The life of any athlete is filled with hardships, sacrifices and glory. For mixed martial arts fighter, Joe ‘9 Lives’ Neal, that was a part of growing up.
Raised in the heart of Richmond, Neal never knew what stability was. At the age of 9 he, along with his two brothers and mother, were evicted from the only home they had known. Neal and his brothers were sent to live with his grandmother while their own mother left.
“That was my last time saying goodbye to my mom, goodbye I love you. She just kept walking. We stayed.” That stay with their grandmother was short-lived, as the boys were taken away a few weeks later. “My grandmother couldn’t take care of us too long either because she was also on drugs, so it was only about 2 weeks with her, then all of a sudden the police came brought me and my brothers to foster care.”
For years Neal moved from foster home to foster home, never hearing from his mother. It wasn’t until he was in middle school that Neal finally heard news about his mom, but it wasn’t good.
After not seeing his mother for almost four years, Neal’s first time hearing about her is finding out that she had died. Losing his mother and not feeling wanted fueled an angry teenager, but when he reached high school a change started to occur.
“I started playing sports, football and basketball.” Finding sports wasn’t the only change for Neal. What he found helped him reach something new and led to a larger change. “I finally found a foster family that was about love, about god and that believed in me told me soon as I got there, doesn’t matter what you say what you go through, we’re not letting you go nowhere”
With a new family, new goals and a new life, Neal was earning the nickname ‘9 Lives’. He turned his passion for sports to MMA and climbed the ranks to become one of the top amateurs in California. Finishing his amateur career with a spotless 9-0 record, Neal is looking forward to becoming a professional and showing that even the most difficult upbringing can be the foundation for success.
“I look at it and I say it was hard but it was a great experience because I learned so much from it and grew so much from it, and that’s what made the person I am today.”
Nitesh Dutt is a Productions Assistant at Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter @NiteshDutt