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7/24/2008

This past weekend, an interesting twist occurred in the increasingly popular and highly exposed sport of MMA (mixed martial arts). The UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) aired a free "Fight Night" event on Saturday in response to a pay-per-view supercard courtesy of former UFC sponsor and clothing manufacturer Affliction and its newest partner in crime, Adrenaline MMA. The event, "Affliction: Banned," drew roughly 100,000 buys and featured several former UFC competitors and champions. It was the first big swipe at UFC's PPV crown.

But, this was far from the first attempt at making a splash in MMA. UFC has reigned for the last three years since its rise to prominence, even earning enough monetary assets to purchase former rival (and purist favorite) PRIDE Fighting Championship out of Japan. Yet this was not their first acquisition. That would be WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting), a promotion focusing on smaller weight classes. Rumors are now abound that UFC will purchase IFL (International Fight League), a financially troubled promotion that offers a "round robin" approach to matches featuring teams of three.

So for a promotion to challenge UFC so boldly is a big move in the world of MMA. You can't easily move an 800 lb. gorilla. But despite UFC's powerful alphabet soup of promotions, there have been others besides Adrenaline MMA just this year to try and make a splash.

EliteXC (that's Elite Xtreme Combat) immediately comes to mind, as they have scored a deal with CBS and have tried to ride high off the brand equity of YouTube's favorite brawler, Kimbo Slice. Strikeforce has also struck up a similar network deal with NBC. HDNet Fights has been airing for almost a year now, and even one of UFC's co-founders managed to develop and establish YAMMA Pit Fighting in hopes of grabbing a piece of the pie his baby failed to produce in the early days.

This sport really seems to be taking off, huh? Used to be only the big names like Chuck Liddell were known in the mainstream. Now the likes of Anderson Silva, Fedor Emelianenko and Georges St. Pierre are trickling in as well.

It shouldn't surprise the unbiased observer too much, MMA is, for most intents and purposes, providing jaded, mostly casual boxing fans with an alternative to the sweet science. I know many boxing fans are die-hards never to be swayed, and that's great for them. For many others who are not loyalists, however, the sport is becoming a fair haven for fights. It's also generating a new generation of die-hards all its own.

But MMA serves as more than just a fun beat-'em-up sport for half-hearted fight fans. I don't think people realize, but it also provides an interesting metaphor for success in life.

Versatility and flexibility.

See, in boxing, there's clearly technique and different styles involved. But in MMA, it's more than just punching. It's Muay Thai (kickboxing), Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (submission grappling), wrestling and many, many more styles that go into the mix. To truly be a great competitor, you had best be versatile. There are a few guys who do one thing but do it really well. Then you take a guy like Anderson Silva who not only has great striking ability, but phenomenal Jiu Jitsu to boot, and you have a true winner.

Silva is a perfect example of versatility. Not only is he the current UFC Middleweight Champion (185 lb. limit), but he just made his Light Heavyweight (205 lb. limit) debut this past weekend in dominating fashion. You try packing on 20 lbs. of additional muscle in, oh, six weeks and see how it affects your speed and timing. It's not easy.

That is the thing we really lack in life: versatility. We do the same thing day in, day out with no adjustments to our routine. It makes for stagnation, which leads to mental, physical, even emotional atrophy. We need to stay sharp in all aspects of life. Sure, relaxing is great, but staying active provides many more benefits.

Most importantly, we need to be versatile and especially flexible in our thinking. If we become to structured, our brain becomes more of a template than a working tool, doesn't it? Sure it does. How hard is it for people of older generations to break the mold of "old school" thinking on certain issues. People, the times change, and we need to change with them or else you'll find yourself writing an early will.

It's tough to keep up with the technological and scientific advances in the world today, but keeping up with the thinking is a true challenge. There are no constants anymore, and really there never have been.

And we definitely need to be flexible emotionally. I mean, life throws you curve balls, people. You can't sit and wait for the ball to careen into your shoulder. You have to be ready to duck, catch, hit it, do whatever you can to avoid getting beaned. MMA teaches you there are more than one ways to skin a cat, but also more than one ways a cat can get skinned as well. If you find yourself in the middle of a clinch and then suddenly on the ground under pressure, you need to know the methods to escape or reverse your predicament. Sticking to "what you do best" won't always work.

If life really is a fight, permit me to put it in a context that fighters and fans can understand: know how to dodge a punch when you're standing, take down a problem when it's vulnerable and block when mounted fists are reigning down.

Sure, the violence in the cage can get ugly... but then again, so can life sometimes. Be prepared and stay on guard, folks.