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MMA Athletes are tough

Why top MMA athletes are as tough as they come, but they're anything but thugs

To many people who aren't familiar with mixed martial arts, the sport is seen as a no-holds-barred human cock-fight between two mindless thugs.

The reality couldn't be further from the truth.

The sport consists of an amalgamation of a host of martial arts and combat sports disciplines - many of which are Olympic events.

Boxing, Tai Kwon Do, Judo and wrestling are commonly used, as are other respected martial arts like Karate and Jiu Jitsu.

The mix of disciplines required to become a successful MMA fighter means competitors must attain a level of fitness and technique rarely found in other sports.  Most sports require one skill - MMA requires several.

As for the athletes themselves, they come from a diverse range of backgrounds.  Some have transitioned into the sport from other sports such as American Football, boxing and kickboxing; while others have simply extended their skillset from their speciality, be it wrestling or a single martial art.

One such example is Brazilian Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida, whose Karate background has proved a solid base from which to develop his mixed martial arts career.

In the sport of mixed martial arts fighters are forced to constantly evolve and develop their skills.  Despite being world-class in one discipline, these competitors train to world-class levels in two, three or sometimes four different disciplines in order to succeed at the very highest level. 

And far from being mindless thugs, the athletes involved at the top of MMA are some of the most dedicated and committed competitors you'll find in any sport.

While fighting in MMA is undeniably one of the toughest sporting tests one can face, for some it'll never match the commitment and danger they've faced earlier in their careers.

A classic example is this is welterweight contender Paulo Thiago.  The 31-year-old Brazilian trains MMA at every available opportunity as he seeks out a title shot in the UFC's 170lb division, but his day job is far more demanding.

As a member of BOPE, an elite special operations battalion of Brazil's military police, Thiago and his colleagues face grave danger every time they embark on an operation.  It's a background that he claims helps him as a competitor inside the cage as he has become used to remaining calm during the most stressful of situations.

Another fighter who has experienced mortal danger during his former career is UFC middleweight contender Brian Stann.  The former US Marines captain is one of the most impressive individuals I've encountered in any sport.

The way he carries himself, the respect he has for his opponents and, notably, the universal respect he receives from others marks him out as a special individual.

That respect comes from his career in the Marines, where he spent over 1,000 days serving his country in Iraq.  His involvement in one particular exercise, dubbed Operation Matador, saw Stann receive one of the highest accolades an American military officer can receive, the Silver Star.

In this remarkable video, Stann recounts the incredible story behind that mission.

Fighters like Machida, Stann and Thiago have moved into mixed martial arts and succeeded not because they're psychopathic meatheads.  They've succeeded because they're the complete opposite.  They're dedicated, they're level-headed and, most of all, they're supremely talented.

Thugs and meatheads may enjoy watching MMA (plenty enjoy watching football too, by the way), but let's be honest here - they wouldn't last five minutes if they took on a world-class MMA fighter.

The sport may be tough - and so are the athletes - but don't let their toughness overshadow their dedication and talent.  In that regard they'll have most other sportspeople well and truly beaten.