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Joshua Oxendine

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Soldier of God: One preacher’s harrowing journey from war victim to bare-knuckle fighter

“Everything went black.”

That’s how Joshua Oxendine describes the moment his leg was nearly destroyed after his platoon was ambushed during a mission in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province.

At the time, Oxendine was barely nine months into his military service, deployed to the front lines with the Infantry First Battalion, 8th Marines out of Camp Lejeune in his home state of North Carolina. His group was called out onto a mission when disaster struck and a pair of IEDs — improvised explosive devices — erupted. When his eyes finally opened and the darkness transformed into blurry vision, Oxendine realized he got hit.

“Stuff started going crazy,” Oxendine says. “Next thing you know I look down and my ankle was sitting where my knee was. I completely snapped my tibia and fibula in half.”

The devastating events that day ended Oxendine’s military career, which had barely even begun after dreaming of joining the service like so many of his family members before him.

It was as if tragedy followed his every step.

Growing up in Robeson County — a notoriously tough part of North Carolina with the state’s highest rates for violent crime — Oxendine was essentially born into fighting. That was just the way of life for kids in his neighborhood. Oxendine thankfully had a father who always looked out for him and drew him toward boxing, which was the perfect outlet for a kid who was already getting into scraps. Oxendine fell in love with the sport and shared that joy with his father, who was his best friend as much as he was a parent and mentor.

Sadly, Oxendine was just 14 years old when he received a gut punch unlike any he’d felt before when his father suddenly passed away.

“I was still a kid,” Oxendine says. “I didn’t really know how to be a man yet. I was expecting my dad to teach me how to be a man, that’s what a father is supposed to do. Losing my dad hurt really bad. He was my best friend. We did everything together.

“One moment he started feeling bad and went to the doctor and they said he had lung cancer. Six months later, my dad was gone. It was pretty tough. It was a tough time.”

As much as it hurt to lose his father, Oxendine took a valuable lesson from the moment. It was something he remembered again after his leg was mangled overseas while serving his country.

“[My dad’s death] helped me put things into perspective and realize time never stops,” Oxendine says. “You’re not going to be here forever so you’ve got to live your life here, and if you want to be great, you have to do it while you’re here.

“So I put in the work. I put in the work because of that. I never take a day for granted.”

Oxendine still carried on boxing as a way to honor his father, but as much as he loved the sport, he always envisioned his future as a soldier serving in the military. Thanks to a family filled with Army veterans, Oxendine mapped out his future before even graduating high school, except he bucked the trend of his relatives when he decided to join the Marines.

“I wanted to be the red-headed step child,” Oxendine says with a laugh. “I wanted to be the best in the world just like now. It’s a pride thing for me. As Ricky Bobby said, if you’re not first, you’re last, so I joined the Marine Corps because they say they’re the first to fight and they’re the best.

“That’s what I was going to do for 20 years. I wanted to retire a Marine. That was my life. People want to be NBA players. People want to go to the NFL. People want to go to the UFC. I wanted to be a Marine.”

His dream was shattered on that fateful day in Afghanistan. Oxendine never gave up on himself, but his military career was over — and thanks to his injury, he was told he might never walk again.

“To be told you’ll never be able to run, walk, be able to do what you normally do, it’s tough to hear at 18,” Oxendine says. “I’m not even really a man yet. It’s tough. But I never let nobody tell me I can’t do nothing.”

After returning home to the United States, Oxendine started his long and grueling rehabilitation. There were moments in the beginning where he almost gave up and conceded defeat, especially after discovering just how difficult it would be for him to walk normally again, much less do anything else standing on his own two feet.

“At first, I kind of believed [the doctors],” Oxendine says. “When you’re laying in bed and you’re in so much pain, and my leg is basically as big as my [body] and I had two emergency surgeries, back to back, and to go through all that pain, I just thought, ‘This is my life now.’”

It was only thanks to encouragement from his wife that Oxendine finally broke out of a funk that had him believing he may never fully recover.

“She told me, ‘You’re not going to lay there forever and do nothing. Let’s go,’” Oxendine said. “‘It’s not who you are. You know what you signed up for, now let’s show them who we are.’ Every time life gets tough, I go back to that moment.”

Just deciding that he was going to walk again didn’t suddenly mean that Oxendine was better. It was a long and arduous process just to stand on his own, much less walk without the assistance of crutches.

“It took about three years,” Oxendine says. “Obviously I had to learn how to move my toes first. Then I was on crutches and they put me through a bubble where you can stand in it and you walk [without gravity], so you can get your movement right. And then you’re walking in a pool.

