Andre Soukhamthath was barely out of high school when he was faced with a series of life-altering experiences that turned his expected path from soccer player to father to grieving father to fighter. When Soukhamthath was in high school, his girlfriend (a woman with whom he’s still in a relationship to this day) became pregnant. They were in love, and it changed his priority from looking for a college opportunity as a soccer goalie to becoming a full-time worker and a father. Then, soon after son LeAndre was born, he was diagnosed with epidermolysis bullosa, a rare skin disease that causes severe blistering. His son would live only nine months, just as Soukhamthath found an interest in training in MMA. The experience of first-time fatherhood was a memorable, rewarding and sometimes-painful one for Soukhamthath, who is raising a second son. It also caused him to need a positive outlet in his life, which fighting filled.
“At first it was a hobby, but then I knew it’s what I wanted to do,” Soukhamthath told MMAjunkie. “I went to my first fight, and I could see myself being in the cage one day. It became a family business. My fiancée, she handles all my medicals, and she’s my manager. I’ve been training throughout the whole time, even after my son passed. I just wanted to compete.”
Soukhamthath, a Rhode Island native with family roots in southeast Asian country of Laos, is next set to take on Brian Kelleher (11-7) on Friday at CES MMA 28, which airs live on AXS TV from Lincoln, R.I. At 8-2, he won his last fight in October and is hoping to reignite the success that helped him win seven straight fights from 2012-2013. The 26-year-old does it all with the memory that he grew up quick to be a young father, rushing home from his Home Depot job to gently change diapers and delicately handle his brittle son. Wanting to do something positive in his life, fighting has become that opportunity.
“I’ve always had do something, to stay active,” he said. “Now this is my passion.”
Soukhamthath was born in Providence, R.I., where his parents had moved from Laos. Their family had some connections to Rhode Island, which helped Soukhamthath spend the most of his life there before later moving to Florida for his fighting career. He was a skilled soccer player, spending most of his time as the goalkeeper. Unknowingly, he was building hand-eye and concentration skills that would later help him track opponents in the cage. But for the time being, he was focused on being good enough to play for a college team. Then his girlfriend became pregnant, and he ditched the idea of playing after high school. While she was pregnant, Soukhamthath wanted to stay active in athletics, so a friend encouraged him to try some classes in MMA. So Soukhamthath was already training by the time his son was born.
“Honestly, I was really young and I was immature, so I didn’t realize what I had in front of me,” Soukhamthath said of raising a son with a rare skin disease. “I really started reading up on what my son had at work when he was like 3 months old. I would go home, change diapers, and he would have blisters. Some would heal, some wouldn’t, and then there would be new ones. That was every day for us. It was just so normal to us.”
Soukhamthath said his son had one of the most severe forms of the disease, but the couple didn’t fully understand how little time they would have to spend with him. His death was jarring, and Soukhamthath needed an outlet to help remove him from the grief. He had already started his MMA training, and fighting helped him cope.
“In looking back, I think it took some time away from me and my son, but it was a tough situation for us,” he said. “Even after (his death), something just kept me training, and I was so passionate about it, and I had such a fire, and I just wanted to get better every day.”
Soukhamthath’s father comes from a family of fighters, so the idea of competing wasn’t new to him. But at first, his father didn’t want Soukhamthath to take that path. He was intrigued by boxing and kickboxing even at an early age, though he didn’t pursue them with any training. His father resisted. But later, once Soukhamthath started his MMA training at a friend’s urging, his father would eventually become one of his trainers. That helped to build the family atmosphere around Soukhamthath’s career that aided his comfort as he progressed. His first fight came about two years after his son passed, and he went 4-2 as an amateur before turning pro in September 2011. He also competed in boxing as an amateur, hoping to broaden his skill set.
“When my first pro fight came, I dropped the guy with my first punch,” he said. “I rocked him like three times, but he kept standing up, and I ended up losing a decision. I learned a lot about myself. After that loss I made a lot of changes. I switched camps, and it had nothing to do with camps. I just mentality just needed a different look.”
That different look led to success. After opening his career with a loss and changing camps, Soukhamthath won seven straight fights from February 2012 to December 2013, all of them in the CES MMA promotion. During that winning streak, a friend he knew from Florida traveled and did some training in Rhode Island, and he was impressed with what Soukhamthath was doing. He suggested that Soukhamthath could come train in Florida for a change of scenery and a variety in competition. Soukhamthath made his move south near the end of 2013. He suffered a loss to Kin Moy in in January 2014 before rebounding with a win in October, and he hopes his Friday fight is another step toward a long winning streak and another victory to continue honoring his son.
“This is been an important part of my life,” he said. “I can feel myself getting better and better, so I’m hoping for good things.”