Justin Wren (@TheBigPygmy) is an MMA juggernaut with the body of a Viking and the heart of a Pygmy. He’s also the author of Fight for the Forgotten: How a Mixed Martial Artist Stopped Fighting for Himself and Started Fighting for Others.
“Charity can be great. But opportunity is always better.” -Justin Wren
The Cheat Sheet:
- Slavery may have ended just over a hundred and fifty years ago in the United States, but Pygmy tribes in the Congo are among populations still enslaved today — in fact, there are more slaves worldwide in 2017 than at any other time in history.
- With land they’ve inhabited for generations stolen from under them, Pygmies are considered animals by the landowners and forced into a self-perpetuating cycle of slavery.
- Now, MMA master Justin Wren fights for the rights of these forgotten people by helping them buy their own land, source their own clean water, and become self-sufficient.
- How does a clinically depressed, bullied kid become a successful mixed martial artist who raises money and awareness to free the oppressed?
- Does fighting for a cause since his return from retirement motivate or distract Justin when he’s in the cage?
- And so much more…
Some might wonder how a depressed, bullied kid grows up to become a mixed martial artist who fights for the freedom of oppressed pygmies in the Congo, but Justin Wren doesn’t think it’s such a strange journey, all things considered.
In this episode of The Art of Charm, Justin joins us to share the whole story and talk about his new book, Fight for the Forgotten: How a Mixed Martial Artist Stopped Fighting for Himself and Started Fighting for Others. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
More About This Show
Ever since he was a clinically depressed, bullied kid who sat alone at lunch and got mock invites to parties from the so-called “cool” people at school, Justin Wren wanted to be a mixed martial arts (MMA) master.
“What I actually fell in love with from the sport was how it was taking these Olympic sports — the Olympic sport of wrestling, boxing, judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu as well and putting it into one sport,” says Justin. So I looked at it; the first thing that drew me to it was, ‘I’ll bet these guys don’t get bullied and they can defend themselves!’
“And then I just fell in love with the sport. It’s like a human chess match and I loved how strategic it was.”
A move from Texas to Oklahoma proved fortuitous when Justin’s new school was blessed with the presence of not one, but two Olympic gold medalists who coached wrestling and saw promise in young Justin.
In only a few years, Justin himself seemed well along the path toward Olympic competition when a freak accident snapped his elbow and doctors predicted his chances of being able to wrestle again were only about thirty to thirty-five percent. Months of uncertainty and ligament replacement from one of the best surgeons in the country saw him back in the game, but it also gave him something he didn’t need: an addiction to painkillers.
This addiction lasted for six years — from his time on season ten of reality show The Ultimate Fighter through making it as the youngest heavyweight in the UFC. An especially low period led to a sobriety-inducing epiphany and a five-year break from fighting to pursue a renewed purpose — to serve and fight for others instead of himself.
“I just wanted to get started doing something with my life worthwhile,” says Justin. “So I just started locally…I believe in helping here, there, and everywhere, and so that’s what I started doing. At the local juvenile detention center. Then I went through all the classes to become an official volunteer at the children’s hospital. So I just tried to look for places where I could get involved. Homeless shelter serving meals, going there and hanging out with guys and seeing what I could do — what I would feel kind of called to that I could dedicate my life to.”
Justin wasn’t content to pick just one column from here, there, and everywhere to help — he wanted to help them all. So he committed to volunteering locally every week. Every month, he found a way to help nationally. Once a year, internationally.
Acting on a vision — something between a dream and a hallucination — Justin soon found his way to the jungles of the Congo to meet, befriend, and eventually fight for the rights of its indigenous Pygmy people. And this is really where Justin’s story begins.
Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm in its entirety to learn more about the coolest costume Justin wore to a party that wasn’t, how he lucked out to be coached by not one but two Olympic gold medalists, what happened when a freak wrestling accident rendered him only thirty to thirty-five percent likely to compete again, why we might revisit the notion of Willy Wonka as more of a sinister Calvin Candie than a benevolent Gene Wilder, what circumstances led Justin to overcome drug addiction and embark on a trip to the Congo in the first place, what has been accomplished so far in the fight to free Pygmies and what tasks still remain, how well-meaning charities of today can learn from the mistakes of charities past to have a lasting and positive impact, how a puny mosquito has been Justin’s toughest opponent thus far, and lots more.
THANKS, JUSTIN WREN!
If you enjoyed this session with Justin Wren, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
Resources from This Episode:
- Transcript for Justin Wren | Fight for the Forgotten (Episode 608)
- Fight for the Forgotten: How a Mixed Martial Artist Stopped Fighting for Himself and Started Fighting for Others by Justin Wren and Loretta Hunt
- Justin Wren’s MMA page at Sherdog
- Justin Wren at YouTube (with lots of the videos we talked about in the show)
- Justin Wren at Facebook
- Justin Wren at Instagram
- Justin Wren at Twitter
- Derek Watson’s Fighting for Freedom Documentary page at Kickstarter
- Justin Wren Vs. Roman Pizzolato (as of this episode, Justin’s most recent fight)
- Redemption Shot: Justin Wren’s Path from Drug Addict to Christian Missionary by Loretta Hunt, Sports Illustrated
- Season Ten of The Ultimate Fighter
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
- King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild
- In Honor of Women’s Day: Meet Miriamo
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- Best of The Art of Charm Podcast
- The Art of Charm Toolbox
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