Anthony (Freight Train) Hamilton introduced himself to the Maximum Fighting Championship in October with a stunning head kick knockout of Smealinho Rama.
While his cornermen celebrated outside the ring, a teary Hamilton raised his hand to the sky and then got down on one knee.
There was more to the emotional reaction than just winning the MFC championship belt.
"A lot of it is all the hard work, all the sacrifices, all the things I've been through in my life," said the 33-year-old native of Kent, Wash. "I think a lot of fighters can relate to that.
"The other thing is I believe in God. I felt like at that moment, that there was no other reason for me to be there, there was no other way for me to be here other than what God had blessed me with. And so I was just really trying to give thanks to him and I was emotional.
"I just felt very blessed and grateful that he had given the win to me, also the opportunity to be on such an amazing stage."
The six-foot-five Hamilton defends his heavyweight title for the first time against Darrill (The Boss) Schoonover at "MFC 39: No Remorse" in Edmonton on Friday night.
Hamilton (11-2) weighed in at 261.6 pounds Thursday while Schoonover (13-5), who was on Season 10 of "The Ultimate Fighter," was 257.
Also on the card at the Northlands Expo Center, No. 1 contender Kurt (The Hurt) Southern (13-4) of Saskatoon faces MFC newcomer Tom Gallicchio (17-8).
The fight was for the lightweight title but Gallicchio weighed in at 155.2 pounds, just over the 155-pound limit. Southern weighed in at 154.8 pounds.
The Edmonton Combative Sports Commission only allows one shot at making weight.
Under MFC rules, if one fighter does not make weight with a vacant title a stake, the fighter who does make weight is still eligible to claim the championship.
So Southern will become champion if he wins. If Gallicchio wins, the title remains vacant and the two will meet in a rematch.
Hamilton splits his training between Jackson's MMA in Albuquerque, N.M., where he practises with such UFC stars as Jon Jones, Travis Browne and Frank Mir, and Seattle's Ivan Salaverry MMA, run by a Toronto-born former UFC fighter.
Browne and Salaverry will both be in Hamilton's corner Friday.
Hamilton has reasons to be grateful, having turned his life around.
"I grew up pretty poor," he said. "My dad was never around and my mom wasn't the greatest mom. So childhood for me was really really tough.
"But I did have a few people that were there for me along the way and I had sports that kept me focused and taught me a lot about being disciplined and how to overcome different things. Thank God for those things, they kept me on track and I was able to use them to change my life and provide a better life for myself."
Hamilton won a wrestling scholarship to Central Washington and switched to football when the wrestling program was dropped.
A tight end, he had a tryout with the B.C. Lions but football fizzled out and he turned to grappling
Hamilton has trained MMA full-time in the past but is currently training and fighting around a day job in quality assurance and regulatory affairs for a medical company.
It makes for a busy life, especially with three-year-old daughter and five-month-old son.
"I hope one day the kids understand that these years that I'm doing this was for a reason," Hamilton said. "I think the wife and the rest of our families are pretty happy and proud. Everybody enjoys watching the fights and going to the fight so it's been pretty cool."
Hamilton previously captured regional MMA titles with CageSport and Rumble on the Ridge.
He has won five straight since losing back-to-back fights in 2012.
NOTES — Former UFC veteran Victor Valimaki was forced to pull out of his comeback bout against light-heavyweight Sean O'Connell (14-4) due to illness. He has been replaced by Markhaile Wedderburn (11-10).
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