Zion Clark, who was born without legs due to a rare birth defect known as Caudal Regression Syndrome, has served as an inspiration throughout his life after overcoming odds on his way to becoming a wrestling champion, a Guinness Book of World Records holder, and now a 1-0 mixed martial artist.
The 25-year-old Ohio native got here through sheer hard work and dedication, but as he continues setting bigger and bigger goals moving forward, he knows he didn’t get anywhere by himself.
Clark counts his adoptive mother as perhaps his biggest fan, and he’s called Team Bodyshop — the gym that counts former Bellator champion A.J. McKee among its members — as his home as he made his transition into MMA. But he still remains a fan of other athletes he looked up to when he was hitting the wrestling mats or first becoming interested in fighting professionally. In fact, Clark now considers two of his biggest influences as friends that he can call upon for help whenever he needs it.
“Jon Jones, personally. Just how nasty he beat people up,” Clark told MMA Fighting when asked about MMA fighters who inspired him. “I was a young kid and he was the youngest champion. It was just something to idolize. Him and Jordan Burroughs, they just instilled something in me.
“Now, later down the line, I can just call both of them on the phone and ask for advice or talk to them about life. I’ve got to talk with them personally and pick their brains and work with them on the mat. Just the fact that I’ve been motivated enough to push myself to where I’m on even talking terms with my idols makes it easier to learn from them. It’s just a good feeling.”
Jones is widely considered one of the greatest MMA fighters of all-time, while Burroughs is an Olympic gold medalist in wrestling and a six-time gold medalist in the World Championships of wrestling.
As Clark looks to stack accolades on his own résumé, he admits that it’s still surreal at times to be able to call on Jones and Burroughs as mentors, but ultimately he tries to keep perspective that even his idols are just human beings chasing their dreams.
“I try to look at people as people,” Clark explained. “Don’t get me wrong, in the back of my brain I’m going nuts, but you’ve got to keep it professional. When you have opportunities to further what you want to do and it stands right in front of you, use it to your advantage. Not saying I’m using Jon Jones or using any of these fighters that I’m working with, but I’ve had the pleasure and I’ve been grateful that they’ve let me in on some insight on what they know so I could further my own career. These guys don’t waste their time. These guys don’t like to waste their time, I don’t waste my time, so if it’s something that’s productive, even if it’s teaching one move.
“I’ve learned one move from somebody before and it got me to the national championships. Just looking at it like that, my ears are always open to new ideas, new ways of thinking. Why not learn from everybody instead of just staying under one person? Don’t get me wrong, I train under the Bodyshop, but when I’m not at the Bodyshop, I’m somewhere else.”
In the future, Clark hopes that he’ll have the chance to actually share the mat with Jones and Burroughs as he continues evolving his own game as a fighter and wrestler.
While he could have easily chalked up his first professional win in MMA as a bucket list item which would lead to his next athletic endeavor, Clark says he’s now dedicated more than ever to actually turning professional MMA into his career moving forward.
“I’m immersed in the MMA world,” Clark said. “Having access to a lot of these high up guys to learn from them, that’s the easy part. It’s just, do they believe that I have enough heart or do they believe that I’m actually committed to immersing myself into this and actually going through with it? I’m not trying to prove that to them, but I’m trying to prove that to myself time and time again.
“Fighting isn’t easy. MMA isn’t easy. And doing it on this level that I’m doing it, it’s even harder. I’m excited to see where this is about to take me.”