If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito. —African Proverb (p. 228)
Justin Wren, a professional mixed martial artist and heavyweight humanitarian, slammed the idea that an MMA fighter can’t submit someone with warmth to the mat in his autobiography, written with Loretta Hunt, Fight for the Forgotten (2015).
I found out that I am a tender warrior. I want to fight, but I want to love at the same time. (p. 273)
What’s It About?
Fight for the Forgotten is a love story. Love: an emotion, often too difficult to articulate; Wren struck the vocabulary with pinpoint combinations. The reader embarks on a journey with Wren through the pressure packed obstacles of fighting in MMA and bettering the lives of the Mbuti Pygmies of the Congo. Tugging at the strings of our hearts, “The Big Pygmy” narrates the dark times, for himself and his pygmy family, and sheds light on how important having a voice is:
I knew what it was like to not have a voice. I’d been bullied in my childhood, aline in my suffering. I had lived in my own private prison of depression and drug abuse and it had nearly killed me, until God pulled me out of the dark dungeon. God had breathed purpose into a life I didn’t think was worth living, and I had been set free. I knew the same God who loved the Hell out of me deeply desired to love the Hell away from my new family, the Mbuti Pygmies. Using me, somehow, He’d make sure they weren’t forgotten. (p. 9)
At the conclusion of Wren’s jarring tale of selflessness, the reader returns to civilization with a richer sense of remembering those who may feel forgotten.
Love never lies, and Wren’s honesty wrestles with readers’ emotions. The writing excavates darker trenches than most can imagine, for pygmies big and small. Wren mined his memory bank, withdrawing an episode of bullying that could have tested positive for performance enhancing drugs.
But I have the invitation she hand-delivered, which clearly states this is a costume party. It slips from my hand as I realize she and the rest of my school’s cool kids are pointing and snickering at me. I’m the only kid wearing a costume. (p. 29)
Much like the pygmies didn’t possess a filter for their water, Wren removed any filters when communicating the atrocities faced by the enslaved people, such as the story of Yoda:
Yoda’s village had been found out by the rebels and his family was massacred in such a heinous, inhumane way that I didn’t believe it when I was first told the story. At gunpoint, Yoda watched his nephew get shot, cooked, and eaten. Yoda watched his nephew’s wife get kicked to her knees and, with a machine gun to her head, she was force-fed her own husband. It was one of the most evil things I’ve heard of on this planet, but it happened just a few years before I got there. (p. 19-20)
Blood runs thicker than water until the water supports the lifeline of a forgotten people. Wren recalled:
When they saw the first splash of clean water, the whole village ERUPTED with shouts of joy, heartwarming laughter, and the singing of NEW songs. We literally danced around their new water will for hours into the night. There aren’t many days in life where you feel like you actually did something great, where you did something truly meaningful, but today is one of those days. (p. 223)
The reader witnesses an unlikely family reunion. Using Wren’s perspective, those who crack the spine can infer the family bond between him and the pygmies is symbiotic, begging the question: Who really needed who? When Wren trudged through the jungle and into the Pygmies’ village, they named him,
In another village, the Pygmies had given me the name Efeosa, which means “The Man Who Loves Us,” and if I was really going to be this man, I would like these starving slaves dig a grave. (p. 6)
Anyone who picks up the Fight for the Forgotten family album will appreciate that Wren never nests, he strains every fiber in his being to protect his family:
When I suddenly discovered I had dysentery as well, I realized I was battling three of the top sicknesses that killed the Pygmies all at once. I realized it was another opportunity to connect with my family. (p. 169)
Similar to the style fight fans have grown accustomed to with Wren, a hard push from bell-to-bell, he forces his way past any obstacles. Overcoming rough patches are what families do together.
For stepping into war zones bordered in fencing or foliage, Wren’s work deserves to be strapped in the same championship gold that his heart is worth. If exploring the darkest facets, his and the Mbuti Pygmies, of life and shedding light on a unique path to help himself and others isn’t worth five out of five stars, I don’t know what is.
The love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay; love isn’t love until you give it away.
A normal thud of the back cover exits my time in another world, but Wren heightened my intrigue to re-enter the Congo, or anywhere with someone in need, with a more astute understanding of what’s occurring. Aware of how fully one can give to another, my angst will settle on two accounts: One, I locate someone who may feel forgotten and intervene; two, catch wind that Wren’s story will be featured on a silver screen in my local area.
I thought I’d never step back into professional sports, but with a lot of personal prayer and reflection, and discussion, guidance, and repeated confirmation from those who love me, I see a green light to fight again, but with a whole new purpose. (p. 278)