Posted at: 02/26/2013 6:32 PM
By: Chelsea Burn
(ABC 6 NEWS) -- Nate Williamson's journey with Mixed Martial Arts has been anything but traditional, much like the sport itself. It's been a rollercoaster of emotions that has brought him here, to the brink of going pro.
"About two, two and a half years ago, a buddy of mine told me to come over to his house and watch some fights on tv," explained Williamson. "I was kind of like 'what are you talking about, fights?' So I went over there and watched it and in my head I was like 'I can do this.' The next week I went down to Rudd, Iowa and got in my first fight down there and won in like 15-20 seconds."
"I was addicted, I went down there month after month and did fights down there," said the Austin native.
But Nate's budding amateur career was suddenly put on hold in 2011. He came down with a rare blood vessel disease that not only forced him to stop fighting, but stop moving completely.
"My body was pretty much attacking itself. I don't know how I got it, it was super rare. I couldn't walk for a couple weeks, I was in the hospital for two weeks straight. Not being able to move that was like so hard because I laid in bed for two weeks just like stuck there pretty much," Williamson said.
The disease was life-changing. It made him realize he wanted to pursue his passion for MMA and eventually led him to James Jagerson, Lance Anderson, and Steve Toms. They were creating an MMA competition team and they wanted Nate to be the face of the team. All the pieces were coming together. But then, tragedy struck.
"We were going to meet that next Friday to set up this whole competition team," explain James Jagerson, Nate's sponsor and long-time friend of Steve Toms. "Instead of meeting for that, we were at his (Steve's) funeral."
Steve Toms, an Austin native and one of the most motivational trainers at Lifetime, passed away in his sleep on October 30th at the age of 35.
"I got a call about quarter to six in the morning and all I could hear was 'he's dead, he's dead, he's dead," explains Steve's uncle Mike Pratt. "I couldn't make sense what was going on. It finally dawned on me what was happening. You talk about a long, long ride from Austin to up there (Lakeville). It was a terrible thing. Words can't describe it."
Steve was an exceptional athlete at Austin High School, and made his life work one of sports and fitness. the MMA team was just his most recent project, and it only makes sense that the team is now being carried on in his honor.
"It's eerie, absolutely crazy how things happened," said Nate's trainer Lance Anderson. Anderson had known Steve for years, and was a major influence in creating the MMA team.
"I'm a man of faith and I believe everything happens for a reason and just the way this whole thing came together. Like I said, I'm a person of faith, but even if you're not, the pieces have lined up and it's just so cool and so neat to see. Because that's what Steve believed, he carried himself in a way of excellence," Anderson said.
So fast-forwarding to February. Nate has the chance to defend his title in front of his home town, right here at Austin's Conference Center. It will be one of his last fight's as an amateur, and he won't just be fighting for himself this time. He'll be fighting in memory of Steve Toms.
But sometimes, even when you have all the pieces in place, things can still go wrong.
Nate lost for the first time ever that night. An arm bar move that normally is his weapon was used against him.
"I'm a little upset, I don't think I should have lost," Williamson said immediately following the loss. "He caught me, I wasn't technical, I gave it to him, it's my fault."
In a strange way, it's just another reminder to this group of people that life doesn't always go as planned, but it's no reason to give up.
"All in all, it's a learning experience. We still believe in Nate, he's a great young fighter, and I'm even more encouraged now," said Anderson. "It's how you handle defeat that builds character and shows what type of man you are."
Nate is already back to work, because he understands, just like Steve Toms always preached, excellence is the only option.