William Knight is the last person you’d think would be bullied.
After all, it’s a safe bet any time the E. Hartford, Connecticut native enters a room, he’s likely the biggest and strongest person there.
But it wasn’t always that way.
Throughout his childhood, Knight (4-0 MMA) was tortured.
He wasn’t tortured in the literal sense. Rather, he was tortured by disdainful classmates – which at the time, may have seemed worse to him than waterboarding. The William Knight of the early 2000s and the William Knight today are two very different people both inside and out.
Today, he’s a physical specimen, but Knight was relentlessly teased in school for his small stature. His size became a focal point for bullies, who also would target the African-American Knight because of his skin color and attire.
“From Bowers Elementary School to Illing Middle School to Manchester High School to Manchester Regional Academy and all over Manchester, Conn, itself. I experienced being bullied for everything,” Knight told MMA Junkie. “My skin tone – I was darker than most. I was being called like a ‘tar baby’ and (expletive) like that. Things I didn’t know what it was, because my grandmother kept me sheltered away from a lot of things.
“I sat there and got picked on for what I was wearing. Clothing. My pants were this. My shirt was that. My skin color. I’m darker than this person. I’m darker than that person. I was black. I sit here now like, ‘who cares?’ But back then in (that) world, to them it was all fun and laughter and high fives.”
Taking a big step forward
Knight never felt he did anything which warranted the mistreatment from his peers. Nevertheless, he recognizes factors which magnified the issue. A self-described “high-energy” individual, Knight was placed on Ritalin at a young age for Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He believes the side effects made him even a more vulnerable target.
“I was on Ritalin because I was told I had ADHD or whatever the case was,” Knight said. “I was put on medication that turned me into a zombie. So practically, it made me an easy target in school. Even then, I don’t know why I was being bothered to begin with.”
Despite recognizing his father’s imperfections, Knight credits his dad for having taken him off the medication. Knight believes the decision to remove Ritalin from his daily regiment restored his personality – and his life.
“My dad had gotten in trouble,” Knight said. “I don’t know the whole story behind it. When he re-entered my life, he wanted me on a healthy lifestyle. So, he took me off of that. (Ritalin) messed with my growth. I wasn’t eating (because of) the side effects behind the medication. He took me off and that’s when things started to really amp up. Years of being on a bunch of stuff I was holding back, bottling it up – it just started to come out more. As the years went by, I started getting confidence in defending myself and realizing what I’m truly capable of.”
Stuck between a rock and a hard place
To make matters more stressful, Knight’s youth was bookended between schoolyard bullying and a strict, disciplinarian household. With his mother and father largely absent, Knight was raised by his grandmother.
“I used to be the kid that was afraid,” Knight said. “It was a double standard for me. Not only was I at school and I could tell on people. But they would threaten me after school. But if I retaliated– my Caribbean family’s discipline was different – I’d either get my ass beat or I’d get popped. It’s not abuse. It’s an ass-whooping. You see kids today, they disrespect their parents in public and think it’s cool. That’s the most disrespectful thing. You don’t disrespect someone who birthed you.
“I’d sit there and get popped on my ass or I’d stand in the corner. Or I wouldn’t get this or I wouldn’t get that. They’d get to go to Six Flags when I’m home for a disciplinary action. You don’t want to get in trouble and then go home to where you lay your head. To me, it was like a lose-lose. I just really had to suck it up.”
Despite his rough upbringing, Knight’s love for his family is unconditional, especially when for his grandmother. She helped to home-school him when he was expelled for a year for “defending myself.”
While the bullying didn’t end all at once, Knight points to wrestling as one of the turning points in his life. At Manchester High, he found great success. Finally he had found an outlet for all of the anger and confusion caused by his unkind peers.
But when the time came for Knight to move on from wrestling, life’s compass lost direction once again, in 2006. The former state champion transitioned from a life that revolved on physical health and activity, to video games and sitting on the couch. Knight’s weight and health issues increased, while his productivity plummeted. For 10 years, Knight ‘did nothing,’ until one day he came across his high school yearbook. In 2016, Knight found MMA and the rest is history.
“I destroyed everyone in my path (in high school wrestling) and then went cold turkey to video games, pizza, Oreos,” Knight recalled, “I gained weight. “I was almost 300 pounds. Out of shape with five ruptured discs in my back. I had breathing problems. The whole nine. As I sat here, I moved my yearbook and a wrestling picture fell out. I was 211 pounds standing on the number one podium.
“I’m sitting there like, ‘Yo, how did I let myself get to this.’ From there, I had to figure out how to get back my ten years in a short amount of time. And look what I’m doing three years later, knocking on the door of the UFC.”
As his life approaches a 180-degree turnaround, Knight has heard from some of the bullies and bystanders who picked on him way back when. The change in heart from perpetrators who made his life miserable angers Knight.
“They’re always inboxing me to this moment, ‘Oh you know, back in school, it wasn’t nothing serious. I apologize if it means something to you,’” Knight said. “Now that y’all see what I’m doing, you want to be apologetic? Before I was doing this, I did nothing for ten years. Not one person reached out to me to see if I was okay. To make sure I was cool. Nothing.
“Now they treat me well, (when I’m) upcoming? When I go to schools and talk to little kids about this stuff? About not being afraid to use your voice to speak your problems to other people? Because I was afraid. I used to speak my problems to people and I was getting called a snitch. ‘Snitches get stitches.’”
Fighting for the kids
Tuesday night, Knight will compete on Dana White’s Contender Series against fellow undefeated fighter Herdem Alacabek (5-0 MMA). Potentially one impressive showing away from a UFC contract, Knight believes more than just his own fate will ride on his performance. A frequent visitor to local schools, Knight wants to be a role model to bullied children everywhere.
“I have the chance to show people there’s always another outcome,” Knight said. “Regardless of what you’re going through, there’s always something better. You as a person don’t have to react to other people’s reactions. I’m not saying I’m going to do it now. I’m not encouraging anyone. I could have been one of those people who went back to school and did some crazy (expletive), but did I? No. I sat there and took on the chin for years and years to come. And now, I’m about to be on ESPN+ showing in front of millions of viewers who I am.
“And guess what all these people who were picking on me, disrespecting me, and bullying me are doing? Absolutely nothing. I don’t see them. Some of them are in jail. Some of them have moved. Some of them just have nothing. And I’m over here achieving and making history.
He continued, “I’m about to obtain a platform where I can push Connecticut even further. I’m actually trying to become a name. My name will forever be known. Not just a kid that was bullied in school. A kid that came in, fought in the UFC, built a platform, and is now giving back to the kids. That’s what I’m doing this for.. The worst thing you can do is treat someone differently because they’re different.”
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Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie
Read the full article here: Bullied and bothered: How DWCS 24's William Knight overcame torment, faulty medication, and obesity