Dequan Townsend almost quit fighting altogether before UFC on ESPN 16.
Throughout his life, Townsend (21-11 MMA, 0-3 UFC) has battled various levels of adversity. From losing his son to cancer to entering a drug program after testing positive for cocaine after his second UFC fight, Townsend has endured challenges far and wide.
But Townsend’s will hasn’t wavered. Just look at his journey to the UFC. Battling on the regional scene for a span of seven years, Townsend competed 29 times before even signing with the UFC.
Despite all of life’s lemons, Townsend was hit with another family tragedy in August. Townsend’s two brothers, Marcus Jackson-Burton and Steven Lee Jackson, were shot and killed at a strip mall in South Lansing, Mich.
The untimely deaths of his brothers devastated Townsend. While Zacharey Leigh Diederichs, 31, of Lansing, was arrested and charged with murder, assault with intent to murder, and five weapons counts, many questions remain for the UFC middleweight.
“It’s just hard when there was just no reason why,” Townsend recently told MMA Junkie. “Both my brothers were innocent. Both my brothers don’t even live here. One came to drop off his kids. My other brother only came to move our sister. These are my immediate brothers. For it being no reason why, it’s never going to be a closure for me. In the end, I guess he obviously will go to prison. He’s not speaking. I’d rather he just give a reason why. I don’t care if it’s just the wrong person at the wrong time or ‘I picked a number out of a hat, (or,) ‘I told myself (it’d be) the first person I saw,’ – just something. Damn, two random people?”
In the wake of the tragedy, Townsend struggled to come to grips with the situation. At one point, he almost left fighting behind him for good. But after the UFC agreed to postpone his then-scheduled Sept. 12 fight to Saturday, Townsend decided to go all-in at his fourth attempt at a UFC victory.
“(Sept. 12) was the original fight over in Vegas, but due to the passing of my brothers, and being put through hell for two weeks, I was unable to make that situation happen,” Townsend said. “I almost got myself to the point where I didn’t know if I wanted to still take the fight. Then I had some self-reflecting and (I thought) about what my brothers would have wanted. Me knowing both my brothers, they would’ve wanted me to take the fight. So we got the fight agreed upon for (Saturday) on ‘Fight Island.’ Truthfully, I haven’t even dealt with it. I’ve put it behind me. I told myself I’d just go ahead and man up and fight, fight, fight and train, train, train, and I’ll grieve after.”
Townsend, 34, moved to Denver for the camp, training at Team Elevation. In a must-win situation, Townsend will take on Dusko Todorovic at Saturday’s UFC on ESPN 16. For the first time in his career, Townsend will strictly be fighting for himself.
“This one is definitely back up against the wall. I’ve got to do it, man. I’m taking the necessary steps, and even then it’s different obstacles for me. I’ve wondered at times why I’ve faced so much adversity. … To put it honestly, this fight is the first time in my life that I can actually say I’m fighting for me.
“I’m not worried about the people back at home. I’m not worried about who I’m doing it for. I’m not worried about making everybody else happy. This fight is for me. This fight is something I’m going to go in there, leave it all in the cage, have fun, and fight my heart out.”
UFC on ESPN 16 takes place Saturday at Flash Forum on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. The main card streams on ESPN+ pay-per-view after prelims on ESPN2 and ESPN+.