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Bare-knuckle fighter dies 6 weeks after being knocked out in Mississippi brawl

Justin Thornton, 38, suffered a neck injury during a sanctioned Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship event in Biloxi on Aug. 20.

A bare-knuckle brawler died more than six weeks after he hit the canvas during a sanctioned bout in Mississippi, officials said Tuesday.

The man, Justin Thornton, 38, was knocked out in the first round of a heavyweight Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship event at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi on Aug. 20.

"We are very sad to learn of the passing of one of our fighters, Justin Thornton," Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship President David Feldman said in a statement. "We join the rest of the combat sports community in sending our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones."

Justin Thornton.Justin Ray Thornton via Facebook

Thornton died Sunday at a Gulfport hospital as loved ones were trying to get him into a spinal institute, Mississippi Athletic Commission Chairman Jon Lewis said.

"It's tough for me, because I've known Justin on a personal basis," Lewis said Tuesday. "I conversed with him for 20 minutes at the hotel the day before the fight, just talking nothing about the fight but just 'How you doing, what's been going on?' I've known him in this fight game for quite a while."

Thornton, a computer repairman from Natchez, was hit by a right hand thrown by Dillon Cleckler, sending him headfirst into the canvas.

"He got knocked out, like any other knockout," Lewis said. "But when he fell, he fell in a diving motion, and he hit the top of his head first — causing a neck compression — and he had a spinal hematoma."

Thornton hadn't been able to move his arms and legs since Aug. 20, but he had been regaining some sensation in his extremities, raising hope among his loved ones, Lewis said.

The sport, in which two combatants brawl in a ring with exposed knuckles, is sanctioned in six states, Lewis said.

The Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship website lists coming cards in Seneca, New York; Billings, Montana; and Wichita, Kansas. A card of fights was staged last month in Omaha, Nebraska, and the sport has gained approval in Florida.