Rondel Clark could hardly contain his excitement.
The former Westborough High School football player had found another passion, mixed martial arts, and was training hard for his second amateur fight in Plymouth under the Cage Titans promotional banner.
“Everything I do, I do for you guys,” Clark wrote in a Facebook posting last month. “That’s why nothing fires me up more than looking out from the ring and seeing all your faces in the crowd. If you can make it, I’m fighting Ryan Dunn in Plymouth, MA on Sat Aug 12.”
As the fight drew closer on Friday night, Clark posted a photo of himself training in a pool and wrote, “The hard part is over. Now its time to go and do what I love. . . . Tomorrow we go to war!”
The fight would end tragically.
Clark lost by technical knockout in the third round and was carried out on a stretcher before being taken to a Boston hospital, where he died Tuesday.
The 26-year-old’s death was the first fatality linked to a sanctioned mixed martial arts event in Massachusetts. It was also the first death related to a fight card overseen by the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission since Saugus boxer Bobby Tomasello collapsed and died after a match in 2000, officials said.
Plymouth County prosecutors are investigating Clark’s death along with local and State Police and the athletic commission. His cause of death was still undetermined Wednesday, said a spokesman for the state agency that oversees the medical examiner.
Also Wednesday, Cage Titans president Michael Polvere spoke publicly for the first time about the tragedy and said commission doctors told him Clark wasn’t killed by any blows he took from Dunn at the event, which was dubbed Cage Titans XXXV.
“One hundred percent, this isn’t a case where this kid took way too many blows or was injured due to strikes, submission holds, or anything like that,” Polvere said. “For all intents and purposes, this is a tragedy [and] there’s more questions than there are answers right now. What medically went wrong, we have questions as well, but our thoughts first and foremost are with Rondel” and his family.
On Tuesday, Cage Titans had said in a statement that Clark died from unspecified “complications following his” fight. Polvere said he had no further information about the nature of the complications and stressed that mixed martial arts events are “heavily regulated,” with fighters required to obtain medical clearance before each card.
Cage Titans has never been sanctioned for any violations in Massachusetts, according to Chris Goetcheus, a spokesman for the state Division of Professional Licensure, which oversees the athletic commission.
Attempts to reach Clark’s family for comment were unsuccessful Wednesday.
Dunn also could not be reached for comment. He replaced his Facebook profile photo with a picture of Clark on Tuesday.
The two men fought at 170 pounds, and Clark entered the contest with a 1-0 record. Dunn’s record heading into the fight was 0-2. Commentators who called the match, which was streamed online, told the Globe Tuesday night that Clark started fast in the opening round but slowed noticeably as the bout wore on.
The two commission doctors who served as on-site physicians for the fight both have clean disciplinary records, according to Goetcheus and the online state licensing database.
“I cannot comment at this time whether proper procedures were followed by them as this continues to be a fluid investigation,” Goetcheus wrote.
One of the physicians, Dr. Edgar Ballenas, lists addiction medicine as a specialty area, the state database says. He could not be reached for comment. The other physician, Dr. James Kotick, declined to comment. Kotick specializes in general and plastic surgery, according to the database.
Polvere said Clark had won his first amateur fight in under 30 seconds in June with another promotional company in New Hampshire.
He was “always smiling, a happy-go-lucky kid,” Polvere said. “He enjoyed spending time with his family . . . and had a great support system. He was a happy-go-lucky kid, truly pursuing a dream.”
Cage Titans, in the company statement posted to Facebook, said the “MMA community lost one of our own” with Clark’s death.
“Rondel was a cherished soul throughout his athletic career, known for his utter tenacity on the grid iron, grappling mats, and inside the MMA cage,” the statement said.
The Westborough High football team also lamented the death of their former player on Twitter.
“WHS is deeply saddened by the passing of former Ranger football player, Rondel Clark,” the team tweeted. “A tremendous young man and athlete!”
A celebration of Clark’s life is planned for 10:30 a.m. Saturday at First United Methodist Church in Westborough, Polvere said.