For Jeremy Kimball, second chances are a family affair

Bellator MMA

In truth, Jeremy Kimball never expected his name to be among the four that make up Bellator's upcoming middleweight tournament field. That opportunity, Kimball thought, was lost, throttled out of him when Perry Filkins snaked a meaty arm around Kimball's weary throat and erased his likeness from last season's bracket with nary a scratch.

But then, second chances are rarely expected. And even more rarely do they come easy, which is part of the reason one must treasure them on the fortuitous occasion they come around at all -- a fact Kimball understands better than most.

With a nickname like "Grizzly" and the untamed whiskers of a forest-roving, tree-chopping wildman, Kimball at first glance appears more likely to be swapping stories in a dimly lit dive over a warm shot of bourbon than spending his nights re-watching Patrick Swayze flicks between PS3 sessions. Yet despite being the age where long nights at the bar are not just accepted but practically expected, the 23-year-old rarely touches the stuff.

And for that, his reason is simple.

"My family has an addictive personality," Kimball says, with an ease of a man who's admitted such matters before.

As it stands, Kimball is the baby of said family; the only one of his three siblings to be born in America. His father Ernest, a lifelong military man, met his mother while stationed in Germany. By that point she was already a mama bear to two sons, and Ernest wasted little time giving her a daughter to even things out.

Once Ernest left the service and traveled back to America, the whole brood traveled with him, and thus Jeremy came to be the lone Vermont boy living amongst Deutschland natives.

One by one, though, Kimball watched from a young age as the pack lost their way.

Dominick, Kimball's older brother of nine years, was the first, and his fall was the hardest. The intoxicating call of the night seduced Dominick, first gradually, and then frighteningly quick. Kimball's sister soon followed.

Eventually things within the family came to a head. Dominick went through a nasty divorce, and the next thing anyone knew, the police pulled the older brother over with far too many drugs on his person, and far too many drugs coursing through his insides.

Dominick was sentenced to 10 years of prison.

As best he could, Ernest tried everything to shield young Jeremy from the path that had led his other children astray, lighting the darkness by instilling his lifelong fascination with Shingitai Jiu-Jitsu, an offshoot of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, into his youngest and most impressionable son. And it worked. Kimball grew up on the mats, messing around with throws and holds by age five, and genuinely giving himself to the subtlety of the craft by age 13.

Slowly, Kimball became a model student within those gym walls, not only able to capably coach alongside his father, but also deceptively shrewd enough inside the cage to rebound from an 0-2 start to his fighting career and steamroll over nine of his next 10 opponents. Kimball's run finally culminated with an upset finish of Chidi Njokuani, the highly touted brother of UFC lightweight Anthony Njokuani, at a nationally televised RFA show. Not long after, Bellator talent scouts came calling.

Everything, it seemed, was coming together -- until disaster struck the family once more.

"I don't really understand how my brother got deported," Kimball says of older brother Dominick, whose release date from prison was to come just two months prior to Kimball's July 2013 Bellator debut. "If they were going to deport him, they should have done it before he sat in prison for all those years.

"It was very hard for all of us to see. It had a huge impact on me. Most of my life when I knew him, I was younger, so I got to know him more behind bars. It really hurt. As soon as I was getting close to him, they took him away."

Deportation had always been the threat that hung like a knife over Dominick, himself a father of three. Kimball's family hoped that if Dominick served the entirety of his 10-year sentence, the U.S. government would allow him to stay within the country. But alas, it was not to be.

Dominick was shipped off the Germany, away from his brothers, away from his sister and his mother and his father and his children, while his loved ones were given only the vaguest explanation as to why.

"Just because they can, I guess," Kimball says bitterly of the memory.

Eleven months later, Kimball still talks to Dominick whenever he can -- which is fortunately much easier now than it used to be, considering the advent of social media and the fact that his brother is finally a free man.

Luckily, Kimball's mother's side of the family still lives in Germany and were there to take Dominick in. Now the 32-year-old father and brother, the same man who was once so troubled, has effectively turned his life around, albeit far from home.

He has friends and a respectable job. He stays away from the poisons that once ruined his and his family's lives. In a strange way, Dominick's comeback story has become an inspiration for his youngest brother to at long last look up to.

"When you see something like that, (you) want to be better," Kimball says.

"You always go into fights trying to prove something to somebody, whether it's people out there or yourself. And right now I definitely want to prove some people wrong."

Kimball may not have expected the opportunity for tournament redemption to come so soon. And it may have taken a failed drug test on Doug Marshall's part to get here. But 10 years ago, few could've grasped the effect a second chance would have on Dominick, and that's one reality hard for Kimball to overstate.

So now that this moment has come, believe him when he says that he understands the value of a second chance.

"I think I deserve to be here," Kimball declares.

"This is right where I'm supposed to be. I think I got a second chance for a reason. I just need to go make the best of it."

Update: Jeremy Kimball fight is off Bellator 115 fight card, because he missed weight, according to Bellator officials Thursday.

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