Will Starks (LFA)

LFA 152’s Will Starks: From ‘Soldier of Christ’ to ‘Philosopher King’

A lot of monikers for combat athletes are just plain cheesy. No disrespect to some of the greats, but how many “Icemen” or “Dragons” do we need before we start getting more creative. A moniker can be more symbolic and individualistic if enough thought is put into it.

Missouri native Will Starks is a very intelligent and cerebral MMA athlete – more so than the majority of fighters out there. So, when he changed his moniker recently, it wasn’t on a whim.

“For most of my career, up until my last fight, I was using the alias ‘Soldier of Christ,’ as was inspired by scripture in the New Testament of the Bible – 2 Timothy 2:3,” Starks told Combat Press. “Brief background on that, it was the Apostle Paul on his deathbed speaking to one of his one of his pupils. He was speaking to Timothy about the end times, and what the signs to look out for, and how to be prepared. He had used the term, ‘soldier of Christ.’ It’s about know putting on the whole armor of God, and just being strong and steadfast. From a logical standpoint, my interpretation was that I am well-trained and prepared to either fight on the homeland, or to be deployed anywhere at any time – to protect, or to go to work, or to go to war. Christ was a title that signified perfection.


“I’m not on social media anymore, but based on my searches and my transition to neuroscience prep, I started to see changes in my news feed on social media – you know, different ads and whatnot popping up. One of the philosophy pages that I followed at the time had highlighted Plato’s writing the Republic and talking about the Philosopher King – the ideal ruler or the warrior scholar. It was a man who had been in the trenches, with real world experience, in addition to political experience, but can also sit down and think critically. He can think with scientific rigor to ensure that any political decisions made on his behalf are grounded in truth and logic. The title Philosopher King, to me, captured so much of what I was striving to identify as a soldier of Christ. It made sense as the next step in my evolution as a person and a fighter to adopt a new alias. There are new shoes to fill out.”

That might seem like some heavy thought for your average MMA fighter. But, Starks is not average by any means. He is a deep thinker, and he is always striving to educate himself. And, his story is pretty unique. He grew up primarily in Columbia, Mo. and has one younger sister. He was, by no means, a lifelong martial artist.

“I was a normal kid, interested in video games and just being outside,” Starks said. “Actually, if I do think back, I was big into skateboarding for a period of time. Like, when I first got interested in MMA, I was also interested in pursuing a skateboarding career. I wasn’t great, but it was a habit, you know? I’d get home from school and even skip homework to go outside and skateboard for however long I could before it got dark or cold, or I just got exhausted or hurt.

“I started running long-distance track in seventh grade. It was really the only sport I felt I had a natural affinity for. I did, in a in a very nerdy fashion, practice traditional Okinawan Karate kata in my bedroom. I had a print-out sheet that I would do in the mirror on my closet. But, long-distance running was just the sport that fit at the time.

“I didn’t have an interest in mainstream sports. I tried baseball and basketball growing up. Ironically, before we moved to Columbia, we lived in Ashland, Mo., and I was one of maybe three black guys in the town and also the worst basketball player on the team. There’s some irony there. I just wasn’t great at ball sports. Actually, I discovered pretty quickly that what I was really looking for was just more play time – like, more time to actually be doing the thing, as opposed to waiting for the action to come to me. So, cross country made sense. I wasn’t super fast. I definitely was not big, growing up. I was short and on the scrawny side, so it made sense.”

Skateboarding, long-distance running, and bedroom kata work doesn’t exactly scream, “future MMA fighter.” However, MMA as a sport was something that started to intrigue Starks when he was younger. This eventually lead him to one of the best bases for MMA athletes.

“I was a wrestler my senior year of high school, after a cross country and long-distance track career,” Starks explained. “I continued by walking on to a [NCAA] Division II wrestling team. I trained in their club MMA on campus in preparation for my first amateur fight back in 2012. I was 18 years old when I started formally training mixed martial arts. I was captivated at a young age. I was, like, 11 years old when I saw UFC Unleashed back when they had it on Spike TV, and I just wanted to do it. Wrestling was the most reasonable avenue back then, as I idolized Georges St-Pierre and had heard about how important wrestling was as a turning point in his career. That was really my only means of accessing martial arts training at the time, so I started there.”

At the University of Central Missouri, Starks would join the MMA club practices at the recreation center that were primarily run by former fighter Nick Cruse, along with another coach who was a jiu-jitsu and karate practitioner. So, when he had time between wrestling and school, he practiced with them to develop MMA skills.

Starks made his amateur debut in Apr. 2012, and five years later, he was 5-1 with all but one fight ending in first-round stoppage. This put him in the IMMAF, where he went undefeated in nine combined fights in Jul. 2015 and Jul. 2016, picking up IMMAF World Championships those years. He also has one other win at an Arizona Regional event in Apr. 2016. In four years, Starks put up an amateur record of 15-1 with two world titles. That’s not too shabby for a guy that ran cross country in high school.

In Jan. 2017, Starks finally made his pro debut when he faced Jose Andre Cortes for Titan FC. He won that fight, and by Nov. 2022, his pro record sits at 8-3, including a 3-1 record under the Legacy Fighting Alliance banner. At LFA 96, he picked up a notable win over Viacheslav Borshchev, who went on to fight in the UFC. With 27 fights under his belt, Starks is well into his career at only 29 years of age.

“I like where I’m at as far as my martial arts skillset,” Starks said. “If I reflect on my amateur career, I had my IMMAF experience back in 2015 and 2016. It was a fun time, you know, getting to represent the country and feel like that was part of something big and up-and-coming – potentially, like a future transition into MMA as an Olympic sport. That was cool, and I got a lot of experience. I have a lot of amateur fights, and I do think that paid off in making the transition to pro a comfortable one.

