VIDEO | Blind BJJ Fighter Finds Inspiration from B.J. Penn, Florian Brothers

May 10, 2012 7:31 am by George Deutsch

Shannon Cantan is in many ways a typical young athlete with dreams of mixed martial arts success. A Hawaii native who transplanted to Boston, he grew up idolizing fighters B.J. Penn and Kenny Florian.

In high school he ran track, played football and competed on the wrestling team. More recently he has found success in the world of martial arts, taking home two bronze and two silver medals at local Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments.

Yet Cantan’s competition has one advantage that he doesn’t. Eyesight.

Cantan suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that can leave sufferers blind at an early age. Boston’s Fox25 profiled the fighter this past weekend following the “UFC on Fox 3” card, and what became clear is that Cantan is a tough, driven competitor who serves as an inspiration to many.

“I don’t have any usable vision while traveling, really,” he said recently as he rode Boston’s subway — known as “the T” to locals. “But the T’s [been] my best friend since I moved to the city.”

Cantan’s daily commute takes him to Boston’s Florian Martial Arts Center, where he trains under Ken Bailey and Keith Florian, brother of UFC star Kenny Florian.

“Besides B.J., Kenny was probably my second favorite fighter,” said Cantan. “I got excited when I met him, and then he told me he had an academy. And I’m like, ‘you do?’ So I hopped on a train and found my way to their academy.”

In training Cantan, Keith Florian has seen his student’s blindness function more as an advantage than a hindrance.

“If anything [his blindness] is almost like a benefit,” said Florian. “His sensitivity takes over … I feel like it’s almost something that’s an advantage for him. [People] will find out real fast that they can’t [take it easy] with him.”

Cantan says his next challenge is earning a gold medal in competition, but Florian says his young student has already achieved great things in the world of martial arts.

“He’s someone to look up to. He’s someone to revere, that [says] ‘Hey, listen. I may have a small setback, but I can achieve just as much, if not more, than anybody else in this gym.’ And he proves it all the time.”

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