Meet the ex-paratrooper now taking on MMA and PTSD: 'It's the injury no one can see'

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'From soldier to MMA champion, the Terry Brazier story' (9:41)

This is the story of Terry Brazier, the ex-paratrooper who lives with PTSD and is thriving as an MMA fighter. (9:41)

On Saturday, Terry Brazier makes his Bellator MMA debut. But he is not remotely scared of being punched.

That's because when you have seen your Army mates killed in Afghanistan or held dying children in your arms, getting hit for a living, after all that, isn't so bad.

That drive and lack of regard for your own safety is developed when the sole reason you are doing your job is to guarantee your children and wife have a better upbringing than you did, when you were subject to beatings from your alcoholic father.

And these bruises seem insignificant when you are living your day-to-day life with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and your job as an MMA pro helped nullify suicidal thoughts.

That's why Terry will be smiling as he enters the cage on Saturday. His knees and shoulders are already in pieces, even before the fight, but he knows he will not be beaten. Not after everything he has been through.

But he does have two fears: letting his nearest and dearest down, and being left anonymous in history. He won't let either happen.


Terry is making his breakfast while his 19-month-old son, Kyng, walks around their living room with a small punching bag and a single boxing glove on. Ghost, their lurcher dog, appears at the window but is kept outside. His stepson, Taylor, is on the sofa telling us about Fortnite. Kyng attaches the punching bag to the wall, and then, with two swift right hooks, knocks it to the floor while saying "Ba-BA! Ba-BA! Ba-BA!" copying the noise he hears in Terry's gym.

Terry is now down to 30 grams of oats for his breakfast as he is cutting weight ahead of Saturday's fight in Newcastle against Chris Bungard. Amy, his wife, is talking about how they have been married for three years, while Terry wolfs down a plate of power pancakes, strawberries and these oats.

"I don't get nervous in the run-up to the fight," Amy says. "It's just in the moments before. You get this sickening feeling in the gut. ... It's never nice watching someone you love get hit."

Terry interrupts: "I don't often get hit."

They got back from Terry's training camp in Thailand the previous day. Kyng is jet-lagged; Terry's sleep is usually interrupted at the best of times due to his PTSD. As Kyng jumps on a battery-powered motorbike, Terry reminisces about his upbringing and what life was like with an alcoholic father. "I got the brunt of it, physically and mentally. That shaped my life. That made me tough," Terry says. "I took worse beatings off my dad when I was younger than I have in my fights. I think the first time I proper hit him and knocked him down, I was 13.

"It wasn't the perfect upbringing, but it made me who I am today -- it shaped me as a dad and as a fighter. I love my kids, and the way I treat them ... I'd never lay a finger on them."

Terry grew up in Denham, 19 miles from the centre of London. He had more scraps than he could remember, under the railway bridge near his house. He takes us there and points out the escape routes, now covered in overgrown foliage, they used to take when the police would arrive to break up the fracas. "The years we spent here shaped us," Terry says, immersed in nostalgia. "I never got beat."

But one day, the law caught up with him, and he was arrested.

His lawyer informed him his situation looked bleak and was probably going to result in two years in prison. He was 16 or so at the time -- dates and times get a little muddled with PTSD -- and on the way to court, his mother, Debbie, made him vow that if he somehow avoided jail, he would sort his life out. Terry agreed, not expecting to be given the chance. But he was let off the charge, and the following day, he went to Wembley recruitment office and joined the army.

He opted for the Irish Guards, stationed in Windsor, near to his Denham roots, but having done his fair share of Queen's Parades, thrown snowballs from the top of Windsor Castle -- "it's like a boarding school in there; the areas for the royals are nice, though" -- and waited in the cold for Prince Charles' helicopter to land, he wanted more and joined 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment. "It was more physical, more boisterous, more aggressive ... a bit more me," Terry says.

