A Pacific athlete has become an overnight sensation as a fighter and has opened the community’s eyes to an unusual sport, the Ultimate Fighter championships.

Justin Lawrence first came onto the radar of local sports enthusiasts as a Pacific High School wrestler, where he won bout after bout in his weight group. He had the same success in the boxing ring winning Golden Gloves titles.

Lawrence then segued into mixed martial arts and won his first fight in 2010 in a bout that announcers predicted. The video of the match is still played on MMA web pages.

“He doesn’t rush his opponent,” one announcer said. “He’s already experienced so he knows what to expect.”

This year he leapt into a new game, the Ultimate Fighter Championships (UFC), where he quickly emerged as a fierce competitor.

“I’d never even heard of this sport,” said City Administrator Harold Selby. “My wife came home with a CD and said, ‘You have to watch this.’ ”

Selby’s wife is not the only local promoter the young fighter has acquired. Alderman Mike Pigg contacted The Missourian, as well as friends and acquaintances before every bout, saying, “You’ve got to see this kid.”

What Pigg kept encouraging people to see was Lawrence competing, as the underdog, inside an ultimate fighter cage in hand to hand combat.

Walter Arnette, an enthusiast in all sports, also began to watch the progress of the Pacific athlete.

At 5 foot 8 inches, 155 pounds, with a disarmingly innocent countenance, Lawrence does not look like an MMA cage fighter. He goes by the name the American Kid, a title which suits his humble style.

He posts happy tweets about how good he feels after a morning workout and is unabashedly religious, sporting a Bible verse tattoo blazoned across his shoulder “2 Corinthians 2:19.”

The young fighter, now 22, is the son of Benny and Dawn Voiles, who own 21st-Century Self Defense, a popular gym at 117 N. Columbus St. that offers instruction to all ages.

Voiles, a former professional fighter, started training Lawrence in kickboxing when Justin was in first grade and has guided his adopted son to six kickboxing national titles.

At the July 3 board of aldermen meeting, the city presented Lawrence with a plaque and a standing ovation, recognizing his achievement is combative athletics.

“He may not look mean,” Selby said, “but he’s just unbelievable in the cage.”