ST. LOUIS — What started as a frustrating return trip to the grocery store turned out to be a heroic moment that Jesse Finney won’t soon forget.
The professional MMA fighter says he helped catch a man attempting to steal several bottles of alcohol at a Schnucks grocery store by grabbing and pinning him to the ground until police arrived.
The incident allegedly occurred on Dec. 23 when Finney, owner of Finney’s MMA training facility in Crestwood, Mo., and Finney’s HIT Squad in Illinois, was heading back to the grocery store for the second time in a matter of hours. He had already gone once to get flowers for a friend in the hospital when his wife, sick and six months pregnant at home, asked if he could go back to get some chocolate.
As luck would have it, his return trip put him in just the right place at the right time. As the 38-year-old Finney made his way toward the door, he says he saw a man running the wrong way out of the entrance. After the man apparently pushed a female worker to try and get away, Finney says he instinctively grabbed him by his coat as he went by.
“The lady was trying to stop him and he was yelling at her to get off him and was cussing at her and she said, ‘No, no, stop,’ ” Finney told FOXSportsMidwest.com. “This happened in a matter of like 30 seconds, but finally I just grabbed him by his jacket and said, ‘You’re not going anywhere.’ He was trying to get away, but I told him to chill out and finally I just picked him up and slammed him to the ground when he was trying to get out of his jacket.”
Finney, who holds a 23-0 kickboxing record and a 6-1 professional MMA record, said his instincts took over as the crazy scene unfolded. He says he used a foot sweep to pin the man to the ground as a group of Christmas carolers, Salvation Army bell ringers and grocery store shoppers looked on.
The man apparently began to bleed after one of the bottles of alcohol he attempted to steal shattered inside his jacket during the fall and cut him, but Finney continued to hold the man against the ground until police arrived.
“I didn’t know what he did, all I saw was him pushing on the lady to try to get away and I didn’t know if he had robbed her or the store or what had happened,” Finney said. “I was holding him on the ground and he was cursing me out and saying what he was going to do to me, but I just held him there until the cops came.
“He had six bottles of Grey Goose on him and one bottle of Absolut, and that bottle busted and cut his arm. He was bleeding really bad. They took him away in ‘cuffs. At the end of the day it was kind of embarrassing because it happened right in front of all these people and there I am holding this guy down for like five minutes.”
Finney says store workers asked if he was an undercover cop, only to find out that he’s the owner of a nearby MMA training facility and one of the top fighters in St. Louis.
Reports of the incident spread quickly. MMA.tv, the world’s largest MMA website, featured him as the lead story on its front page. He walked out of lunch Wednesday to find 17 text messages waiting for him from friends and other fighters.
The Sunset Hills-Crestwood Patch reports that Frank Arnoldy, deputy chief of the Crestwood Police Department, couldn’t confirm Finney’s version of the supposedly heroic act until sifting through details of the police report.
A store loss prevention specialist told the newspaper that a customer had stopped an shoplifting attempt.
“We do not encourage this type of intervention from our customers,” Lori Willis told the Patch. “Customer safety and teammate safety is our top priority.”
Finney said it never crossed his mind that the man could have had a gun until his wife asked while he told her the story later that night.
“Really it was just natural instinct,” Finney said. “I think any guy would do that if he saw him pushing the lady to try and get away. It was natural instinct. It was the same thing that any guy would do.
“If I would have known he had a gun, I probably would have done the same exact thing. You are always taught to never put your hand on a woman and when he started pushing her, I’m just glad I didn’t start punching the guy.”
Finney said his gyms offer training in boxing, mixed martial arts, jiu-jitsu, kickboxing and wrestling. Local professional athletes including former Blues Cam Janssen and Reid Lowe, as well as former Cardinals star outfielder Jim Edmonds among those who have trained at his facility.
More information on Finney’s Crestwood training facility can be found at www.FinneysMMA.com.