Terry's first tour was to Afghanistan in 2010-11 as part of Operation Herrick 13. He was responsible for his section's machine gun. They endured eight months of nonstop contact with the enemy. On one occasion, they were patrolling a compound containing insurgents. He was isolated and ended up emptying his final clip. When he returned to his patrol, he tried to drink from his CamelBak water container only to find it empty, with three bullet holes drilled through it. He had been inches from being seriously injured. The backpack is now in the Imperial War Museum in London.

It was a relentless, unforgiving existence. "We had a particularly hard time, losing guys through injury and death. We were dealing with the local population, children getting blown up by the IEDs [improvised explosive devices] left for us.

"There was horrific and life-changing stuff that happened out there."

His commanders in the army noticed a change in him, but after initially being sent back to the Irish Guards, things continued to deteriorate. "I started getting nightmares and anxiety attacks, being depressed and not wanting to put my uniform on. I got sent to the medical centre and was medically discharged with having PTSD."


It is mid-morning on the day of our interview, and Terry's head is squashed against the gym wall. He is practising cage control and takedowns, and all the while he is talking to his coach and best man Dean Amasinger, asking for explanations and clarification as his training partner increases the pressure of his forearm on Terry's forehead.

Amasinger speaks afterward about the first time he met Terry, while his pupil is put through a series of brutal sprints on the bike. He pays tribute to Terry's ability to bring 100 percent aggression, but also his ability to adapt to the technical fights, and his refusal to quit. "That lack of fear is unique to successful fighters," says Amasinger. "Without that, you won't make it far, as it's so overwhelming. He knows how to keep himself calm."

That calmness is self-taught from his time in the army, and now his MMA career, but lying between was the purgatory where PTSD took hold. He missed the structure the army offered him, being told where to be and what to wear at every moment

"Before I got my PTSD, I'd be that guy telling others to man the f--- up. But it's the injury no one can see. The brain's complicated.

"When I was asked to leave the army, everything was going wrong for me. I was suicidal. I was in a toxic relationship. The army was all I had. People respected that and looked up to me because of what I'd done as a corporal. To have that taken away from me was a rough place to be. Luckily enough, I found the gym."


After wolfing down a midday lunch of chicken, sweet potatoes and a kaleidoscope of vegetables, Terry's physio, Ben Ashworth, has his thumb deeply embedded in his armpit.

Terry had shoulder surgery seven months ago after his fifth and final BAMMA fight against Rhys McKee. After that, he signed for Bellator, a step up in class from the UK-based BAMMA organisation. It all leads to Saturday and a capacity crowd at Newcastle's Metro Radio Arena. Terry fights Bungard second on the main card, with former TV star Aaron Chalmers -- the local Geordie Shore hero -- following in the next fight.

Terry sporadically screams out as Ben locates an inflamed muscle deep within his tattooed torso. It is a canvas of swirls, emblems and Thai symbols. Across his chest are his daughters' names -- Ellie-Mae, and Layla-Louise from his previous relationship -- and on his fist is a new one. It reads "blessed," a tribute to his late mother, Debbie.

He has a tendency to get injured before fights, breaking his rib in the warm-up before his debut BAMMA fight against Issey Buangala and then tearing his shoulder before McKee. His knees are temperamental after he injured the ACL and MCL in his army days after a parachute malfunction meant he hit the ground far too hard. But his biggest challenge was before his fight against Alex Lohore last March, when Debbie died just four days previous after succumbing to cancer.

"When she died four days before the fight, I didn't sleep Monday or Tuesday and then had to cut weight," says Terry. "It was the hardest week of my life, but I still beat Lohore. I perform better under pressure and stress -- that's from the army. If you can't think and perform, then you're going to die."

That's where MMA fits in. It gives him a feeling of being alive, but also the adrenaline hit which the army provided. "MMA is my biggest coping mechanism," Terry says. "I can be self-destructive, but I see it as energy. Back when I left the army, I had so much negative energy. I needed to release it and felt like I needed to lash out. I don't know where I'd be without MMA."


