted, you’re dehydrated. Then you get a couple of hours to do a hobby. Maybe you are a guy who had your guitar shipped over, or maybe you are Skype-ing with your wife and kids. You need that because of that fatigue. Battle fatigue starts wearing on them and they start doing crazy shit.”

Now that MacDonald is home from Afghanistan, he can focus on his true calling—fighting. MacDonald is heading into his second amateur MMA bout at Kick Down MMA 114: Dream in Denver on June 7.

“Training has been good, but it’s been a little all over the place compared to my last fight and my Muay Thai fights,” MacDonald said. “A couple people left the gym I was training at in Denver, so I’ve been kind of training around, trying to find good coaches that I had in the past. I’ve even being training with one of my coaches, Brian Young. I’ve been training with him in his backyard.

“I flew home for a weekend and trained with my old gym back in Boston—FightZone out of Kingston—and then I trained with Joe Lauzon and some of his guys that I know from the past.”

But even though he has not trained in a single locale, MacDonald is confident that the diversity of his training for this fight will be beneficial.

“I feel like it’s done me wonders,” MacDonald admitted. “I got out of my comfort zone. I was getting kind of complacent where I was, and this camp I got to train around. I got to train with Christian Allen and some of his guys at Elevation in the high altitude, and some of those guys are killers. I got to train with Joe Lauzon and some of his boys, and those guys are just really tough. Then, at my gym back home in Kingston, I got to train with my coach who has been training me since I was about 13 years old.”

Having cut his teeth in the world of Muay Thai, MacDonald is very aware that he will have to adjust his style to remain competitive in MMA. In a sport where fighters are constantly evolving and growing their skill set, there is no room for one-dimensional fighters coming up through the ranks.

“The biggest huddle in making the transition, I would say, is the stance of a Muay Thai fighter compared to an MMA fighter,” MacDonald said. “I started training Muay Thai when I was 13, I had my first fight when I was 14 and then I fought all through high school, so I kind of developed a very old-school Muay Thai stance and style which works in Muay Thai. But it’s so tall—you stand so tall in Muay Thai—that it could be a really bad thing in MMA. Because your chin comes up and your legs are real tall, it’s easy for wrestlers to take you down.

“The gym I hooked up with when I was a kid, FightZone—originally in Hampton, Mass.—they were known as one of the top striking gyms in the area. I got a really good striking game developed there, and I was just too young to do MMA because I was like 14 or 15. So, I didn’t focus a whole lot on BJJ back then because I wasn’t going to be able to fight in MMA anyway. Then, once I got back from Afghanistan, I was in Boston for a little while, and that’s when I hooked up with Joe Lauzon and his guys because I had to get my BJJ game rolling and he’s the No. 1 BJJ guy, in my opinion, in the state of Massachusetts—probably in New England, to be honest.”

MacDonald (Rich O'Sullivan/Rich O's Photography)

MacDonald (Rich O’Sullivan/Rich O’s Photography)

Lauzon has been a great influence on MacDonald, not just due to his in-cage talents, but because of how he carries himself outside of the gym. Lauzon is an approachable, down-to-earth guy who loves the sport and appreciates the fan base.

“I’ve definitely seen my share of real famous fighters who kind of take themselves really serious and they try to put on the image, but Joe is just this guy from Massachusetts,” MacDonald said. “He just fights because he loves it. He’s a humble guy, and he’s cool. He has barbeques at his house for the gym, and everybody goes over there and hangs out with his family.”

Lauzon is an outstanding example of what makes MMA such a great fan’s sport. The fighters are approachable, and they seem to truly care about the fans, unlike many professional athletes in other sports.

“When you are an actual established legitimate MMA fighter, you really have nothing to prove,” MacDonald said. “I think a lot of guys who are athletes in sports who are constantly pumping testosterone and lifting weights and drinking protein shakes, I think really those guys are trying to prove their manliness and prove that they are the alpha male. But I feel like an MMA fighter is like, ‘Dude, I fight people for fun. I have nothing to prove.’ So when you see them out in the regular world just hanging out, they are really down to earth because they got nothing to prove. Their actions speak in the cage. The MMA fighters that do all the talking and all of the trash-talking saying they are so fucking badass, a lot of that is just insecurity.”

Although the goal of every fighter in every fight is to win, it’s important at this level that fighters are working out all the kinks and polishing their skills. MacDonald’s first MMA fight ended before he could even break a sweat, but this time he is hopeful for more of a challenge.

“In this fight, I want to see where everything is at,” MacDonald revealed. “I wouldn’t mind winning a decision. Of course, I always want to go out and get the knockout. My last fight was just over way too quickly, though; I knocked the kid out in 18 seconds. We maybe had like two exchanges on the feet, then I caught him with a head kick. But it kind of sucked, because I didn’t really get to see where my BJJ was, where my clinch was at, where my cage work was at.

“I was hoping, for this fight, that it would maybe go two or three good rounds and that it would be the kind of fight that amateur fighters need, because I need to be put in tough positions. I need to be able to feel what I can do when the fight is not going my way. I need to see what I can do when I get hit really hard, and I’ve had some hard fights like that in my Muay Thai career, but I want to feel it with the four-ounce gloves in an MMA scenario.”

MacDonald’s journey is still just beginning in the sport, even though he began preparing for this moment at age 13. He has a long road ahead of him, but with his love for the sport, his skill set and his determination, MacDonald has all the potential in the world.

“Five years from now, I’ll probably be back in Hampton, Mass. I’ll probably be training with Joe Lauzon and my other gym, FightZone. Hopefully, by then—well, I am sure by then—I will be professional. I’ll be working hard, just fighting, trying to get as many wins as I can and trying to see where I can take this sport. I’m only 21 right now, and with my Muay Thai and my MMA fights, I have 11 fights. And I think, in five years from now, I’ll have a really deadly skill set by then. I’ll be in my physical prime, and I think I definitely could be one to watch.”

Jim would like to thank his kickboxing coach Brian Young, his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu coach Christian Allen and, also, Steele McCall. He would like to thank everyone back in Hampton, FightZone and Joe Lauzon and all of his guys. Follow MacDonald on Instagram: @jimmymacdood

About The Author

RJ Gardner
Content Coordinator

RJ Gardner is a rabid sports fan and a long time MMA enthusiast. After watching UFC 1 at ripe old age of 11 RJ was hooked and his passion for the sport has continued to blossom over the years. RJ has been covering MMA since 2007 and has had work featured on Bleacher Report, SI.com, CBSSports.com and UFC.com. RJ is also a Petroleum Transportation Operations Manager during the day.

  • Jason K

    Big shout to you Jimmy Mac from back east. Best of luck in the fight. Not that you’ll need it with some of the best striking I’ve seen. With all due respect to all that have been mentioned, I feel that Mike True, the owner of fight zone’s name should be in there. Seems a shame to leave him out, great trainer, motivator, and friend to his fighters and the people he trains.

  • James Hennessey

    Yeah! You gotta give a shout out to Mike True Jr! Thank God he’s a nice guy cause he’s one seriously skilled fighter. But being a great fighter doesn’t make you a great teacher. It’s two different fields. I had the privilege of training under Mike True Jr. in the earliest days of the Fight Zone in Hanson and a great teacher he is indeed. I would highly recommend that anyone looking to get into MMA go to the Fight Zone which is now located on route 106 in Kingston. Great school and there is always a good crew of fighters down there that are eager to help out the new guy/girl and show them the ropes. MMA training is a lot of fun!!!