If you ever had the slightest doubts about the toughness of Canby athlete and amateur mixed-martial-arts (MMA) fighter Bjorn Laitinen, I think it’s safe to say you can lay those to rest.
The absolute warrior battled on for nearly a full minute in his MMA debut at a Fusion Fight League-sanctioned event in Great Falls, Mont., Saturday night — despite breaking both bones in his right forearm in a freak accident 15 seconds into the first round.
Laitinen, a stand-out for the Canby High School swim team before graduating in 2019, became interested in MMA his junior year and decided to begin training last summer during the onset of the pandemic — when the immediate future for most sports appeared quite uncertain.
“I started training when I did because things weren’t normal,” Laitinen tells The Canby Current. “I was starting to get really, really lazy, and I had the perfect excuse to just stay home and play video games and eat all day.
“But I knew then that I wanted to fight, and there was no way I could live with myself every day — knowing that I was doing nothing when I knew I could be making progress toward something bigger.”
That drive was on full display even before he entered the ring Saturday night, where Laitinen was slated to face take-down specialist Brian Waddell, from Mercenary Combat Academy in Kennewick, Wash.
Hungry for his first real fight after 10 months of training, Laitinen had to drop 20 pounds in just three days to qualify for the lightweight bout.
“I’ve never had to cut weight before, but I did it,” Laitinen explains. “That was intense, and it was really hard. But it was fun.”
Laitinen says he planned to try to keep his distance from his more seasoned opponent early on.
His mistake came when he attempted a body kick — which Waddell caught and began to initiate one of his signature take-downs.
“It happened really fast,” Laitinen recalls. “He’s a really good wrestler, and he’s got some pretty advanced throws. This was a throw I hadn’t seen very often, and there were multiple parts to it. I was reacting properly to what he was trying to do at first, but then it caught me by surprise.”
Waddell completes the brutal maneuver, with Laitinen accidentally landing on his outstretched right arm. Though the actual moment the break occurs is hidden from view (it’s obvious immediately afterward), Laitinen knew instantly what had happened — and decided to press on.
“I heard it break, and I felt it break,” he says with a chuckle, sitting in a hospital bed in Montana Sunday afternoon. “But I knew the ref hadn’t seen it yet, so I decided to keep that elbow nice and tight — as much as I could.
“My plan was to get up, break his grips, maybe get a little bit of space — and just start throwing as hard as I could with my left hand.”
The refs weren’t the only ones who missed Laitinen’s injury in the fury of the match: The color commentators and even Waddell appear oblivious.
The remainder of the bout is grueling to watch, as Laitinen battles gamely on with only three working limbs — his right forearm flopping unnaturally at times.
“Yes,” Laitinen says with a grin, when asked if he was in pain. “But if I was able to knock him out before they saw it, I would still get the win. And if I can get the win, I’m going for the win.”
After a couple more take-downs, the refs finally notice his injury and stop the match. Laitinen’s coach, Cris “Sunshine” Lencioni, a professional MMA fighter and owner of Sunshine Athletics in Canby, drove him to the hospital.
Though Laitinen remembers tapping out, that’s not technically how the fight ended, according to Lencioni.
“He never stopped fighting,” Lencioni says. “Technically, the referee saw his broken arm, and that’s what stopped the fight. It was crazy.
“I knew he was tough the day I met him. He is a very awesome young man, with a bright future ahead of him.”
Surgeons set Laitinen’s arm, and he appears headed for a full recovery. Typically, he can’t wait to begin training again, and he and Lencioni are already planning a workout regimen focused on legs and conditioning until the cast comes off.
“It’s been a trip,” Laitinen says. “And it’s been a really great experience Even with the arm, I’m still having a great time.”
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