When Terry walks out into the cage on Saturday, Amy will have typed two words into her phone: "He won." This is part superstition, having done it at the first pro fight she saw, but also on a practical level, it means she can send the message out quickly to Terry's nearest and dearest.

She is preparing to sell her beauty salon business so she can travel on the road with Terry to his prefight training camps, along with Kyng. "I was a proper toe-rag when I met her," Terry says. Amy smiles back, having seen Terry at his best in the cage, but also in the midst of his PTSD episodes.

When the PTSD strikes, he gets short with people, grumpy, depressed, doesn't find things funny, and the anxiety keeps him awake. She knows now when to be there to challenge him or comfort him, or just to give him space. She has also been there when Terry experiences his recurring nightmares.

"Amy's had the brunt of it," Terry says. "She had the nights where I've woken up screaming. I've lashed out in my sleep and hit her, just through fitting out. She's had me waking up in hot sweats, not being able to sleep -- she's stroked my head to get me to sleep. A big one that plays in my flashbacks are the children being blown up and trying to save their lives. It's all crazy s---, but we've learnt how to deal with it better now."

Watching the news still makes Terry angry, but he has been able to watch military films again. That's a new thing, as is being able to talk about PTSD. "I didn't like to talk about it at all, as Joe Public would always ask me if I'd killed people ... and it gets on your nerves."

Now he is getting recognised, locally at least, for his cage exploits. He is getting those same nods of admiration and recognition from his MMA fans, just like he did when he wore his uniform through Windsor. "It's a nice feeling of people saying you're doing well for yourself. I train hard for my kids and for my kids' future so they don't go through the bulls--- I had to go through, so they can get the nice things that I didn't have. That's my drive."

He is unapologetic about money being a primary motivation. "I ain't doing this because I like getting punched in the face. It's a job, and it puts money in the bank. The better you are, the more money you get, and that's why I want to be great. I don't walk around and say, 'I'm the best fighter in the world.' That means nothing unless my bank balance replicates that. I want to be a rich, best fighter in the world."


Terry's three BAMMA title belts are on a table in his living room, in the house he rebuilt after buying a derelict shell of a building. When he looks at them, he doesn't feel much. There is hollowness in his victory as he is wary of being satisfied. After his last fight against McKee, he celebrated by having a packet of biscuits and a cup of tea. He doesn't let himself go after big fights, instead preferring to stay in shape in case he gets a short-notice offer for another bout. After Saturday's fight against Bungard, when he wins -- there is no "if" here -- then he is already dreaming of spaghetti bolognese, cheese and garlic bread.

Kyng occasionally reaches up for a belt, keen to hold this shiny thing his dad has photos with. "They're great, an achievement, but I want that Bellator title. I'm buzzing for my debut on Saturday.

"The way I look at it is, the fight is just the final 15 minutes in a chapter. You are grafting for eight weeks, you've done the weight cut. I get paid to make weight, and then I fight for fun."

The prospect of life after MMA concerns him. He will likely throw his energy into the two property businesses he has interests in. For now, he is focused on writing his name into MMA history. "I don't want to die and my name dies with me. It's like a Greek god film; I want my name to live on. I want to be a name and for people to remember me."

It is just white noise for Terry when he gets into the cage -- "I try to look serious, but I'm always happy to be there, doing the job I love" -- and when the final punch is thrown, or the opponent submits, he will go and look for Amy in the crowd.

After the adrenaline subsides, Terry will feel a sense of relief, knowing he has not let his family down. Kyng is back in the living room, going "Ba-BA!"

"I'm looking forward to making him proud and building a future for him so hopefully he can follow in my footsteps," Terry says.

"As you get older, your priorities change. I have now realised that by making people around me happy, that makes me happier.

"Time's the most important thing to me now. That's what's become apparent after the army and my mum dying. You don't get time back.

"You know what, I wouldn't change anything about my life as it's all for the positive. I'm in a good place. I wouldn't change it for the world."