Westin Wilson: Fighting for your dreams

The impression came to Westin Wilson while driving to his stake’s girls camp, where he had volunteered to do a self-defense seminar.

The message was clear: “Start dieting. Your dreams are about to come true.”

For an MMA fighter who had been on the cusp of a UFC signing, Wilson was not immediately sure if this was coming from the Spirit or simply his own desires. Regardless, he decided to follow through with the prompting by cutting out sugar, increasing his healthy food intake, and
losing weight, despite having no indication that a short-notice UFC fight would present itself in the coming days.

“At that point, I was 30-35 pounds above my actual fight weight,” Wilson said with a smile.

After teaching the seminar, Wilson checked his phone and learned that two fighters from the UFC Fight Night: Strickland vs. Magomedov event in Las Vegas had pulled out, and both were in weight classes that Wilson fights in.

It was at this moment that Wilson realized that a potential opportunity was in play for him, and so he doubled down on the impression to cut weight in the event that he received a call from the UFC powers that be.

Three days later, word reached him that he was the UFC’s second choice as a replacement for the event, depending on the results of another prospect’s fight that same Saturday night. Unfortunately for Westin, that fighter won his scrap and was seemingly pegged as the short-
notice replacement.

However, news of that fighter’s signing was never reported, and Wilson chose to continue with his weight-cutting efforts. The following Tuesday, he awoke to a message from an MMA reporter with questions regarding his UFC signing. This revelation was then confirmed by his
manager, and within hours, his 17-year journey to the UFC was confirmed.

An Unlikely Prospect

In a sport where natural athletic ability is on display weekly, Westin is an outlier compared to many of his UFC counterparts.

“In high school, I was told I would never be a spectacular athlete,” Wilson admitted. “I was told I was uncoordinated… I was very small, I was very weak, and I was an average-level wrestler.” In fact, his wrestling coaches encouraged him to give up his combat sports pursuits, believing that he had no chance of competing at a high level. “It was at that point that I decided that I was just going to outwork them,” Wilson promised himself. “I didn’t care; nothing is going to stop me.”

While still in high school, Westin’s family moved to Brazil for his father’s work. Because of the lack of wrestling opportunities, Wilson turned his focus to learning jiu-jitsu and other mixed martial arts. This led him to begin training at the Pit Elevated Gym in Orem, after enrolling
as a student at BYU. At the time, the academy was known as the premier MMA gym in the state of Utah, and it was here that Westin believes his career fully began.

Wilson continued to pursue his passion for MMA while also balancing a growing family and a full-time job in software development. Stops in Texas and California were part of his personal journey, but frequent work trips to Greenville, South Carolina, led Wilson to develop a friendship with acclaimed MMA coach Ray Thompson.

An opportunity to move to Greenville presented itself, and Westin was able to make the transition to Coach Thompson’s gym, Upstate Karate.

One of Westin’s MMA knockouts

A promise made

When Wilson arrived at Upstate Karate, he made his goal clear to his new coach.

“He told me he was going to be my second UFC fighter,” Thompson said.

The UFC is the world’s premier mixed martial arts promotion and boasts the best fighting talent from across the globe. At the time of Westin’s arrival, Upstate Karate had only one fighter on the UFC roster, a two-time world title challenger, and 7th-ranked welterweight Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. Many of Coach Thompson’s other fighters had come close to achieving the UFC pipe dream, but they all had come up short.

Yet Wilson’s intentions were clear.

“You tell me how to get there and instill the confidence in me that I don’t always have in myself, and I’ll get there,” Wilson said

With the expectation abundantly clear, a promise was made between the two men, and the grind to the UFC began.

An impressive finish by Westin

After joining the Upstate Karate team, Westin began to improve rapidly in the striking department. This, combined with an already stellar grappling and jiu-jitsu game, led Wilson to go on a 9-2 run that impressed his new team. Not only was he a fast learner, but his willingness to share his knowledge and help others stood out as well.

“He picked the style up very quickly,” said Westin’s teammate, Stephen Thompson. “It was cool to see him grow, but also to see him become a good leader in the gym.”

His run of success caught the attention of the UFC matchmakers, but at the highest level of fighting, there were no guarantees. Regardless, he continued to push for his dream. “The guy is persistent and determined,” quipped Coach Thompson. “He just stuck with it.”

Upon receiving the call from Wilson informing him of his UFC signing, Coach Thompson admitted that it was an almost emotional moment.

“It kind of welled up in me,” he said. “It definitely filled my heart, because he told me he wanted to be my second UFC fighter, and we made it happen.”

Wilson cited this relationship between coach and fighter as a driving force for his accomplishment: “He was the one telling me that we weren’t going to give up.” Wilson Said

This belief in a fighter who, at times, struggled with self-doubt was invaluable. “We were both so happy because it was a two-way promise that we both completed,” said Wilson.

