Fighters Only: Fighting for Life—The Inspirational Story of AJ Siscoe
By Dane McGuire
The date was June 19, 2015 and Bellator 138: Unfinished Business at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri had just gotten underway with two first-round finishes. I must admit that in the early excitement, I hardly noticed AJ “Lets Go” Siscoe, a local fighter competing in the last “dark bout” for the night. After he exited the cage following a rear-naked choke loss, he looked dejected but I— nor anyone else—could tell what was going on below the surface.
Not too long after that night, Siscoe reached out to me over Facebook. He had heard some kid working for St. Louis’ CBS Sports Radio affiliate had an MMA podcast and he wanted to introduce himself. We’ve kept in touch for around a year.
Siscoe, who was too rough on other children and suffered from severe ADHD growing up, was introduced to MMA after helping his father train. Competing in an MMA fight had become a one-and-done goal. He stayed with the sport, eventually debuting for Bellator.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is a common phrase, but it no longer applied to Siscoe once a doctor told him that he had cancer.
“I felt fine during the first round, but when I sat on the stool in between rounds it just felt like every ounce of energy I had was just gone. I didn’t even feel like I had the energy to stand back up. I stood up to start round two, and I felt like my feet were cemented in cinder blocks. My body was zapped…”
The bantamweight contender had a walk-around weight of about 145 pounds due to spending up to 22 hours a day asleep and eating “maybe” once a day.
“I had stage three Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The mass was growing in lymph nodes between my heart and lung. it eventually grew to the size where it grew over my lung and was putting pressure on it and eventually made it collapse,” Siscoe said at the time of our first interview.
“After my first round of chemo, it was the same size as my lung. They originally thought it was stage four (meaning it spread to my bones and other places in my body causing my rate of survival to drop and causing me to have to receive a bone marrow transplant) but luckily it hadn’t got to that point yet.”
Siscoe would return to MMA after his last day of a dangerous experimental treatment plan on January 5, 2016. Gym nearby, he trained immediately after.
“[Doctors] have had bad results from patients and it was extremely risky,” he said. “I got a binder full with the nasty side effects, which included but weren’t limited to not being able to reproduce anymore, permanent damage to my heart and lungs and a laundry list that required my signature before they would begin the treatment. It was my best shot at survival but it did have its price tag. They did describe it to me as one of the most powerful [treatments] on the market.”
The Bloomington, Illinois-born warrior entered the cage of Shamrock Fighting Championships, a St. Louis-based promotion that had a number of names on the Bellator 138 undercard, that December. “Let’s Go” almost lost his return fight as his opponent changed just 48 hours ahead of the bout. Despite another hurdle, he would not be denied victory as he submitted Jordan Hernandez via rear-naked choke at Shamrock FC 279.
“I felt like it was a ‘I told you so…’ moment. I have a lot of work left to do but that was a fantastic first step. Now my goal every morning is to wake up, work hard and squeeze as much life as possible out of the day. I will stack some wins and get another crack at Bellator. They can only deny me for so long but, for now, I’m just glad to still be here and blessed to have the ability to chase my dreams.”
His journey back to Bellator had only just started after his triumphant return to the sport. Shortly after his win, Siscoe was contacted by Jackson-Wink MMA and presented with an offer to train with the championship-winning camp. The move to Jackson-Wink’s home of New Mexico was described as extremely stressful, but there was no doubt from Siscoe’s loved ones that it had to be his next step.
“The Cancer Killer” now spends his days rolling on mats with the likes of Cub Swanson and Donald Cerrone (heavily emphasizing footwork and becoming a better wrestler), then running the foothills and mountains of Albuquerque. He’s currently trying to put together his next of three fights under the Shamrock FC banner—but Bellator remains his objective.
“I feel like I have unfinished business,” he said, “and cancer took my first opportunity with them away. It’s important to me to get another chance at fighting for them.
“When I got sick and doctors started putting limits and expectations on my life, I sat down and came up with some goals: I would beat cancer and get back to fighting, fight for Bellator again, and impact the life of somebody fighting something terrible in a positive way. I don’t want people to live based off of what somebody else expects you to be able to accomplish. I’m gonna show the world that if you work hard and believe in yourself you can do whatever you want with this life.”
At present, Siscoe is in remission and pursuing the fight life full-force. However, his battle against Hodgkin’s remains ongoing.
“There is only one option if it were to come back and that’s a bone marrow transplant. It’s an extremely painful procedure for me and whoever would be my donor… the donor would more than likely have to be a parent or sibling and I couldn’t do that to them. I would rather live my life to the fullest and try to squeeze every ounce of life out of each day and enjoy the ride no matter how long or short I have left.”
When asked if simply returning from near-death to compete was enough, the survivor said that he hopes to be a role model to all of his family and supporters and inspire them.
“To me, I’m blessed to even be here but, at the same time, it’s not good enough. I still have dreams and goals set in place for myself and I can’t live life based on other’s expectations of what I can and cannot do. I don’t know what that goal is that once I achieve it I can say I’m happy with my career, I made it, I showed them! Most of all, I want to show them and the world that through hard work and believing in yourself you can do whatever you want in this life.”
Follow AJ’s journey on social media by following him on Instagram @thecancerkiller35 and AJ Let’s Go Siscoe on Facebook.