U.S. ARMY GARRISON YONGSAN, Republic of Korea
As a fighter in the midst of cutting weight, serving up large portions of chicken, ham, crab legs, mac and cheese and greens to hungry diners should have seemed like torture to Dominic Waters.
With his military honed discipline, and strong sense of duty and honor, that wasn’t about to happen.
Two days before the biggest opportunity of his young UFC career – a welterweight fight against No. 7-ranked Dong Hyun Kim in the UFC Fight Night event in Seoul, South Korea – Waters’ heart soared as he joined other UFC fighters in a unique Thanksgiving Day celebration with U.S. troops stationed in Seoul.
As visitors and guests at the U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan mess hall, Waters joined UFC guest fighters Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira, Mark Hunt, Julianna Pena, Yair Rodriguez and Jon Tuck to help serve Thanksgiving fixings to hungry troops and their families.
For Waters, the fellowship was especially meaningful. A U.S. Marine Corps veteran who saw a difficult tour of duty in Iraq during his eight years of military service, Waters knows the feeling of being deployed during the holidays so far from home.
“I know this means a lot to soldiers, for us to be here,” he said. “I’m just proud and happy to give back to them. So really, it means a lot to me, too. What an amazing experience.”
MMA training helped Waters cope with symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder following his eight-month tour in Iraq in 2009, where he drove medical transports and ambulances carrying critically injured soldiers. The sights and sounds of combat, including encounters with improvised explosive devices, or IED’s, and other roadside bombs, left Waters unable to concentrate at times.
The intense mental and physical demands of elite MMA training have been his coping mechanism.
“It’s the focus that comes with it, and it kind of just takes your mind off the bad times,” said Waters, the winner of three of his last four bouts who caught the eye of UFC fans during his stint on Season 16 of The Ultimate Fighter. “If you’re fighting and you’re in a real uncomfortable situation, you can overcome it because you’re so focused on getting past it, and you’re conditioned for it.”
The afternoon at USAG Yongsan was a gratifying day for the soldiers stationed there, and for the UFC group that joined them for Thanksgiving dinner. Autographs were signed, photos with the fighters were all the rage and gifts were exchanged.
Hunt, in particular, was a big hit with United States Forces Korea Command Sergeant Major John Wayne Troxell, a self-proclaimed “huge” UFC fan and admirer.
“I loved watching you fight in Melbourne!” Troxell told Hunt. “We watch all the fights here on Armed Forces Network.”
What did it mean to the troops to have the UFC join them for Thanksgiving dinner?
“It’s absolutely huge,” the sergeant major said. “All of these troopers here, all of these soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, that are serving here on the Korean Peninsula right now, are away from their families back in the states.
“And they’re here, not only defending the sovereignty of South Korea, but defending freedom itself here on the peninsula, only 25 miles from the Demilitarized Zone and the North Koreans on the other side.”
As Troxell spoke, he shared handshakes and hugs with the fighters.
“All of these kids love The Ultimate Fighting Championship,” he said, “because the fighters demonstrate a warrior ethos that troopers live by every day. And that assimilation between the two just brings us in that much more as fans.
“So it’s huge that the UFC is here today. Absolutely huge.”
The UFC’s first event in Korea, UFC Fight Night Henderson vs. Masvidal, will be available to the troops via AFN, Troxell said.
“I love Fight Pass and the UFC app, and I follow the sport all the time,” the sergeant major said excitedly. “This is a great time to be a UFC fan in South Korea.”
About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended when an armistice was signed creating the Korean Demilitarized Zone to separate North and South Korea.
During the war, the United States and 15 other countries fought for South Korea under the United Nations flag against the invading forces from North Korea.
Nancy Gay is the Editor-in-Chief of UFC.com. Follow her on Twitter at @NancyGay