Odie Delaney appears destined for a massive future in ONE Championship’s heavyweight mixed martial arts division, but it didn’t always seem like a career as an elite athlete would be his calling.
“The Witness” has overcome some major obstacles to reach this point, and when he takes on Mehdi Barghi at ONE 158: Tawanchai vs. Larsen this Friday, it will be yet another victory for his strong will and perseverance.
Find out how a kid from a sleepy town in the United States battled through life’s challenges and found his way to the global stage of martial arts.
Dealing With Bullies In Rural Alaska
Delaney was born and raised in a town of just 2,000 inhabitants called Willow, where he grew up as the second-oldest of four siblings in an extremely tight-knit family.
However, the 32-year-old does not have especially fond memories of the place, as he suffered continuous abuse at the hands of his peers.
“Willow is out in the middle of nowhere. Nobody’s ever heard of that place. But yeah, that’s where I’m from. It’s where I grew up,” Delaney says.
“When I was young in Alaska, I was bullied brutally. Bullying was a huge problem in my life. I’d come home crying to my mom every day. I was very tall, lanky, and awkward. And I was always a little bit of a goofball. I had a really hard time in school.
“But I think that that bullying set me on the path that I went down. There’s other things that contributed later, but [it gave me] that want to be able to defend yourself and defend your friends and stand up to the bad and mean people in the world.”
When Delaney was 14, his mother married his stepfather, and the family moved down to Florida – a far cry from their rural upbringing.
This turned out to be a positive move for “The Witness.” He found new social circles, and the bullying ceased, giving him more confidence in himself.
“The culture change was extreme. Like I said, I grew up in a town that had nobody in it. I had to walk a couple miles to go see my one friend that I had, that I grew up with. I think Alaska, culturally, is probably behind, at any given time, 20 years,” he says.
“There was less bullying in Florida. Maybe that was another part of the culture change, but I found everyone to be very nice, very kind. I developed a friend group down there that took care of me.”
Getting The Wrestling Bug
It was in Florida where Delaney properly discovered wrestling. He’d wrestled informally among family in Alaska, but he struck a deal with a coach to pursue the sport in his new home.
“The Witness” was a big teenager, which made him a shoo-in for the football team – something he agreed to join if he got something out of the deal, too.
“I went to a high school called South Walton High in the panhandle of Florida. They didn’t even have a wrestling team,” he says.
“In the south of the United States, football is king. And the football coach said he’d start up a wrestling program if I played on the line. So I did.”
With encouragement from his mother and stepfather, Delaney kept up both sports, although it was wrestling that really captured his heart.
The young athlete was also driven to succeed by another key figure in his life – a person who saw great potential in “The Witness” and greatly supported his journey toward a state title and All-American status in high school.
“I got passionate about wrestling largely due to one man named Marty Chouinard, who has been my mentor since my freshman year of high school. I think he saw something in me and helped push me along in my wrestling and my athletics. And honestly, in my development as a man as well,” Delaney says.
“He would take me all over the country to tournaments, and I think that he really fired up that passion inside of me, because he believed in me and thought I could be something special. For a young man, I think it’s really important to have somebody there that’s doing that for you.”
Surviving And Then Thriving At The Citadel
After high school, Delaney moved on to The Citadel – a famous military college in South Carolina – where his wrestling ability helped make him a valued asset.
But first, he had to go through the gauntlet like everybody else, and this became another crucial influence in his life.
“The Citadel is a brutal experience. The Citadel is a military academy where it’s not like the movies. It’s not like the average college experience,” Delaney recalls.
“It’s very militaristic: uniforms, marching, getting screamed at, yelled at, getting your room torn to pieces. The whole first year, you’re what’s called a ‘knob.’ You get your head shaved down to the skin, and you have to run around with your chin sucked in. It’s very, very stressful, and it’s meant to be. It’s meant to break you down and build you up stronger.”
Despite being pushed to his limits, “The Witness” stuck to the grind and didn’t falter. He blended his studies and the tough love he received with his wrestling training.
And after enduring that grueling schedule, he reaped the rewards in a huge way, becoming a four-time Southern Conference Champion, a Division-1 All-American, and a Citadel Hall of Fame athlete.
“It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. And I don’t know if I’ll ever do anything that hard again,” Delaney says.
“It was very difficult, but I can tell you now being on the other side of it, looking back, it was probably the most valuable experience of my entire life because I’m pretty sure I can face anything at this point.”
Fulfilling His Goals Through MMA
After college, Delaney went into law enforcement, where he thought he would live out his life helping and serving people.
However, he went through some extremely difficult times in the police force and opted for a career change – although he didn’t always know it would lead back to martial arts.
He took some time to assess his strengths and figure out how he could positively impact the world, and soon after, he realized MMA might be the perfect medium.
“I went through some hard things in law enforcement and kind of had to redefine myself, change my career path,” Delaney explains.
“I had to stop and think, ‘Okay, what gifts did God give me? What can I do with my life that’s beneficial to myself and other people?’ Wrestling had always been my thing, [and I thought] I’d like to try jiu-jitsu. So I started trying jiu-jitsu and fell in love with it.
“Some really good people would come to me and say, ‘Hey, man, if you just learned a couple submissions, if you just got good at jiu-jitsu, you’d be a killer. And then if you just learned a little bit of striking, geez, you’d be a super killer.’ It just kind of naturally happened that way for me.”
With that, “The Witness” immersed himself in MMA and earned a contract to compete in ONE Championship’s burgeoning heavyweight division.
Doing so has allowed him to reach the masses via the sport’s largest global platform – one that he believes shares many of the same values.
“The biggest driver is that I want to bring a message to the world, and I think it’s really in line with ONE,” Delaney says.
“[ONE Championship CEO] Chatri Sityodtong talks about martial arts and honor and respect, and that’s what I grew up thinking martial arts was supposed to be.”
Moving forward, the American Top Team athlete will use his high-profile battles to try and secure a bright future for those around him, but he also hopes to uplift and inspire as many others as possible.
“Just pure career-wise, I want what’s best for my family. And I don’t know if anybody’s in it for anything other than that,” he adds.
“But I also want to show through fighting that you can be a tough, strong, capable man who can do amazing things, but it’s also OK to be vulnerable. I’m not really in this for the glory. I want to help people.”