Fighter Series: Josiah Harrell – Sanabul Skip to content
Fighter Series: Josiah Harrell

Fighter Series: Josiah Harrell

Josiah Harrell is a UFC fighter who has a rare brain disease, known as Moyamoya. 

This disease causes the arteries in the brain to progressively become more narrow and eventually blocked, meaning that blood flow to the brain becomes reduced. On top of life threatening issues (such as strokes and seizures), this disease can also create many other difficulties for those living with it (symptoms include weakness/numbness/tingling/paralysis in the limbs, vision problems, trouble speaking with and understanding others, impulses, involuntary movement, mental delays, loss of balance)

This disease has affected Josiah since the time he was a kid in school. He would be punished and even made fun of by his teachers because he couldn’t understand what they were teaching. The treatment he received resulted in a passionate dislike for school and calling to his other interests, like sports.

Over time, some of his impulses have gotten easier to control, but overall, he says he still has a lot of difficulties with his impulsivity. This makes social settings very stressful for him, as he feels a lot of pressure to not say “the wrong thing.”

In his gym and around his team, Josiah says he doesn’t have to worry about this with them. They are very forgiving, patient, and non-judgemental of Josiah – something he is incredibly thankful for.

Living with Moyamoya, Josiah has always been conscious about maintaining good health. At first, physical health would always take priority for him, but now he realizes that in some cases his mental health has to come first.

As an mma fighter, he has to train a certain way in order to be able to maintain his health. This means no hard sparring, tapping early to submissions, and maintaining an added sense of caution. He has never been knocked out or put to sleep via submission thanks to this method of training, which is great as either of these results could have serious consequences for Josiah. Although he has only been training mma for 6 years, Josiah has experience in Muay Thai, boxing, jiu jitsu, and wrestling (which he has done since he was 11 years old). 

At one point in time, Josiah found himself to be lost in life. He was depressed and didn’t feel like he had any options for a future career after school, due to his struggles with learning. After talking with his loved ones, he decided that with their support, he would give mma a shot and headed into the combat sport not knowing what to expect. 

Up to this point in his life, Josiah says he never had a great experience with violence because of certain experiences he had growing up. His coach helped him to keep the sport simple, when he was an up-and-coming amateur: if Josiah lost, he would go back to school to wrestle. Josiah agreed to his coach’s bet, and they both soon found out that Josiah was really good at mma. Initially not the most appealing due to his history with violence, Josiah soon found a deep appreciation for mma. 

“Mma has taught me that violence can be beautiful. As I got better and as people have left/enter[ed] my life, mma stayed the constant. Eventually my love-hate relationship with it has turn[ed] into a full blown obsession… fighting loves me for now and while I can I will love it back… when fighting is done with me I will figure out what I will do next but until then I want to see what I am capable of. That’s what pushes me. I have a purpose and that purpose is to show people we are more than what we seem… we just have to believe that it’s possible.”

Belief is powerful.

Josiah says he spent way too much time believing others when they told him what he’d be, where he would turn up, and that there’s something wrong with whatever he does. The progress he has made so far has easily proven his former teachers and coaches wrong. But he didn’t come this far to come this far and he has no plans of slowing down. “I’m here to shock the world. I’m an all-in or all-out type of guy… why would I ever do something and not want to be the best? I want to be known for being genuine. That’s just the cherry on top. I want to show people that you can stay in your home town and still become world class.”

His hard work and focused training is paying off. At first, he didn’t think he’d be where he currently is. But he kept working. He did not let his Moyamoya control his life or hold him back. With Moyamoya health being the first thing in his life that he couldn’t work out, Josiah took time to slow down and take a broader look at his life. If he has something he is dealing with, he talks to God. For the obstacles he faces and the issues he runs into, he does so with a smile on his face. He does not let people see him in a negative manner or hear him complain. He strives to be a positive influence for everyone he knows and aims to be there for everyone he can. 

When it comes to dealing with the business of day to day life, Josiah credits martial arts. “Martial arts translates in every aspect of life. The best thing martial arts has ever [given] me is the ability to trust myself when things go wrong.”

From a kid struggling in the classroom to an MMA fighter competing on the UFC’s world stage, Josiah has come a long way. If there is a lesson to learn from his story, this is what he would want it to be: “Living life is about being in the moment no matter what that brings. Surviving is important but it’s not everything. Do what you think is right, not what you think other people would like you for but what you actually want to do. Who cares about what others think? If they were put off by something you did while you were being yourself, then great [they] don’t need to be around you longer than necessary. Don't be a fake you.”

Currently, Josiah is looking to get back in the cage. He gets cleared to fight in mid-late June and needs some help getting a short notice fight, as he wants to fight multiple times this year. Some ways people can help are:

- Following Josiah on instagram (@josiahharrellmma)

- Donating to (if possible) and sharing his go fund me (anything helps) 

- Making some noise on social media to get him a short notice fight


Let Josiah be an example to everyone. You will face obstacles and you may want to give up, but as long as you believe in yourself, follow your dreams, and have faith - everything will work out in the end!



Showing improvement (quote):

From a kid struggling in the classroom to an mma fighter fighting on the UFC’s world stage, Josiah  has come a long way.

“I started at a disadvantage in almost everything I did. If you couldn’t show me how to do something I wouldn’t be able to learn it. Now I can learn and understand with out needed to be walked through it like I’m 7.”