Last night at the George C. Eccles Ice Center, no truer champion could have been crowned.
In front of a crowd of supporting mixed martial arts fans, 4-year-old River Bassett entered the Mountain Force MMA’s heptagon cage to be given his own personal championship belt for his ongoing battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Held in the arms of his father, River was walked around the perimeter of the cage with belt in tow while “We are the Champions” pulsed over the loudspeakers. Flanked by MFMMA fighter and family friend Caden Phelps, Phelp’s head coach, Christian Nava, and a handful of other supporters, the Bassett family was also presented with a donation of $300 by MFMMA President Juan Pablo.
“I told River, ‘I’m going to keep fighting as long as you keep fighting,’” Phelps said in an interview. “He’s not going to give up, he’s going to make it through this — I have no doubt.”
On Oct. 8, 2017, River was diagnosed with leukemia after complaints of stomach pain. Since that day, he has undergone regular chemotherapy treatments. River's mother, Brittney Stuart, said since her family was unfamiliar with the disease, the diagnosis began a frightening learning curve.
“When ever your child is diagnosed with a potential life threatening illness,” Stuart said, “you wonder if it’s something you did or didn’t do.”
The doctors said the diagnosis was out of the family’s control, that the family couldn’t have done anything to prevent the disease.
Now, Stuart said, River is in a difficult phase of his treatment — a phase that is taxing his small frame. She said he sleeps most the day due to the chemo, but his prognosis is looking positive. Stuart is hopeful for June, when River will enter the maintenance phase of his leukemia treatment — which means less chemo and fewer doctor’s offices.
“That’s when they get their hair back,” Stuart said. “It’s a little bit more normal just because we’re not constantly at the doctor’s office like we are now.”
Phelps, who won his MMA debut at light-heavyweight earlier in the night, grew up with Stuart and her family. For Phelps, learning about River’s condition hit close to home.
Phelps informed Nava he planned to dedicate his debut MMA fight to Bassett and planned to bring him cageside for the event. Being a parent himself, Nava was moved by Phelps’ plans and decided to take it a step further.
“I was talking to him in training: 'We need to make a belt for him, I know where we can do it,'” Nava said.
Nava’s boxing gym, Alpha Set Boxing, along with Stackd Fitness sponsored the purchase of a personalized belt for Bassett. For Nava, it was an opportunity to give back to the community.
“To me, it means a lot to help another Cache Valley member,” Nava said. “If I can help them out, I’m gonna do my best.”
Other family friends took it upon themselves to set up a crowdfunding campaign to help the family weather the blows that medical bills can dish out. Since its inception, 19 supporters have raised $1,660 of a $5,000 goal.
Stuart said the family has been humbled by the outpouring of support.
“With all the crap that’s going on in the world, you realize that there is good.” Stuart said. “It doesn’t even necessarily have to be money or anything like that, but having the community come together and just make River feel like a million bucks — you know, that is amazing too.”
Phelps and Nava both plan to keep up their support for Bassett and his family as their fighting careers continue.
“I’d just like them to know that they are not alone,” Nava said.
Donation information can be found on Bassett’s Facebook page, River Strong, as well as youcaring.com/riverbassett-976480.