GLADWIN (WWJ/AP) – A mixed-martial arts fighter who faked his death to evade a drug dealer has been sentenced to at least 17 1/2 years in prison for a robbery at a northern Michigan gun shop.

Charles Rowan, who was sentenced Monday in a Gladwin County court, admitted he robbed Guns and Stuff in Gladwin last March, weeks after his girlfriend Rosalinda Martinez told family and friends that he had died in a car wreck while traveling to a cage match.

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When officers responded to the gun shop after the robbery, they found owner Richard Robinette lying on the floor with severe head injuries. Authorities say Rowan beat Robinette with a hammer before making off with several weapons. Martinez, who served as Rowan’s accomplice, stayed behind to call 911. She told arriving officers that she was just an innocent bystander who was also attacked. Rowan, Martinez and a third person were later taken into custody.

Rowan’s arrest stunned people in northern Michigan, especially mixed-martial arts promoters who had arranged cage matches for him and thought he was dead. They raised more than $1,000 to pay for his funeral, although there was no funeral.

Scott DiPonio, who owns the Diamond D fight team, said he realized they had been duped when he saw Rowan’s mug shot on TV identifying him a person of interest in the robbery.

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“I almost passed out. It was literally that bad. My girlfriend looked at me and immediately just started crying,” he said. “I was in disbelief. … It took me literally an hour until I could actually focus and think again. It was just unbelievable.”

In actuality, police say it was all an elaborate ruse to help Rowan evade the $80,000 debt he owed a drug dealer.

Rowan has past convictions for failing to register as a sex offender and the attempted delivery and manufacture of marijuana. The Michigan Department of Corrections considers him a probation absconder.

Robinette, who was kept in a medically induced coma after the attack, survived the severe beating.

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