From BMX to MMA, X Games phenom TJ Lavin lives for the adrenalin.
TJ Lavin is one of the best BMX riders to ever touch a pair of handlebars. The 34-year-old “King of Dirt” has won gold medals at the Summer X Games and is a CFB, DK Dirt Circuit, and Gravity Games Champion. He’s also one of the sport’s few athletes to cross over into the mainstream, having hosted 10 seasons of MTV’s Real World/Road Rules Challenge.
Sadly, however, his days of claiming BMX championships may be over. While competing at a Dew Tour qualifying event in his native Las Vegas, Nevada, on October 14, 2010, Lavin lost control of his bike when attempting to land a “nac nac combination.” He crashed and was immediately knocked unconscious. Lavin was taken to a nearby hospital where doctors placed him in a medically induced coma to reduce the swelling in his brain. He also shattered his wrist, broke a few ribs, and developed pneumonia.
Fortunately, Lavin survived, but he was knee-deep in medical bills. Unexpectedly, he received help from an old friend—UFC president Dana White, who began organizing a charity fundraiser to help cover expenses while Lavin was in the coma.
“I woke up to Dana doing that for me,” says Lavin. “I didn’t even have a clue. I didn’t ask him for that or anything. He just did it. If I didn’t have health insurance, I would’ve really been in trouble. Sometimes, you get into a wreck and you really don’t recover from it. You just spend the rest of your life paying for it. For Dana to help me out like that, I’ll never forget it.”
Lavin has close ties to the MMA community, and living in Vegas, he encounters quite a few fighters on a daily basis. For instance, he waved at his neighbor Wanderlei Silva while sitting at a stoplight the other day. He’s taken Pilates classes with Forrest Griffin, had morning workouts with Frank Trigg, ridden bikes with Roy Nelson, and met Frank Mir at the gym, who later brought him to Cobra Kai Jiu-Jitsu to train BJJ. The BMX rider also has lunch with Hawaiian mixed martial artists Kendall Grove and Troy Mandaloniz whenever they’re in Sin City.
His closest MMA buddy is Gray Maynard, who is now also his business partner. The two recently launched Forgiven, a natural and chemical-free alcohol metabolizer that provides minerals, nutrients, and organic acids for the body to breakdown the by-products of alcohol consumption.
“Forgiven is a pill that helps your body metabolize the alcohol and the acetaldehyde in your system,” says Lavin. “It helps clean out your body of all your toxins. It’s available in most convenience stores in Las Vegas, and within the next six months, it should be available nationwide at CVS, Wal-Mart, and Walgreens. The product is also available at TakeForgiven.com.”
Friends and business aside, Lavin has been avidly following MMA ever since watching the first UFC in 1993 and feels a direct connection to the culture because it parallels BMX.
“It’s an individual sport, which is something that I really like,” Lavin says. “BMX is an individual sport, so to me, it’s a no-brainer. That’s one of the reasons I love MMA. The harder you work, the better you do, and it solely depends on you if you win, lose, or draw. It’s 100 percent up to you. There’s no luck involved. You just put in the work and you can do it.”
Lavin even dabbled in various disciplines before his accident. He trained BJJ at Cobra Kai Jiu-Jitsu and boxed quite a bit in his backyard with former Lightweight and Super Featherweight Boxing World Champion Diego Corrales.
Most recently, he has worked as an MMA color commentator for amateur fight promotion Tuff-N-Nuff and pro-upstart Superior Cage Combat. “I love it,” he says. “At the last SCC, they had me go in the ring and interview the winners, which is really cool because I never got to do that before. It was pretty fun.”
While Lavin’s passion runs deep for MMA, his first love is BMX. The dynamo hasn’t ridden since last year’s accident because of head trauma, and still suffers slight memory loss. But if he doesn’t touch the handlebars again, it’s something he is okay with. “I can’t ride or anything,” he says. “I haven’t ridden for a year. It’s still a little too early. Everything feels way too fast, and I’m just not ready, so I don’t know when I’ll be able to ride again or if I will. If I can, great. Then I’ll definitely do it. But if I can’t, then I’m alright with that too. I’ve come to terms with that. It’s something I have to deal with and it sucks, but I’ll just have to find my fun in other things, like racing trucks.”
Even if Lavin doesn’t ride competitively again, he could have a new career awaiting in the MMA media world if he chooses to travel that path.
TJ Lavin never knew who would be knocking on his door. Celebrities and spectators randomly showed up at the 34-year-old BMX rider’s house where he used to practice tricks on his backyard track, which contains an assortment of trails and dirt jumps. A few years ago, the knocking came from UFC president Dana White and his family.
“Dana and his kids came over,” Lavin says. “I have a pretty significant track in my backyard that people like to stop in and check out. So, one day, we were riding back there and a family pulls up in a car. Dana jumps out with his kids, because they wanted to check out the riding, and we were like, ‘Cool. No problem.’ They checked it out, hung out, and had a lot of fun.”
Just like that, a friendship was born.