MMA fighter defeated in brawl, victorious in cause

Alexandria resident surpasses his fundraising mark for nonprofits combatting veteran suicide rates, mental health struggles

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Thomas Herrera of Alexandria competed in a mixed martial arts championship fight May 8, 2021. After a three-year hiatus, he returned to MMA so he could raise money for veteran nonprofits. (Contributed photo)

Thomas Herrera may have lost the battle of his most recent mixed martial arts championship fight, but he exceeded his fundraising goal for veteran nonprofits .

Herrera, an Alexandria resident, hadn’t competed in MMA for more than three years before a match-up Saturday, May 8.

Although his recent fight didn’t end like he wanted, Herrera said he had one message for any young, up-and-coming athletes: Competing at a high level requires learning how to handle disappointments and bounce back from them.

“Losing is a part of the process for any sport,” Herrera said. “A loss is not the end of your journey.”

While training and preparing for the fight, his goal was to fundraise $5,000 for veteran nonprofits. Herrera ended up collecting $7,000 and distributed the funds to the following organizations:


  • Warriors Next Adventure, an organization that engages veterans in recreational activities after they’ve left active service, received $1,000.

  • Freedom Fishing Foundation, which provides fishing trips for veterans, was given $1,500.

  • Herrera donated $1,500 to the We Defy Foundation, a nonprofit that hosts Brazilian jiu jitsu and fitness training for veterans with military-related disabilities.

  • The Alexandria VFW received $1,000.

  • The remaining $2,000 went to Operation Freedom Outdoors, a nonprofit that organizes hunting trips for veterans.

Herrera plans to keep fighting and fundraising, reaching more nonprofits and raising more awareness for veteran suicide rates and mental health. On another level, he hopes to connect veterans with these nonprofits so that they can receive the resources and support available to them. Herrera will continue pursuing these goals, but he knows his fighting days won’t last forever.
“Whenever I decide to call it, I hope that the impression I leave inspires others to also fight for the same cause,” Herrera said. “It may not be literally fighting in a cage like I do but to spread more awareness and to encourage others to open up about mental health struggles.”

Jasmine Johnson joined the Echo Press staff in May 2020 as a general assignment reporter. She grew up in Becker, Minn., and later studied journalism and graphic design at Bethel University in Arden Hills, Minn.
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