Some stories stop you. They take root inside you and never leave you. They inspire you and maybe even change you. This story is one of those.

Eric McMahon is a Memphian formerly of Mesa, Arizona. There, he was living a normal life working sales and “going nowhere” until an announcement during the local news one evening caught his attention: open auditions for the Phoenix Suns Trampoline Dunk Team. That’s all it took. Out of 40 hopefuls, despite having no gymnastics experience, he was the only one that made the team. “Maybe they saw my potential?”

Eric traded going nowhere for going everywhere. Flying on the court and worldwide, he landed in Athens, Greece, for the 2004 Olympic Games and in China for the FIBA (International Basketball Federation) World Championships representing Team USA. However, when his professional momentum led to an opportunity in Memphis, Eric made a move and started a new chapter, one he could never have imagined.

Within six months, the symptoms began. His illness persisted through various treatments, and his doctors were stumped until a pulmonology referral finally produced a lead.

“You probably have cancer.” 

And just like that, Eric was a cancer patient.

In December 2007, he was advised to go home and spend the holidays with family before moving forward. However, Eric saw no reason to delay, and hours later, his first bone biopsy revealed Stage 3b Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Within four days, Eric had gone from a soaring athlete to receiving his first chemo treatment and, in the following months, endured an intensive regimen. Then things got worse.

When a new excruciating stomach pain began, he considered it a side effect of the treatment until a routine doctor’s appointment sent him immediately to the hospital. He had developed a GI infection. Of the six weeks that followed, he spent three in the ICU, lost 50 pounds, was fed through a tube, and endured sepsis, kidney failure, two collapsed lungs, liver failure, and extreme muscle atrophy. The last resort to save Eric’s life was to remove his colon, but one of his physicians pleaded, “Let’s observe just one more day.” 

Miraculously, Eric showed enough improvement the next day to continue letting nature take its course; his road to recovery was underway. He was bed-bound in the hospital as the 2008 Super Bowl approached. “All I wanted to do was stand up for the national anthem with my own strength. That was my Everest. I knew I would be just fine if I could do that.” That day family, friends, doctors, and nurses pulled aside his tubes and cords and maneuvered his legs over the side of the bed. With their support, Eric rose. Eric stood. 

In July 2008, he was officially in remission. 

What does one do with a second chance at life? Win his first MMA fight with a first-round knockout, of course. “It bothered me that people said I was mentally strong for having gone through cancer. It wasn’t my choice. I wanted to find out for myself if I was mentally strong, so I started training in mixed martial arts.” He transformed his body from a near-lifeless shell into a machine. Driven by competition with others and himself, he began disciplined training with Memphis Judo and Jiu-Jitsu. His training eventually earned him two fights (the second was also a first-round knockout) through a Memphis-based MMA league: formerly V3Fights.

Not enough? He holds a World Champion title in the blue belt no-gi competition, an International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation blue belt World Champion, and Pan American Games purple belt Champion. Now, as a brown belt, he holds the third-place title in the Pan American Games and is second in the world in no-gi competition. Furthermore, he is the 2018 American Cancer Society’s Inspiration of Hope Award recipient. Eric continues to train daily at 5:30 a.m. at Memphis Judo and Jiu-Jitsu. And he is part owner of Collierville Fitness Kickboxing and Memphis Fitness Kickboxing, where you can find him instructing and inspiring among the bags.

He encourages anyone facing a physical illness to trust the symptoms; don’t delay potentially life-saving care. He credits his mental toughness to his family and friends, who support him daily. “To be mentally tough, you must be positive, and surrounding yourself with strong-minded people will keep you in that mindset.”

Eric enjoys a full and active life in Memphis with his wife Jamie, 4-year-old son Ethan, and daughter Kyle, who will be two this summer, just in time to celebrate his 15th anniversary of being cancer-free. 

For more information visit or call 901.609.1991 

By Amanda Tompkins 

Photo by Tindall Stephens