A Fighting Spirit
Born in Havana, Cuba, Prince was guided towards boxing by his father. Around the age 8 or 9, his family moved to the United States, and Prince became involved in wrestling at his high school in Cincinnati, OH. “I became a stand-out athlete,” Prince commented. “Sports became an area of focus because I was very good at following instructions.” Prince had talent and was easy to coach, and thus excelled. While still in high school, a friend introduced Prince to the world of mixed martial arts and kickboxing. This was appealing to and successful for Prince, as it combined his strengths in both boxing and wrestling. The results proved it out, as Prince had a 13-1 record as an amateur, with 13 knock-outs.
At age 20, Prince began a professional career as a mixed martial arts fighter. Under the management of the UFC, Prince travelled the world to fight, and regularly bested men he had previously looked up to. During this time, God remained in the picture for Prince. He was known as the fighter who prayed before his matches. But over time, this practice lost its depth and became hollow: “I used to pray with genuineness, asking God for protection during the fight, and also for my competitor, who was going to need it.” But as time went by, the prayer became artificial – arrogance took over Prince; he only went through the motions of the prayer before each match because that was part of his persona in the cage. “I had become cocky,” explained Prince. “Faith was no longer a priority; my orientation to God in my life had changed.”
Success in the cage led to more and more opportunities for Prince, including participating in the 7th season of the reality TV show “Ultimate Fighter.” But this opportunity would prove to be a critical turning point in Prince’s young life. “I injured my shoulder pretty seriously during the show,” explained Prince. And worse yet for Prince, accustomed to success, he lost the fight on the show. It was a real set-back for him. Prince returned home to Cincinnati and over time began to abuse the pain medications prescribed for his injured shoulder. “I got into a pattern of taking the pain pills and drinking alcohol,” noted Prince. As time went by, the pain meds were no longer needed to address his physical pain, but became instead a crutch for emotional relief. “The pain meds became my new ‘higher power,’ that place deep within me that used to be centered on my faith in God.”
Recovered from his shoulder injury (but not his drug abuse), Prince resumed his professional fighting career. Time and again, he blew through the money he earned on pills and alcohol, figuring he could always just book another fight to replenish his funds. On one particular occasion, Prince lost a tournament, and nearly killed himself abusing the pills. “Broken down and drunk, yet still in good fighting form, I saw myself in the mirror in the hotel room, and I asked God: ‘If I’m so bad, why don’t I see it?’” That same night, Prince nearly drowned in a hot tub, overcome with pills and alcohol. “I fell asleep and swallowed water from the hot tub; coming to, I was coughing and puking and turned pale-blue. As I stumbled across the room, I saw myself in the mirror again, but this time I looked awful. God had answered my prayer!” Prince got down on his knees that night, asking God for help to get his life back on track.
Prince returned home after this life-changing experience, and he wondered where to turn for help. His mother recommended The Salvation Army ARC. His initial attempt to be admitted failed, but the guys in the house encouraged him to come back and try again. Prince slept outdoors that night, and was admitted the next day. “Since I’ve come to the ARC, I’ve been on my knees begging for forgiveness. I recognize the many opportunities I’ve had, and blown. This program has brought renewal to my spiritual life,” beamed Prince. Indeed, ARC administrator Major Nancy Beauchamp has witnessed the transformation in Prince’s life: “He’s a faith-filled young man, and respectful of worship. He wants to honor God, and we’re delighted that he proclaims Jesus as his Savior.”
Prince has welcomed the strict, disciplined environment of the ARC. “I like that God comes first here, and then everything else follows after,” explained Prince. He sees that God is truly working in the lives of those at the ARC, through witnessing transformation in the lives of other ARC participants, seeing their faith, and recognizing that the leaders and staff has his best interests at heart. The work therapy has been an important component of Prince’s renewal, providing him opportunities to take responsibility, and also to see God’s hand at work. “I’ve moved around through various jobs at the ARC and the stores,” explained Prince. “I generally fought each move, but I can see now that God was at work in me through each experience. I have to be willing to invite God into these situations, and it leads to greater success.”
Through encouragement from the ARC leadership, Prince now sees that his future has great potential beyond the fighting cage. “I could go back to my old life and have worldly things, but then I’d be unhappy again. The void I used to fill with pain meds is now filled with God – this fuels me, gets me going, makes me happy and fills me with gratitude,” shared Prince. A passage from Matthew’s Gospel strikes Prince as the model for the ARC:
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
For Prince, these verses show how God cares for His children. At the ARC, his worldly needs are provided for him, so he can focus on his spiritual growth. “If this (the ARC) isn’t a God opportunity, then what is?” exclaimed Prince.
"God stopped me at an early age and provide this opportunity for a new start, so He must have a plan for me," acknowledged a grateful Prince. Yes, Prince, we couldn't agree more.