By Grant Bissell
Pacific, MO (KSDK) - Mixed Martial Arts is one of the fastest growing sports in the world and one of its up-and-coming stars lives in the St. Louis area.
Justin Lawrence is one of the stars of the reality show "The Ultimate Fighter." He's just 22-years-old and he's already been signed to the UFC, the biggest MMA organization in the world. That's a pretty big deal, but Lawrence gave NewsChannel 5 an inside look at his humble beginnings.
Lawrence started kickboxing when he was only 6 years-old. By the time he was ten he was a champion. He says one of his biggest influences is his step-father and trainer, Benny Voyles, who owns 21st Century Martial Arts.
"I was really blessed because I was born and raised in a family gym," said Lawrence. "So fighting was second nature to me."
Throughout his amateur career, Justin has won a pile of belts and trophies, but his biggest win came just a week ago. That's when he gave a knockout-of-the-night performance on the finale of FX network's "The Ultimate Fighter Live."
"I came with a high kick and he never saw it coming."
But he says getting to that point was one of the most stressful experiences of his life. Contestants trained and competed for 13 weeks in Las Vegas, separated from their friends and loved ones.
"We were completely cut off," said Lawrence. "We had no phone, no TV, no internet, no radio."
Justin has the confidence and skill to go far in the UFC, but knows it's the people in his corner that have made him who he is today.
"Family is everything, you know? Those guys are my number one fans."
"This is awesome," said Dalton Voyles, Lawrence's brother and training partner. "I'm proud of him. I wish the best for him and I know he'll get the title sooner or later."
Lawrence hopes to begin that title hunt this fall. He says the UFC matchmakers have already told him to get his passport ready, because he may be fighting overseas.