Local MMA Heavyweight Fights for Enslaved Africans

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DALLAS  -- This week, Justin Wren, best known for fighting in the octagon,was signing his just-released book for fans in Dallas.

Flipping through the pages, you can read his life story that starts with his childhood in Crowley, Texas.

"Growing up as a boy, I got heavily bullied," Wren explained.

That led him to become a heavyweight mixed martial artist starring in season 10 of UFC's Ultimate Fighter.

And then, things fell apart.

"Using all kinds of opiates. Getting drunk all the time, even before training. Had a cocaine problem," Wren said.

He got sober and started looking for his next fight.

"Sounds crazy to a lot of people, but I said, 'God, what do you want me to do with my life?'"

Hitting him like a roundhouse kick, Justin had a vision.

"I saw myself in the Congo. I was walking down a little bitty footpath. I heard this awesome drumming, and then I heard this beautiful but very distinct singing," he explained.

Wren  told a friend about his dream and found out he was organizing a trip to the Congo to help a tribe in trouble.

"He told me about their suffering, that they had no clean water, that they were starving. The tribes around them hated them and enslaved them. The rebel groups believed if they could kill, cook, and eat the Mbuti Pygmies that there would be supernaturally bullet proof. And then he asked, 'Do you want to go?' I was kinda blown away, like who would want to go there?"

But the more he thought about it, the more he wanted to go.

So, Justin Wren, who is 6'3" with bushy red hair, headed to the Congo to meet a tribe they call the Pygmies -- a derogatory term because even grown men are barely 5 feet tall.

"For me to walk in there, it's kinda terrifying.  I've even been called half-man-half-lion," he said. "I've had them running, screaming, and having them hide behind trees. I've had men draw back their arrows.  The kids, they're playing with my body hair -- my arm hair and my facial hair."

But then things got serious.

"The chief pulled me over to the side and said, 'Nobody knows about our suffering.  Can you help us have a voice?  Everybody else calls us the forest people, but we call ourselves the forgotten people.'"

Justin decided he would be their voice. His next fight would be for the forgotten, especially the kids.

"Oh my gosh! These people are suffering. I saw their ribs poking out. I saw that they were thirsty."

He came back to Texas, started a charity called "Fight for the Forgotten," and then he moved to the Congo.

"I wanted to live with them, experience their culture, share in their suffering."

It didn't take long before he found out the biggest danger these kids face.

"Nearly 5,000 children each and everyday die of just dirty water. It's worse than Ebola. It's worse then Cecil the Lion.  It's worse than all the stuff we focus on."

He had found a new adversary and returned to the United States to raise money.

"I came back after that second trip saying I got to do something and I knew it had to do with water."

Over 700 folks stepped up.

"Through crowdfunding, we were able to raise $53,000.  What I thought it would do was buy 300 acres of land and drill two water wells, but that's been multiplied," Wren explained. "To date, we've done 2,470 acres of land for the Pygmies. We have a full-time staff of 17 team members.  We're about to go up to 20.  They've drilled 25 water wells in the Congo."

After five years of fighting for the forgotten, Justin is continuing the fight at home.

"I am back to fighting. I fought two weeks ago. I was the featured heavyweight fight on Spike TV, and I won."

He plans to spend the next five years back in the Octagon and is donating his win bonuses to what he calls his family in the Congo.

Part of the proceeds from his new book, co-written with a New York Times best-selling reporter, will also go to buy land, dig wells, and fund food initiatives.

"That's what I'm most excited about. I hope it changes someone's life whoever picks it up, but I am excited it's going to change lives in the Congo."

You might not think someone who delivers bone crushing blows in the MMA world would turn into a gentle giant in the Congo.

"I love them, and now I am family with them. My name is Efeosa Mbuti MangBo. Efeosa means the man who loves us. Mbuti mangBo means the big pygmy.'

Yep, the big Pygmy with an even bigger heart.