“The first time I walked without anything, I knew I could do it. That showed me right there, ‘Alright, let’s get it. Let’s do it. This ain’t going to stop me.’”

Oxendine was determined to not only get back on his feet, but he wanted to rehabilitate his injured leg to the point where he could run again.

Actually, he wanted to be able to run for several miles at a time, just like he did as a Marine. His service career may have been over, but Oxendine still felt he had a few records to break from his time in the military.

“I was very in shape in the military,” Oxendine says. “I’d run about three miles in 16:40 when I was in the Marine Corps. Expert on the rifle. That was my life, so I wanted to get back there. I was like, ‘This isn’t going to define me. Let’s get it.’”

This past April, Oxendine tracked his daily running — he completed nearly 100 miles in the month. It was mission accomplished after a crippling turn of events that could’ve prevented him from ever walking again, but instead Oxendine took that as a challenge.

That exact same attitude brought him full circle to return to the boxing gym as a way to honor his father, but it also gave him a necessary outlet as he sought to claw his way out of the post-traumatic stress that haunted him after his service overseas.

Like so many soldiers before him, Oxendine often had waves of despair wash over him, and he wasn’t sure how to break loose from that creeping sense of dread. Too often, he heard horror stories about friends he’d served with in the military who came home and took their own lives while suffering through the same symptoms that chipped away at him as well.

“I lost a lot of good guys after we got out of the military to suicide,” Oxendine says. “It hurts my heart that we are all brothers but we go our different ways in life. We try to keep up with each other, but you never really know what people are dealing with because they don’t say it.

“You live thousands of miles away [from each other] and then you get a call in the middle of the night hearing that you lost some brothers to suicide because they can’t cope with that demon, they can’t cope with that depression and that PTSD.”

Oxendine credits his faith, his wife, his three daughters, and the sport of boxing as the saviors that prevented him from suffering that same fate.

“It’s a blessing that I was able to find boxing,” Oxendine says. “To find that outlet. To be able to do something that I love and enjoy life.”

Boxing led Oxendine to then try his hand at MMA, but the explosion and popularity surrounding bare-knuckle fighting over the past few years really caught his attention as something he wanted to try.

To hear him tell it, Oxendine was really just returning to his roots.

“I grew up fighting in the backyard with no gloves on. It’s what we did,” Oxendine says. “You had to fight for what you wanted when I was younger, so it was always in me. I knew I had that dog in me. I wanted to try it just to see how I liked it. I find out I’m a straight dog.

“It’s different because in bare-knuckle, yeah, you can be technical, but you have to be a dog. You don’t win because you’re technical. It’s bare-knuckle. One lucky shot can take you out. It’s not all about technique. The main thing is you have to be a straight dog, you have to be an animal.”

So far in his bare-knuckle career, Oxendine is 2-0 with a pair of knockouts. He’ll look for a third straight victory on Saturday, May 13, when he faces Mark Irwin in a fight to crown the first ever BYB Extreme lightweight champion at BYB 17: Brawl at Rock Hill.

The accolades are nice, but that’s not really what Oxendine is after when he steps through the ropes to do battle with another man.

“My opponent is probably going in there [thinking], ‘I’m going to win this championship.’ It’s not about that for me,” Oxendine says. “Obviously everybody wants to win, everybody wants to dominate and put on a great show. It’s not about wins and losses for me. I’m a walking testimony that no matter how hard life gets, no matter how many times you get knocked down, if you want to be somebody, whatever you want to be in life, you can put in the hard work, the dedication, you can stand up one foot at a time, and keep walking. Keep pushing. Don’t let nothing stop you.

“That’s my main goal. That’s my main objective here, is just to be a walking testimony for everybody to see.”

Oxendine’s words actually fit in more ways than one. His nickname, “The Preacherman,” is rather befitting considering when he’s not training, fighting, or at home with his family, he’s a pastor working towards his Bachelor’s degree in Christian ministries.

It may be difficult to wrap your head around a minister who also happens to be a bare-knuckle brawler, but Oxendine wouldn’t have it any other way.

“My life is full,” Oxendine says. “I really don’t have to do this. Life is good for me. I’m very blessed but I love it. It’s who I am.

“Bare-knuckle is an art, and every fight is like an empty canvas and I get to paint a pretty picture. It’s pretty cool that I can go back to my roots when I go in there and then come out and tell people about Jesus.”


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