Amy Donaldson: Mixed martial arts: Sean O'Connell fighting for victims
Sean O'Connell loves a good fight.
The professional mixed martial arts fighter just doesn't like seeing violence in the world outside the cage.
So after winning his fight against Wyoming's Dwight Parker on Saturday night, he made an unusual plea to the 2,300 fight fans cheering his effort at the Rail Event Center in Salt Lake City.
"I want to show women that the real tough guys in this world won't allow women to be beaten, raped or abused in any way," he said, after defeating Parker at 1:49 in the second round with a rear naked choke hold in the World Championship Full Contact event that featured eight matchups. "Please, please donate to this cause, because it really means something."
O'Connell, known in MMA as "The Real OC" spent six months in Zambia working with the Catholic Church. It was there he saw the kind of violence and degradation of women that shocked him into action.
"I saw how often women were beaten, exploited and abused, and I just wanted to do something about it," he said. "When you do something like that, it changes the way you live your life. I am going back in September, and I hope to go back with a huge check."
The Jordan High graduate is calling his fundraising drive for the City of Joy, a charity run by Catholic Charities, "Fight for What's Right." He asks fight fans to donate at least $10 to the City of Joy in hopes that eventually no woman will have to endure what he witnessed last year.
"Ten dollars isn't a lot of money here," he said. "But it goes a long way in Zambia. The City of Joy gives girls and women a safe place where they can get away from violent situations, get an education, get vocational training."
It basically gives them a safe place to find a future.
O'Connell said he knew when he was there that he could count on the men he competes with and against, as well as MMA fans.
"I feel like the sport of MMA is full of guys who won't stand for that kind of injustice," he said. "In this world, unfortunately, it takes money to change things. It's how everything happens. So I hope to raise a lot of money for them."
He said a childhood with "phenomenal parents" gave the kind of heart that prompted him to give up the sport he loves for a year to help those struggling in Zambia.
"When you go to a place like that, it makes you live your life a little differently," said O'Connell, who was an all-state football player and wrestler for the Beetdiggers. "I am by no means a great guy. But I feel I'm trying to do something good."
O'Connell, who also played football at the University of Utah before finishing his career as a linebacker at Weber State University, got into mixed martial arts as a way to stay in shape. He began training with Jeremy Horn two years ago and now owns a record of 8-3.
Taking a year off to travel with Catholic Charities to Zambia may have put him behind his peers competitively, but it has enriched his life in ways he never expected. He is creating his own clothing line for Against the Fence apparel company, while promising fans he'll continue to work hard for their entertainment in the cage.
"I last fought in February of last year," he said, as he accepted congratulations from friends. "I was in Africa for six months, and then I came back (in November) and just tried to get back into shape. I am very glad to be back."
He makes his way through the crowd beseeching anyone and everyone to do something for women they will probably never know. He even offers his e-mail address (firstname.lastname@example.org) in hopes that more people might find it in their hearts to give.
"We just can't stand for that kind of injustice and brutality," he said.
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