MMA fighter Donald Williams played a crucial role during the trial of Derek Chauvin having witnessed the murder of George Floyd.
On May 25, 2020, society was shook by the death of Floyd at the hands of a Minnesota police officer. Chauvin, who’d accumulated 18 complaints on his official record by that time, was one of four officers involved in the arrest of Floyd, which occurred after he was accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill.
Having seemingly resisted entering the police car due to breathing difficulty, Floyd fell, laying face down while handcuffed and restrained by Chauvin. The officer placed his knee on Floyd’s neck — a position that lasted for nine minutes and ended fatally.
Despite cries of “I can’t breathe,” Chauvin kept his knee in place, even for as long as two minutes as Floyd laid motionless and without a pulse. In a video of the killing, multiple witnesses can be heard in distress, calling for Chauvin to check on him.
One of those bystanders was Williams, a professional fighter training out of the Minnesota Mixed Martial Arts Academy. Having practiced various choke holds in the gym for years, Williams identified the danger of the pressure that Chauvin was applying to the neck of Floyd.
His view of the incident and knowledge of chokes became a crucial part of the 2021 trial and recent sentencing. In court, Williams explained how Chauvin’s knee effectively imitated the effect of a side choke in martial arts, cutting off blood circulation and oxygen to the brain.
“Just like in MMA, you can tell when someone is getting tired or getting choked out,” Williams said at the trial. “I could see the man’s breathing becoming tremendously heavier and you could see and hear him struggling to gasp for air.”
Williams, who has a background in wrestling, was also able to explain the impact of Chauvin’s adjustments, noting that every movement had the same effect as a fighter tightening a choke hold on their opponent.
After his role in the trial, which ultimately saw Chauvin sentenced this past June to 22-and-a-half years in jail for the murder, Williams spoke about the importance of his martial arts training in gaining a level of understanding that allowed him to break down the moments leading to Floyd’s death.
“I was able to focus and analyze on what was happening because of my martial arts training. It moved fast for everyone, but it was slow for me,” Williams told the Guardian. “All these comments (Floyd) made or someone else said, it triggered things in my brain. I knew the reason why things were happening (with Floyd).”
MMA Fighter Williams’ Combat Sports Background
Donald Williams began his combat sports involvement at the age of 12, when he began wrestling. Unbeknownst to him, his father had been an Illinois state wrestling champion during his own days on the mats.
A multi-time state qualifier, Williams wrestled through college before discovering mixed martial arts in 2009. Despite being only one year away from a dental hygiene’s degree, Williams decided to train in MMA full time at Greg Nelson’s Academy in Brooklyn Center. Nelson’s coaching accolades include the training of three former UFC champions — Brock Lesnar, Sean Sherk, and Dave Menne.
After recording six straight wins in the space of just five months as an amateur, Williams went pro. Competing at bantamweight, “The Deathwish” amassed a 6-6 record between 2011 and 2019. In his most recent outing, Williams suffered ligament tear in his knee during a submission loss.
Having testified in Chauvin’s trial, Williams is expected to return to the stand again in the combined trial for the other three officers involved in the attempted arrest of Floyd, which began this month.
What do you make of the role of this MMA fighter in Derek Chauvin’s imprisonment?