BKFC fighter Dillon Cleckler had a unique relationship and friendship with his recent opponent Justin Thornton, as the two Mississippi-born fighters fought against one another twice in the span of their careers. But, things took a tragic turn after Thornton died at just 38 years old just days after their BKFC 20 fight, following a battle with pneumonia.

Cleckler viciously knocked out Thornton just second into the fight at BKFC 20, catching him with a big right hand that dropped him instantly. Thornton was then taken to a local hospital to treat a severe injury.

After his fight with Cleckler, Thornton also underwent treatment for a severe case of pneumonia on top of the injuries he sustained in the fight, which ultimately resulted in his tragic death.

Cleckler posted a lengthy message on his Facebook page to Thornton and his family.

“As a fighter, nothing prepares you for the news I received this morning on my way to training,” Cleckler posted. “Some of you may not of heard yet but my last opponent Justin Thornton passed away last night due to pneumonia. I can’t help but feel absolutely devastated about this because I’ve known Justin for years. Justin is a warrior. It’s in his blood to fight. He loved it. He fought anyone, anytime and anywhere and when I didn’t have an opponent, he still jumped at the opportunity.”

“My thoughts and prayers are with Justin Thornton and his family at this time. RIP warrior.”

The tragedy shocked the MMA community and most specifically BKFC and Cleckler. This comes as BKFC has risen in popularity in recent months especially with big signings such as Paige Van Zant and others.

A formal cause of death hasn’t been made public, but a young life and athlete has been taken away far too soon. Cleckler’s words go a long way in describing the type of person Thornton was to his colleagues and fellow athletes.

What is your reaction to the death of BKFC fighter Justin Thornton?

Curtis Calhoun is a Combat Sports Contributor based in Seattle, Washington. After a longtime dream of becoming a sports journalist, he was able to accomplish his goals upon graduating from Washington State University in 2016.