Inner fight: the story of Chris 'Bukwas' Anderson

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Chris Anderson stands on a K'ómoks First Nation beach looking into Bukwas, the western First Nations character he has embraced to inspire his mixed martial arts work, a few days before the World Welterweight Championship fight.

Over the course of two weeks photographer Jennifer Osborne followed Anderson's final preparations for the July 14, 2018 match at the Hard Rock Casino in Coquitlam, B.C.

Here is his story.

Chris “Bukwas” Anderson is a professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter from the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia. He is a member of the Namgis First Nation, of Kwakwaka'wakw people, and he chose to embrace and represent his culture by using the "Bukwas" First Nations character, which roughly means the “wild man of the woods” in Kwak'wala.

This name is no stretch.

Anderson is one of Canada’s top-ranked middleweight and welterweight MMA fighters, outside the Ultimate Fighting Championship realm. He was named the most dominant fighter of the Battlefield Fight League, a mixed martial arts organization in British Columbia. Standing on the beach, he has experienced a 12-fight win streak with no actual loss so far in his career, beyond a tie-breaker loss.

Before the fight, Bukwas sat on the beach situated on the K'ómoks First Nation reserve and contemplated his struggles and his achievements. He often comes to the beach, to burn sage and prepare mentally for his fights.
Chapter 1

Strength in community

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Anderson isn't alone. His strength is in community, comradeship and loved ones. But his journey into this sport was not easy.

It came as an escape from heavy drinking, living on the streets and generally getting up to “no good” as a teenager. No matter whether his match is won or lost, Anderson has won the battle over addiction.

Community service is a large part of Anderson's career. He is dedicated to Indigenous youth and has used his winnings to help community recreational centres fund sports equipment. He hopes to share the meaning he has found in his journey as an athlete with Indigenous children who may also be searching for some kind of direction or outlet.

Anderson trained with his coach, Bill Fraser, along with other fighters, in Courtenay, B.C., during his last official training session before the World Welterweight Championship fight.

Anderson exchanged a few final words with coach Bill Fraser before leaving the Courtenay studio, after the last official training session before the scheduled fight against Dejan Kajic a few days later.

Chapter 2

A life-long journey

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Anderson's journey of empowerment is one of support, especially from long-time partner Kailyn Regner.

Chris Anderson and Kailyn Regner are as inseparable during training as they are in life. They set sail from Vancouver Island to Coquitlam in the Lower Mainland, where the Battlefield Fight League World Welterweight Championship fight took place.

Anderson's long-term life partner and manager, Kailyn Regner, is always present, whether as he trains in their backyard or on the road towards championship fights.

Regner took a picture of Anderson in their hotel room before a weigh-in. Fighters in most fighting sports go through this sometimes controversial process. Some have to shed up to 20 pounds before weigh-ins, leading to health risks in extreme cases.
Chapter 3

Anticipation

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Spiritual preparation is critical with an individual smudging before the match, outside the Hard Rock Casino in Coquitlam, B.C.

Smudging is a ceremony practiced by Indigenous peoples which consists of burning herbs for spiritual cleansing or blessing. Anderson performs a smudging ceremony before fights or travels.

The Battlefield Fight League octagon at the Hard Rock Casino in Coquitlam, where Anderson faced contender Dejan Kajic.

There to the end. Regner helped Anderson prepare a test hand wrap before the match.

Anderson fully became Bukwas on his final, public walk out to the octagon ring. In the final moments before the fight he performed the Bukwas ceremonial dance, a traditional winter dance depicting the mythical character that he learned from his cousins. It has become his signature introduction to the ring in the Battlefield Fight League.

Anderson prepared to face contender Dejan Kajic and defend the World Felterweight Champion title. Bukwas had defeated Kajic once before in 2017.
Chapter 4

It's only a match

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Win or lose, this is only a match. The real battle is already won.

After a fierce round of back and forth hits, the referee stopped the fight and declares a technical knock out (TKO) in Kajic's favour. Anderson is faced with his first real defeat in the professional circuit

Even though it was Anderson's first real defeat and it was hard to accept, nothing changed in his world. Regner remains steadfast in her support, his community and comrades are still there.

Two weeks after the fight, Anderson was taking a break for the time being. The training regimen for fighting is hard on the body and rest is needed, but he said he'll be back at it next year.