Before he makes his big premiere on United States prime-time television, Worthen explains how he emerged from a difficult childhood in small-town America to achieve his lifelong dream.
A Broken Home
The 27-year-old grew up in Lakeland, Florida, where trouble often came easily to kids without a strong support network around them.
And unfortunately, a shocking accident meant Worthen’s mother was not capable of guiding him through his early years.
“My mom was in a car accident when I was about 1 or 2 years old,” he says.
“It caused her to have a stroke, and she lost function of, I think, 35 percent of her brain. She had to relearn how to speak, eat, walk, talk, and a lot of stuff throughout my younger childhood.”
After a couple of years, Worthen’s mother recovered physically, but she became an alcoholic and was not the same person.
The disease took a toll on the entire family, and before long, she was separated from “Pretty Boy’s” father, who took custody of his son.
“There was a lot of arguing and fighting every night, so my dad dealt with it as best as he could in trying to keep the family together for me,” Worthen adds.
“But I think after a while, he just couldn’t take it anymore, as he was constantly coming home from work and cops were over at my house, so he thought it would be a better situation for them to be separated.”
Father And Son
Worthen left his mother and step-brother behind to live with his dad. But to make ends meet, the patriarch spent most of his time at work in the construction industry, which meant he was not around as much as he would have liked.
“He had to work long hours so that he could provide for me. He would work 12 hours a day and come home and cook dinner for me real quick, and go to bed so he could get back to work the next day,” Worthen recalls.
“Pretty Boy” was often left with his friends’ parents, but his father still made sure to support his son when it really mattered.
That included being present at every sporting event and making sure to keep his son on the right track.
“My dad always led by example, and he was always there for me. He did the job of a father and a mother – he was there for everything,” the bantamweight says.
“He never made me miss out on anything, and he never neglected me. Being raised the way that I was by my father – and finding martial arts – kept me on the right path. When he wasn’t around, I had wrestling and martial arts to keep me busy.”
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Discovering A Passion
Worthen flirted with taekwondo as a child, and he wanted to play football more than anything but was too small to succeed among the giant gridiron athletes.
Luckily, when he was reunited with his older brother, Eric, he was introduced to high school wrestling.
The younger sibling tagged along to practices to watch and even jumped onto the mats to wrestle with some of the smaller students – despite being 6 years younger.
When Worthen was old enough, the coach had no hesitation in recruiting him to the team and trained him toward a college scholarship. But when “Pretty Boy” was not accepted by one of the country’s best wrestling programs, he was so disappointed that he almost gave up on his dream for good.
Instead of focusing on wrestling, he chose to train as a firefighter and took up mixed martial arts to compete as an amateur. However, it was not long until a twist of fate brought him back to the wrestling mats.
“Life has a funny way of bringing you back,” Worthen says.
“I broke my jaw when I started training for a fight, and I couldn’t go back to trade school at the time, but I could start studying at college. So I was like, ‘Why not take a couple of classes while my jaw was broken?’
“I got back into college, and the next thing I knew, I was going to college to wrestle.”
Worthen went on to earn his degree in Sports and Exercise Science at the University of Central Florida. While there, he honed his grappling skills to become an NCWA All-American and a Southeastern Conference Champion.
All-In On His Dream
Worthen’s grappling ability gave him the perfect foundation for mixed martial arts, but he struggled to get his career off the ground because he found it hard to compete. At one point, he endured nine months where he was booked for 16 bouts that were all canceled.
Despite his misfortune, “Pretty Boy” had his mind made up, and he decided to do everything possible to make it as a professional athlete.
“I put enough money in the bank to where I could dedicate one year at least to fighting full time and getting as good as I could,” he says.
“As luck happens, six months into that dedication, the Evolve Global Tryouts happened. It made my dream come true.”
In 2018, Worthen was recruited to train alongside some of the world’s best martial artists at the Singapore gym, and he moved halfway around the world to join the team.
He then signed with ONE Championship, made his debut the following year, and kicked off an impressive unbeaten run.
First, the American defeated “The Ghost” Chen Rui, as he used his wrestling and ground-and-pound to earn the second-round TKO. He followed that up by defeating “Rock Man” Chen Lei in similar fashion before battering teak-tough Mark “Tyson” Fairtex Abelardo for three straight rounds to earn a unanimous decision.
Worthen enjoyed his time in Singapore, but he ultimately moved back to Florida in 2020 and began training at the world-famous Sanford MMA alongside the likes of ONE Light Heavyweight World Champion Aung La “The Burmese Python” N Sang and former two-division ONE World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen.
And though he suffered the only blemish on his record in a narrow loss to #3-ranked bantamweight contender Yusup “Maestro” Saadulaev, Worthen can regain his momentum and break into ONE’s Athlete Rankings by defeating top-ranked Lineker at “ONE on TNT III.”
The American has overcome adversity all throughout his life, and now, he has a shot to become a household name in the main event this Wednesday.
“In fighting, you can’t predict what’s going to happen,” Worthen says.
“You can win or lose, you can get injured – there are a million things that could happen. But right now, I’m aiming for the stars.”
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