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‘Nine lives’: WSOF’s Shane Kruchten back in MMA to spread message of fallen brothers

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Shane Kruchten will fight at WSOF’s New York show with the names of those killed in combat with him tattooed on his body.
World Series of Fighting

The men and women who lost their lives fighting alongside Shane Kruchten in the U.S. Marine Corps have left an indelible mark on him. So, Kruchten permanently marked his body with their names.

The Marine veteran has the names of those who died in combat with him in Iraq tattooed on him. They’ll be with him forever, much like his will to spread the message they never got a chance to.

Kruchten, who has not fought for two years, will make his return to the MMA cage at the historic World Series of Fighting 34 on Saturday afternoon inside the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York against Jeremy Mahon. It is the perfect venue and moment for his return, Kruchten said. What better way to remind people of who they were?

“The motivation is the guys that never came home, letting their names be seen on major television,” Kruchten told MMA Fighting. … “And making sure that people know freedom isn’t free. There’s some brave, bad mofos that paid the ultimate sacrifice so they can walk around. That’s kind of my big motivational factor. They’re not here to do it, so I might as well do it for them and let them live vicariously through me.”

Kruchten, 32, has been sidelined since 2014 with a severe eye injury. The San Diego resident said he had a fractured eye socket and issues with his eye ball following a loss to Mike Corey way back at WSOF 9. But Kruchten overcame that, much like he’s hurdled every other obstacle in his path to this point.

“A lot of people say, ‘Man, you got the nine lives — you just keep coming back,’” he said.

Kruchten (11-3) graduated early from high school in Wisconsin just to enlist in the Marines following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The military had been in Kruchten’s family — from World War II to Vietnam — and the then-teenager felt a pull to serve his country after watching the Twin Towers in New York fall on television.

On his 17th birthday, Kruchten went to the local recruitment office with his parents. After bootcamp, he deployed to Iraq. April 2003, he said, was the first time he was injured in combat. Two months later, he turned 18.

“I couldn’t vote, drink a beer, anything,” Kruchten said. “And I’m a Purple Heart recipient and a combat veteran.”

When his unit returned home to the states a few months later. He went back to Wisconsin for two weeks and the reason for his previous injury lingered: an IED blast. Kruchten suffered a concussion, but others didn’t make it.

Kruchten reached out to the Marines, he said, admitting he was having some issues. They took him out of active duty and ordered him to travel the country helping to bury his fellow soldiers, carrying caskets and participating in 21-gun salutes.

Soon after, Kruchten said the Marines medically discharged him. He had already fallen into alcohol and drug abuse as a result of what he knows now was post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I ended up going and asking for help,” Kruchten said. “Something wasn’t right. Something wasn’t clicking. And that something ended up being my downfall.”

Kruchten loves the Marines, loves the military, but wishes the they would admit they “effed up” in his case. He feels like he was cast aside without good reason and made to feel like they didn’t care about him.

“I just want what’s right,” Kruchten said. “I don’t want money. I just want the Marine Corps to be like, ‘Yeah, we effed up.’ But that’s a big entity and I’m just one little guy. So, I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon.”

Kruchten went back to Wisconsin and ballooned up to 260 pounds. Normally he walked around at about half that weight. But the PTSD and drug and alcohol abuse had taken over. Kruchten was beginning to spiral.

One night while he was in a Wisconsin bar, Kruchten was approached by an MMA promoter running a show in the back of the building. The promoter saw Kruchten was a big guy and asked him if he had ever been in a fight. “Plenty,” Kruchten said.

So he went into a cage that night for the first time, winning by decision. Kruchten, without any real formal training outside of high-school wrestling, kept at it. And he was good.

“A few fights later I thought I was gonna be in the UFC,” Kruchten said. “I thought I was gonna be a rich guy quick.”

Fueled by those thoughts, Kruchten packed up his car and drove to San Diego, where he had once been stationed at Camp Pendleton. He holed up at a friend’s place — a military vet — and began training at an MMA gym a few blocks away.

Mixed martial arts became his therapy. The drugs and alcohol use subsided because he couldn’t get through training drunk or high.

“They knew if I was doing drugs or something like that,” Kruchten said of his training partners. “And they would put such a licking on me that it would make me not want to do. The practices were so hard. They were trying to break me. I realized real quick that drugs and alcohol weren’t working before training.

“MMA is just like the military. It’s crazy because most of my original training partners were former military. So it really helped It strengthens the bond.”

His troubles were far from over. He was still depressed and out of shape. Kruchten said he attempted suicide in 2009 and the realization that he didn’t want do die helped turn things around.

“I was very lucky that I sucked at doing it,” he said.

Kruchten, who now fights out of 10th Planet San Diego, turned back toward MMA and training. He dropped the weight and got back in the cage in 2011, putting together an 11-fight winning streak in local shows on Native American reservations like Xplode Fight Series and Gladiator Challenge. The gym was his solace though it all.

“Even to this day, I have bad days,” Kruchten said. “I have a lot of bad days. But I go to the gym, man. I don’t need a therapist to tell me I’m messed up in my head. I know I am. But if I can go hang out with a bunch of other degenerates that are messed up in their head and we’re gonna beat each other up and choke each other out … it’s weird, I can go into the gym the most tee’d off guy you’ve ever met and with the biggest chip on my shoulder and I’ll leave the gym with the biggest smile, like with no worries in the world."

The worries do come back. The PTSD is still there. So is survivors guilt. Kruchten fights on, though, inside the cage and out of it.

To explain his plight, Kruchten uses the words of Gen. James Mattis, who was recently nominated by president-elect Donald Trump to be the U.S. Secretary of State.

“He said it the best: ‘Marines don’t even know the word defeat,’” Kruchten said. “That statement is so true. I don’t know how to quit and sometimes that’s my worst enemy. Many times it’s my best friend as well.”

On Saturday, he’ll get into the cage at Madison Square Garden, where he watched so many boxing matches on television growing up. It won’t be far away from where the World Trade Center towers fell 15 years ago.

Kruchten was inspired to fight for his country then. He’ll be in a different fight in New York, but one where he’ll have the names of those lost both in his mind and his body.

“I just want to fight the best of the best,” Kruchten said, “and keep fighting for my brothers that never came home.”