Zion Clark has become an inspiration to millions. But there’s a parallel universe where he never lived long enough to be a teenager.
Clark, 25, who was born with no legs due to a rare birth defect called Caudal Regression Syndrome, has continuously defied the odds in the face of tremendous obstacles getting thrown in his path. These days, the wrestler turned MMA fighter gives motivational speeches and tells his story to hundreds of thousands of people through appearances, interviews, and social media. But that’s a far cry from where he started in his native Ohio.
Abandoned by his mother at birth, Clark bounced around the foster care system for most of his life. He suffered through physical and mental abuse. The situation was so dire, he said, he attempted to take his own life when he was still in grade school.
“I tried to commit suicide, over and over and over again as a kid,” Clark said during a Real Sports segment on Tuesday. “I was 10 years old [when I first tried to commit suicide]. There was no other option.
“I wasn’t eating food. I wasn’t getting to take showers. I was just stuck, and on top of that, if I voiced my own opinion, I got the s*** beat out of me. So I was just tired. I would rather sleep forever than deal with the crap I was going through.”
Thankfully, Clark survived. But the trauma was so severe that he began lashing out by looking for fights against anyone foolish enough to get in his way. It wasn’t until he discovered wrestling that he found an outlet that would allow him to channel his aggression into something more productive.
“If it wasn’t for wrestling, I probably would have ended up in the streets permanently, and I probably would have died or overdosed on drugs,” Clark said.
After falling just one win short of a state wrestling tournament in Ohio, Clark eventually turned his attention to MMA. At the time, it may have appeared ludicrous for an athlete with no legs to compete in such a sport. But Clark refused to allow a word like “can’t” to exist in his vocabulary.
There’s a wide chasm between the desire to learn MMA and actually being good enough to compete. But Clark was more than determined to prove he could do it. He was so confident, he shocked head coach Antonio McKee when he first showed up at his gym. The coach saw athlete with no legs and no prior experience who sounded like Conor McGregor whenever he opened his mouth.
“What the f*** is this guy’s problem?” McKee said about his first reaction after meeting Clark. “He had this cockiness, arrogance, crap talking, and I’m trying to address this like, ‘Wait a minute, you don’t have any legs. You’re going to fight?’”
Clark quickly proved himself on the mats, rolling alongside McKee’s son, former Bellator champion A.J. McKee. This past year, he made his professional debut, earning a unanimous decision win at a Gladiator Challenge event in California.
After such a turbulent upbringing, Clark has found peace in the chaos of fighting.
“Fighting, be as savage as you want, that’s another reason why I do it,” he explained. “I can let loose and let out any type of emotion that I’m feeling. As long as it’s controlled, that makes me a force to be reckoned with.
“I am not being cocky when I say this, you get in my way, I’ll move you out of my way because I’ve got s*** to do.”