By GEORGE WILLIS
I have a new favorite mixed martial arts fighter. His name is Donald Williams of Minnesota. Sorry, Frankie Edgar and Amanda Nunez. I’m on Williams’ bandwagon after listening to his riveting testimony in the Derek Chauvin murder trial this week in Minneapolis.
The trial of the former police officer who held his knee against George Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes and caused worldwide outrage began Monday in a Minneapolis courtroom. Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020, sparked a movement that still continues with protests for social justice and police reform. Only now are we understanding what bystanders went through that day as they watched in horror as Floyd died right before their eyes. Williams was one of those bystanders, who came upon the scene at 38th and Chicago Avenue. Williams, 33, was heading to a neighborhood convenience store when he came upon a group of officers on top of Floyd, who was handcuffed with his face pushed into the pavement.
Williams pleaded with Chauvin that he was killing Floyd by cutting off the oxygen to his head. He knew this because Williams is a martial artist. Tapology lists his MMA professional record at 6-6. His nickname is “The Deathwish.” He hasn’t fought since March 23, 2019, when he lost by triangle choke to Jesse Wannemacher. His only bout prior to that was in 2016. Yet, Williams’ MMA training taught him about chokeholds, and how and where to apply them. He also knows how people look when they’re being choked. How their eyes glaze, and how their body goes limp. That’s why he knew Chauvin’s knee was cutting off the blood supply to George Floyd’s brain in the opinion of Williams
During those tense minutes in South Minneapolis, Williams could be seen on video at first trying to rationalize with officers, and then growing more frustrated at being ignored as life escaped Floyd’s body.
“You’re a bum, bro. You’re a bum,” Williams calls to Chauvin. “He’s not f—ing moving. Get off his f—ing neck.”
Williams is 5-6 and fights as a bantamweight. Tapology says he trains at the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy. He stuck to his story on the witness stand, describing as he watched in horror has Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck. There were questions on the stand about being an MMA fighter and chokeholds and the effects of chokeholds. Williams said he told Chauvin, he had a “Blood choke” on Floyd. Chauvin just looked at him, Williams said, prompting the famous photo where Chauvin is actually looking toward the crowd. Williams said his training taught him what was going on and that Floyd was in danger. But if Williams went too far, he knew his own life would be in danger.
Defense attorney Eric Nelson tried to paint Williams as being angry and threatening when in fact he was just the opposition. He called Chauvin a bum 13 times, according to the attorney, before cursing him as Floyd began to die. Officer Tou Thao, who kept his eyes on the crowd and often had one hand on his mace gun, at one point put his hand on Williams’ chest. Williams can be heard on the video warning he would slap Thao if he puts his hands on him again, but restrained himself from further incident. “I grew professional and stayed within my body,” Williams said. “You can’t paint me out to be angry.”
Chauvin is facing charges of second and third degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He could spend up to 40 years in prison. What we’ve seen from witnesses called thus far is the trauma they still feel over watching the incident. Nelson has painted them as an unruly crowd when the video shows them obeying Thao while growing intensely concerned about Floyd’s welfare as Chauvin kept his knee on his neck. “You’re enjoying it,” Williams tells Chauvin on the video. “He’s not responsive right now. Is he breathing? Check his pulse. He hasn’t moved.”
Williams showed more restraint than the police did. Being a professional fighter gave Williams the discipline to resist taking matters into his own hands. The incident could have escalated into much more than it did. More lives could have been lost. Instead, he stayed professional even if it haunts him to this day. The trial is expected to last from three to four weeks.