Padecky: Santa Rosa MMA fighter Jordan Williams earns valuable spot on card in Las Vegas

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Jordan Williams will not be defeated. He will not back down. He will not ask for a timeout or someone’s hand to hold. He looks at his opponent straight-on, unblinking to the danger in front of him. Come on, diabetes, I’m ready for you.

Williams, a Santa Rosa resident, will step into the octagon tonight in Las Vegas, a mixed martial arts fighter making his UFC debut, and will do so with a huge rooting section. Some of them may even know a drop kick from a tear drop.

Williams appeals to one of our most basic instincts — courage — and he moves the needle beyond the norm, even for an MMA fighter. His opponent — while it may list Tim Caron of New Hampshire on the fight card — is diabetes. The Center for Disease Control estimates that more than 100 million Americans are diabetic or prediabetic.

That he is fighting for a lot of people and not just himself, well, that became obvious to him May 5. Williams, 27, gave a speech to an American Diabetes Association conference at the Napa Marriott. The ovation he received at the speech’s conclusion has faded in memory to the silence that followed afterward.

A father brought his young daughter to Williams for a brief consult and photo op. His daughter is diabetic. She asked him how difficult it was to be a professional combat athlete with Type 1 diabetes. Williams spoke of not living his life in a shell, that everyone goes through rough patches. It was then that the silence came.

“I saw her face change,” said Williams, 6-feet, 185 pounds. “I saw what was like a blueprint coming across her face, what can be possible for her.”

Speaking by phone from his Vegas hotel room, Williams went quiet. Professional athletes — by nature of their job — have to see the world with blinders. It’s necessary for survival. But this young girl, she took off his blinders and he hasn’t been the same since.

“I want to inspire people,” Williams said. “You don’t have to sit in a rocking chair the rest of your life.”

Williams was never much of a lounge lizard. In 2010, at Sierra College, he was the state community college wrestling champion at 197 pounds. He was also urinating eight times a night.

“I was moody, I’d get outraged at my little brother for no good reason,” Williams said. His blood sugar was tested. It was 465. Normal blood sugar readings are 90-120. He was dying and he didn’t even now it. His pancreas had stopped producing insulin, causing blood sugars to rise. No cure exists for either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes but the disease can be managed. Initially, Williams didn’t like how it was to be managed.

“They told me I couldn’t drink,” Williams said. “What? I was only 19! I hadn’t even started to drink yet.”

This is when his courage checked in. Deciding to get more exercise than moving the rocking chair back and forth, Williams was intrigued by mixed martial arts. Six years ago he lost an amateur fight by suffering a cut. But to his everlasting luck David Terrell saw much more than a bleeding fighter. Terrell, 40, is a legend in these parts, having fought for the UFC middleweight title in 2005.

“Jordan is a natural born fighter,” Terrell said. “The kid’s a killer. Some fighters miss key elements. They can wrestle but their jiu jitsu is lacking. They’re good at jiu jitsu but they don’t strike well. Jordan has all the elements.”

Six years ago Williams moved from the Sierras to Santa Rosa to train at Terrell’s fighting gym, the NorCal Fighting Alliance. Nearly all of Terrell’s disciples need a day job to keep their MMA careers afloat. Terrell got Williams a job at Capstone Roofing of Sonoma County, owned by Nathan DuCharme, who became a black belt under Terrell’s hand.

“I’ve sent a lot of fighters to Nathan,” Terrell said. “Most of them quit after the first day.”

“I’ve heard some quit after the first couple hours,” Williams said. “You don’t stop even if it’s 100 degrees.”

Williams is completing his 17th month with Capstone.

Which helps explain the Williams quotation that follows.

“Jordan had just five days to prepare for his UFC fight,” Terrell said. “I don’t like short notice fights. Doesn’t give a fighter much time to prepare and study his opponent. So when I asked Jordan what he thought about it, the first thing he said to me: ‘I’m gonna knock him out.’”

All UFC fights are the Holy Grail for MMA fighters but tonight’s represents more than that. It’s a five-fight card in the Contender Series. The winner of each bout gets a UFC contract. This is like the 100-meter final in the Olympics. You don’t get a do-over.

Williams is hardly intimidated by the last minute offer.

“It’s not like they had to get me off the couch,” said Williams, about to show why he’s comfortable giving speeches. “They had to get me off a roof.”

If there’s anything that rivals the challenge of keeping his blood sugars in line, it’s the schedule Williams keeps. He’s on a roof five days a week. He then goes to Terrell’s place for a two-hour workout eack weeknight. Sunday he takes off and that’s probably a good thing — on Saturday he runs up Fountaingrove Parkway.

“I heard that someone has done it in 17 minutes,” Williams said. “My best is only 23 minutes.”

Truth to tell Williams’ best can’t be measured by a stopwatch but by a glucometer, a device that records blood sugars. Sure, of course, a blood sugar reading doesn’t move The Wow Meter very much. Except for the person using it. Or the little girl who stood transfixed in awe that day in Napa. Williams opened up her future, her hope, that life is for living, not for whining.

Williams’ only regret? He didn’t get her name or where she lived. What he does remember was that face and that blueprint. She is going down another path. He pointed it out to her. Maybe one day they’ll meet again. So they can thank each other.

To comment on Bob Padecky’s column write him at

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