I’m a huge fan of sports in general, definitely including the UFC. When I heard the story of Justin Wren on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, I instantly knew it was a story that had to be shared. Justin Wren is a 27-year-old former drug addict turned UFC fighter who then became a Christian missionary. The trials he has overcome and what he is doing with everything he has, is truly inspiring. After reading this story, maybe it’ll inspire you to do something more for your community, or who knows, maybe you’ll want to do something for a community in a different part of the world that doesn’t have as much as you have.
Justin Wren is a massive human coming in at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds. It’s hard to believe his story of being a drug addict turned UFC fighter, and now a Christian missionary who travels to The Congo to build wells for the Pygmies. His story began when he was 13 years old and started to experience his first suicidal thoughts. He would sit alone at the cafeteria lunch table each day.
While he sat alone, his fellow classmates would bully him by throwing wadded up, chocolate milk soaked straw wrappers at him. They knew he lacked confidence and capitalized on this just as any bully would. His classmates even went as far as telling him that he’d be better off killing himself.
Wren began to agree with them, and at the age of 14 was diagnosed with depression. This was a hard diagnosis to handle but life went on. It wasn’t until he saw his first UFC fight that something clicked inside of him. He started to smuggle UFC tapes into his bedroom so he could watch the techniques and maneuvers these professional athletes exhibited.
After watching these tapes over and over again, he decided to try out for his high school wrestling team. Wren made the high school wrestling team and became a fierce competitor. His parents saw that their son was succeeding and decided to transfer him to Dallas Bishop High, where Wren would be coached by Olympic gold winners Kenny Monday and Kendall Cross.
He was intense inside and out. Wren would trash talk his opponents and argue with referees, but he still continued to win. Wren wanted to do everything in his power to prove both his parents and doctors wrong about his depression diagnosis. “I put on a good show. Everybody looking in thought I had everything going for me,” said Wren.
Unfortunately Justin broke his arm in his final high school match. Because of the pain doctors prescribed oxycodone. Just one week after he broke his arm, he had already gone through a month’s worth of this painkiller. His doctor told him he needed to slow down with the medication, but rather than listen, Wren found another doctor that would prescribe him a second prescription. The addiction to oxycodone coupled with his depression, was a very dangerous combination.
Wren was accepted to Iowa State, where he went to college for only a short time. However during this time, he began to abuse alcohol and marijuana, causing him to go down a very dangerous path. He was being booked to fight small local fights which lead to him trying cocaine with some friends after a long night of fighting.
Everything on the outside seemed to be going well for Wren, but he was a disaster inside. When he got the call to try out for The Ultimate Fighter because of his 7-1 record, he was ecstatic, but only he knew his dark secret: he was a raging drug addict. This didn’t stop him though. Wren managed to hide his addictions from his roommates and the coaches.
Wren was even the first choice pick for Trevor Wittman, who was the assistant coach to former UFC light heavy weight champion Rashad Evans. “I thought he had the best chance to win. He was very coachable. He is a guy who had a whole bunch of belief that when you believe you can do it, you always do it,” said Wittman. Even though he didn’t win the entire competition, after a controversial loss to Roy Nelson, he did get invited to go back to Las Vegas to fight on The Ultimate Fighter finale.
When most fighters are preparing for a fight, they are trying to cut weight by drinking lots of water, sitting in blistering hot saunas, and using sweat suits to sweat out water weight. But not Wren; he was using painkillers and smoking marijuana instead. He knows for a fact that if he would have been drug tested before the fight, he would have failed.