One part McDonald’s. One part gasoline.
Put down the anarchist manifesto. This isn’t the recipe for some kind of low-grade chemical weapon but rather for an undefeated MMA fighter who is burning up combat sports scenes throughout the Midwest.
It’s an unusual story. But MMA is an unusual sport, and Alex White is an unusual breed.
Some fighters are finely groomed thoroughbreds who are painstakingly bred for trophies, medals and belts. Others are more like White, a poor kid from southeastern Missouri whose life took a jarring turn not long after he was out of diapers and his family had piled into the family car for a trip to Disney World.
“I was three or four years old,” White said in an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report. “We had pulled off the road and I was playing tag with my brother. I grabbed the lemonade jug to take a drink, but I didn’t know my Dad had put gasoline in it. When I woke up, I was in the hospital.”
Little Alex pulled through. But the accident permanently scarred his vocal cords and his speech. The metaphors about permanent psychological wounds write themselves.
“It messed up my throat,” White said in his signature soft-spoken scratch. “So I was shy about my voice. I started keeping to myself a little bit.”
If that wasn’t enough, White’s family struggled to make ends meet.
“I was pretty underprivileged growing up,” he said. “Anything we got, it really meant a lot to us.”
And the bullies came. Those who didn’t pick on him just ignored him. White thickened the shell around himself, speaking to virtually no one outside his family. Sports, as one might imagine, were not on the radar.
In retrospect, his high school alma mater might be kicking itself over that. Because an animal, and a pretty explosive athlete, was buried under all that introversion and stigma.
Life after graduation unfurled without much hope. Where could a quiet and undistinguished kid with a high school diploma go in Farmington, Missouri? The answer: those famous golden arches, where he took a job flipping burgers after graduation.
“The people were great; the job sucked,” White said. “We were always short on people every shift. It was always go, go, go. We only had two uniforms, and that’s all we had to wear.”
As the days went on, White’s attention went out the window: a few feet down the sidewalk, to be specific, where there was a little business called Destruction MMA. A desire to defend himself and those he cared about from any future harassment, combined with a latent interest in fighting, pushed him through the door.
“There was a gym right next door to the McDonald’s where I worked,” he said. “I’ve always had role models like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li. It looked to me like that was the kind of stuff they taught there.”
So at 19 years old, he entered athletic competition for the first time. As you may have guessed by now, it was like a duck to water; he was good at everything. His coaches saw it and helped him as much as they could.
That, in itself, might have been as helpful as anything they did in a ring or on the mat.
“When I first got into MMA, my coaches had to give me money to go to tournaments,” White said. “It showed me that people care, and it pushes you a little more. I try not to take any of those things for granted.”
According to his coach Joe Worden, White won amateur boxing and no-gi grappling tournaments. He amassed a 12-1 amateur muay thai record and then a 15-0 amateur MMA mark as a featherweight.
The animal was loose.
“He just loves competing,” Worden said. “He likes to stay busy.”
He turned pro as an MMA fighter in 2010 and has since racked up a 9-0 record, with every win but one coming by stoppage. He has already won one fight in 2014 and also won his pro boxing debut—you know, just to keep his hands sharp.
Alex white makes his pro boxing debut THIS SATURDAY (2-22-14) AT AMERISTAR CASINO vs Hard hitting Jeff Combs!!... http://t.co/kt1f4OGgmg— Blake Fischer (@RumbleTimeStL) February 20, 2014
Meanwhile, he’s still at the same gym in Farmington that is across the street from the McDonald’s where he once worked.
Pretty much everything else is different, though. White, now 25, is married with a small child of his own. Thanks to Worden’s wife, he has a good job delivering medical equipment. And the notoriety is growing.
“People have been noticing me more,” White said. “They want me to know they support me. People I used to know are proud of me. Some people never expected it. Just shy, quiet me becoming an MMA fighter.”
The Beaten Path is a regular series highlighting MMA's top prospects. For the previous interview in the series, click here. Scott Harris writes about MMA for Bleacher Report. For more, follow Scott on Twitter. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.