The 10-day obstacles

Despite the elation, the Upstate Karate team recognized the difficult challenge ahead.

“When we got the call, we were so excited, but at the same time we were nervous because it was on 2 weeks notice,” Stephen Thompson said.

Without a full training camp, the focus was placed on the grueling weight cut. Westin’s conditioning was solid at the time, but without time to adequately scout rising contender Joanderson Brito, the game plan was to focus on himself and devise a strategy to play into his strengths.

Another obstacle was one of self-doubt and external noise. News of Wilson’s UFC signing spread quickly, and while there was a large amount of support, there also came with it a number of doubters within the UFC media atmosphere, questioning Westin’s ability and whether or not he was deserving of the signing. This doubt admittedly affected Wilson’s confidence.

“I was getting a ton of hate, and it threw me into a tailwind spiral of anxiety and depression,” Westin said. Despite the negative press, Wilson was uplifted by the overwhelming support of the many individuals who had supported and applauded his efforts throughout his entire MMA journey. With this faith buoying him up, Wilson made the trip to Las Vegas to make his UFC debut.

Wilson with Stephen and Ray Thompson

The fight

Upon arriving in Las Vegas, Westin was immediately swept into the media and fanfare of the UFC experience. This included fighter interviews, photoshoots, and production work. His food, hotel, and transportation were provided by the UFC.

For many, this week in Vegas would be appreciated for its extravagance, but for Westin, he took advantage of the time it allowed with his family and friends that had made the trip to the desert in support of him.

“That was special for me to get to have that first UFC fight week with my family,” he said.

Upon making weight for his bout, all Westin had to do was make the walk and enter the cage. Despite the obstacles and disadvantages facing him at every turn, Westin was prepared to make the walk in front of viewers across the world.

“The hyperfocus that I saw from him was on another level,” Stephen Thompson said. “He was so ready to step out there and let it all out in front of the world.”

Westin making the walk to the UFC octagon

The fight began with Westin employing a stick-and-move strategy. In the opening minute, Brito was able to land some powerful shots, but Westin stayed composed and survived the initial onslaught. In the second minute, Brito took Westin down, but he quickly attempted a heal hook submission that put his opponent in a very dangerous position.

An illegal cage grab prevented what very well could have been a finish for Westin. Westin then transitioned to a knee bar that was also incredibly deep. Brito survived the attempt and was able to land a vicious ground and pound that ultimately ended the fight.

Westin weighing in at the UFC Apex

More than a fighter

While Westin came up short in his UFC debut, he maintains a level of perspective going forward. The fact that he was able to achieve his goal of fighting in the UFC was a significant accomplishment.

“There definitely were times of self-doubt even after I made it,” Westin said. “But I remind myself each day that I am living the dream.” He also credits the confidence he gained from fighting as a springboard for future opportunities. “Whatever my next adventure is after I’m done fighting, I know I can accomplish,” he said.

While his MMA career has impressed many, more notable is the person that Westin is.

“Westin Wilson is the funniest person in the room,” Stephen Thompson said. “He’s the guy that always has a smile on his face that lifts the team up.”

His selflessness and team-player attitude have also greatly impressed his coach.

“He’s notorious for giving up his time and energy to help somebody else,” Coach Thompson said.

His teammate and coach were also grateful for the insight Westin has offered the team, particularly in the grappling department.

Both Stephen and Coach Thompson have praised Westin for his personal life.

“Not only is he a good martial artist, but he’s a good dad,” Stephen said. “It’s cool to see him manage both the dad life and the martial arts life.”

Coach Thompson has been impressed by the balance Westin has been able to achieve as well.

“He teaches Sunday school at his church. He takes care of his family well. He’s got businesses that he runs. I’m amazed at how he keeps it all together so well,” he said.

Representing the Y

Westin is currently preparing to face off against Brazilian featherweight Gabriel Santos on January 13 in Las Vegas. This time, with a full camp, the Upstate Karate team is excited to see what Westin can accomplish in his second UFC fight.

“We’re getting mentally focused; he’s going to have a full camp for this fight, so we’re going to do what we always do and make sure he’s ready for it,” Stephen Thompson said. Westin is also actively involved in helping his other teammates prepare for their upcoming fights as well.

A promo for Westin’s upcoming fight with Gabriel Santos

Westin is proud to be the first BYU graduate to fight in the UFC. He is also one of only two members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the promotion roster. Representing his alma mater and his faith well are very important to him.

“I hope that I can inspire other BYU students that they can do it all,” Westin said. “It’s cool getting to be a representative of the church, and I hope to be able to inspire other people.”

He also hopes that people feel inspired to continue to chase their passions but also recognize and appreciate the process.

“By small and simple things are great things brought to pass,” he said, referencing Alma 37:6.

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