Fighting spirit brings Justin Wren back to the cage

— -- In 2010, heavyweight mixed martial artist Justin Wren walked away from a promising fight career to improve the lives of literally thousands of suffering people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Wren, 28, finally returns to the cage this week, more than five years since his last professional bout. He faces Josh Burns at Bellator 141 on Friday at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, California.

A former contestant on The Ultimate Fighter, the UFC's reality series, Wren (10-2) spent his hiatus from MMA fulfilling an inner calling to help the Mbuti Pygmy tribes of the Congo forests obtain clean water, buy land and generally improve the quality of their everyday lives.

Wren partnered with Shalom University in Congo and founded a program called "Fight for the Forgotten." The foundation is now affiliated with Water4.org and has a 17-person staff that is dedicated to the effort. To date, Wren has helped the Mbuti Pygmies legally purchase 2,470 acres of land.

"I didn't know if I was ever going to come back [to the cage]," Wren told ESPN.com. "I'm passionate about fighting -- I want to be the heavyweight champion in Bellator -- but the work I had to get done there is more important. I had to build a team that could acquire land legally -- find agriculturists who could start farming that land. It's now to a point where I believe I can fan the flames from a distance and add fuel to the fire through the publicity that MMA brings.

"I will go back two to three times per year, usually right after fights. That will be my vacation."

Ahead of his first fight since July 2010, Wren shared moments from his six trips to the Congo region, one of which lasted for an entire year.

Mbuti Pygmy hunters

Chief Leomae's wife

First ride

Celebrating with the youngest tribe members

Luxury in the rainforest

Well celebration

Shalom drillers

Threading tape

First sip of clean water