Fight of his life: Norfolk 5th grader takes cancer bout to mixed martial arts

Posted at 11:29 PM, Sep 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-06 00:20:12-04

NORFOLK, Va. - Ten year old Brandon Latham is in the fight of his life.

Brandon Latham at UFC Gym Norfolk

Latham, a fifth grader, has stage four Wilms Tumor - the most common type of kidney cancer in children. And as he battles the disease, with chemotherapy pushing his body to the limit - Latham is pushing his body to the limit by training at the UFC Gym in Norfolk.

"Punching the punching bags," Latham says smiling when asked his favorite part of his mixed martial arts (MMA) workouts.

While Brandon knows when to take a break, when it comes to what he can and can't do - the buck ultimately stops with his mother, Michelle Beattie. The bond between Brandon and the UFC Gym actually starts with her, too. Her tattoo.

Michelle Beattie displays her Team Brandon tattoo

"That day in the coffee shop, I could feel them staring at me," Michelle recalled while explaining her experience earlier this year at an area Dunkin' Donuts. "I need to get out of here. Why are these people staring at me?"

The "people" were Dave and Leann, friends of the UFC Gym. They noticed a ribbon and Brandon's date of diagnosis on Michelle's arm.

Through Dave's relationship with Coach Nelson Lebron, within days Brandon had a free membership to the gym. It's a one-two punch. Helping a cancer patient keep his mind off chemo while packing some perspective for those around him.

"Always keep trying," Brandon said when asked what other children battling cancer can learn from him.

"You're never too old to set an example and you're never too young to set an example for others," Coach Lebron added.

"It makes me feel like anything is possible," Michelle said while fighting back tears. "I'm one lucky mom."

Brandon Latham with Coach Nelson Lebron

But there's another round to this fight. During our visit with Brandon at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, we learn - while playing video games can do a "good" job of lifting his spirits, special visitors can do a "super" job.

Coach Lebron and staff of the UFC Gym organize a visit from superheroes, including Dave the Minion and Batman.

"This is the best day ever," Brandon said with a large grin on his face.

Latham may be in the fight of his life, but he's not fighting alone.