“But, maybe, I suppose my only regret would be maybe not having more pro fights, and whether that would be accomplished by chopping off the last third of my amateur fights. I stand at 8-3 right now, and that could potentially be 18-3 with more money in the bank account – you know, getting paid, as opposed to fighting for free as an amateur. I had a three-year hiatus – just injury and transitioning across the country and not really knowing how to balance things. Maybe I could have amassed three or four fights during that time too. But, overall, I’m in a pretty happy place. I’m healthy in mind, body and spirit, and I get to do what I love. I’m at a pretty cool point in my career right now – opportunities potentially abound.”

The last fight for Starks was at LFA 147 last November. He picked up a first-round TKO over Ben Halder. It was also in November that UFC veteran, and then-owner of Glory MMA & Fitness, James Krause fell into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, when he became entangled in a gambling investigation. Fighters who were training under Krause were effectively banned from certain organizations and commissions, and he eventually had to sell his ownership stake in his gym. Unfortunately for Starks, he had been training at Glory when this happened, and he had to pivot.

“I started training at Next Generation MMA, in Frisco, Tex., in 2016,” Starks elaborated. “In 2020, I moved back to my hometown in Missouri to resume MMA training in my hometown when quarantine hit. My other line of work is massage therapy, and that kind of shut down or whatnot, so it kind of forced me back home for a period of time to get back on my feet. From 2020 until last year, I was at my home gym, and then I moved to Kansas City to train at Glory MMA. I had just shy of a year with them, and then my last fight with LFA – before, you could call it, ‘the fall of Glory’ happened – after talking with all the coaches and my agent, there were some really cool developments here at Next Generation that were initiated by the head coach Chris Brennan, and this became the best spot for me. Actually, the week before last, I just went ahead and made the move down here.”

The Philosopher King will be back in action tonight, when he faces Manny Muro as the co-main event at LFA 152 at the Grand Casino Hotel & Resort in Shawnee, Okla. Muro – whose moniker is coincidentally “The Dragon” – is coming into the LFA after a 3-1 run in Bellator. His only Bellator loss was to now-lightweight champion Usman Nurmagomedov. The Oklahoma-based fighter is 36 years old, 13-7 as a pro, and all but two of his losses have been by stoppage. Starks knows as much about his opponent as he thinks he can.

“I won’t know anything for certain until I get in there with him,” said the Missouri native. “I’ve studied up what he does. I feel that he’s another tough challenge, just like many of my opponents in the past. And, feeling that way has inspired an even more diligent training camp on my behalf.

“Most of my time is just spent being the best martial artist and athlete I can be. When I’m presented with a challenge, it just narrows the lens or the parameters within which I focus my training. I guess, a good comparison, or a good parallel, to draw would be the specificity principle in sport science. The closer you get to competition, the more you train specifically for that competition.”

In addition to UFC and Pride veteran Chris Brennan, Starks has also been working with Krause’s longtime striking coach Austin Ford at New Generation. As a committed athlete, he trains a lot, but he also has a career outside of training and fighting.

“I do online training and nutrition,” said Starks. “My niche is combat athletes. I don’t work with many, just because, for timing reasons, I do 30 to 32 hours of MMA and strength-and-conditioning training, so that takes up a good portion of my time. I also do massage therapy.”

Starks has an affinity for exercise, training, and just about anything related to the body and movement science. He started studying that while in college, but stopped studying there. However, he recently got back into school at Collin County Community College in Texas with a renewed focus.

“I’m in college now,” Starks explained. “I’m a certified trainer, nutritionist, and I have like 50-plus continuing eds in, like, movement science, bioenergetics, and pain specialties. Obviously, I also have my massage therapy license. I started school back at UCM, studying exercise, sports science and nutrition, but I really just didn’t see enough utility in going to college for that degree, when there was so much overlap in non-university exercise education. So, now I’m in school building a pre-neuroscience degree. I’m at the end of my Associate’s for computer science and information technology, and the plan, as of now, is to major in philosophy, potentially minoring in biology and psychology, and then moving on to grad school for bioinformatics and eventually computational neuroscience.”

Starks and his girlfriend Kaitlyn have started their new life in Texas, along with their two puppies Milo and Tito, and life is good. They are very focused on the future, and they are quite busy.

“She is also a massage therapist, and she’s in school right now, building her degree program focusing on early childhood development, and is interested in psychology as well,” Starks said of Kaitlyn. “She doesn’t really have a clear-cut route as to what type of career she wants to go into. And, she trains MMA, but focuses on boxing. She really enjoys punching people.”

With 2023 under way, and already halfway through the first quarter, Starks is focused on his goals for the year. Obviously, beating Muro is the first order of business, but he has a broader focus for the year as a whole.

“What I’m really focusing on is just ensuring that, every time I fight this year, I’m present and just able to display the full spectrum of my capabilities,” said Starks “I think that that’s the most important thing. That’s a piece of advice I think I would give to every fighter at every stage of their career is just focusing on doing their very best to translate all of their training into competition.

“Without looking too far ahead, I think it would be nice to be signed with one of the big four this year. That, to me, is a realistic goal. That’s my career path.”

Tonight, live on UFC Fight Pass, Starks will be ready to put his skills on display as the co-main event of LFA 152. A win will certainly put him into the spotlight, as a successful career in LFA almost always leads to a contract with one of what he calls the “big four” – UFC, Bellator, PFL and ONE Championship.

“I have a very complete skillset on top of being a great athlete, and if you enjoy martial arts of all types and enjoy seeing spectacular feats of athleticism and heart, then this is absolutely the event to tune into.”