If it ever seems like Mike Easton is almost attacking life, armed with an enthusiasm unmatched by us mere mortals, heís got a good reason for it.

ďI wasnít supposed to make it,Ē said the UFC bantamweight, who was born at just two pounds, three ounces in D.C.ís George Washington Hospital nearly 28 years ago. He recalls his mother Gina telling him that some of the babies around him were blind, while others had HIV. Even a nurse that took care of him died in a fatal car accident. When all was said and done, Easton and another child were the only ones to emerge unscathed.

So is it any surprise that Easton became a fighter?

ďMy first opponent ever was death,Ē he said. ďAfter that, a man is just a man. I could care less about who they put in front of me in the cage. Heís just a man. Heís never gone through what Iíve been through.Ē

Thatís usually bad news for Eastonís opponents. ďThe HulkĒ has won 11 of 12 pro bouts, including his first UFC match last October against Byron Bloodworth in D.C.ís Verizon Center. It was the debut all fighters dream of, winning by knockout in front of your hometown fans, and Easton says that it certainly lived up to all expectations.

ďIt was incredible,Ē he said. ďIt was a dream come true, literally. Just to fight in front of the home crowd at the Verizon Center, we packed that place out. My whole team was there, I saw a whole bunch of green and black shirts running around, and to show my support and my fan base was just incredible. A lot of people donít know that we love MMA around here, we like to fight around here, and we love combat sports. I was just happy to see that my fan support was out there, my family was out there, and it was an awesome feeling.Ē

It was the culmination of the first leg of a journey that began a decade earlier, when a 17-year old Easton walked into the Jiu-Jitsu academy of Lloyd Irvin and said that he wanted to fight in the UFC. It took 10 years, but Easton made it. And even more impressively, in the age where camp jumping is commonplace, he made it with Irvin by his side. And as far as Easton is concerned, that will always be the case.

ďEspecially as an African-American, to see what he (Irvin) has done in the community is incredible,Ē said Easton. ďHeís from this area, so he knows how all the young guys act because he was one of those young guys. And donít get me wrong, everybody has their ups and downs with their coaches (Laughs), but heís like a father figure. Itís like me talking to my dad; we have our ups and downs too. But I know he is the best coach in the world. He knows how to coach, he knows how to run a camp, and he always seems to find time for me. I got my black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Master Lloyd Irvin, and to me, Iím not going nowhere. If God forbid something happened to him, whoís gonna help keep the gym running? Iím one of his black belts; I would have to do that. Thatís my obligation and my job because itís a family.Ē

He has a tattoo of four fours to represent his commitment to his coach and his team, saying ďI pledged myself to Lloyd Irvinís mixed martial arts academy and to this team, so I have four fours on me, which represents my commitment to this team, and I ainít going nowhere.Ē Itís a refreshing notion these days, not only the idea but the practice of loyalty, and while Easton had his ups and downs growing up, as an adult, he knows that without jiu-jitsu and MMA, his current path might be quite different.

ďIím from Washington, D.C., and this is a rough area, itís a rough town,Ē he said. ďGuys do not play around here and Iíve seen a whole lot of things. Iíve witnessed friends being killed with my own eyes, Iíve got friends in prison right now, and I have to do certain things so I can prove to these guys out here that you donít have to do anything negative to make it out here.Ē

Easton talks about getting wrestling and boxing put into local schools, a great idea but one that is unlikely to happen anytime soon given the current cultureís resistance to anything that might involve physical contact, even though nothing builds (and reveals) character more than sports that involve putting yourself on the line in a one-on-one combat situation. But even without that dream becoming a reality, Easton can still do plenty for his community just leading by example.

ďMy whole goal is to change peopleís lives and to try my best to be a good role model,Ē he said. ďIím still human, Iím not perfect, but I can still teach and talk to these guys. What you do is what you do, but at some point, things have gotta change, especially for the inner city community.Ē

His greatest example may just be his persistence. Surviving after being born at two pounds, three ounces is impressive enough, but taking the long road to the big show in MMA showed plenty of grit as well, especially considering the two years he lost due to injury.

ďThis is always what I wanted to do, and I wasnít gonna let anything stop me,Ē he said. ďI had a two year layoff because I had a fractured elbow, and my last couple fights before I signed with the UFC I was fighting with a fractured elbow, but I was winning and doing my thing. But it came to a certain point in time where toughness just wasnít gonna do it. I had to make sure I had to get my body healthy again, and now Iím back at 110 percent and Iím ready and raring to go.Ē

Friday night, Easton looks to make it two in a row when he takes on Jared Papazian on the FX-televised main card. Itís a huge opportunity for both men to showcase their skills on television, and even though Papazian is a late replacement for original opponent Ken Stone, for Easton, his goals remain unchanged.

ďIt doesnít change anything up,Ē he said. ďNothing ever changes my gameplan. If anything, they have to worry about me. If he wants to stand up, thatís awesome. I heard this guy is more of a slugger, which kinda puts him in a bad predicament. Iím used to striking, Iím a high level striker, and itís what I like to do. I got pinpoint accuracy, I pick people off when I have to, I slip real good, and heís used to fighting guys that just stand there and slug with him, with no head movement or none of that.

ďHeís got his beliefs that heís just gonna come in and destroy Mike Easton,Ē he continues. ďWell, he has a whole Ďnother thing coming to him because Iím a professional. Iíve been through an eight week camp, a hard grind, battling through injuries, and no manís gonna stop my destiny, and my destiny is to be considered one of the best guys in the UFC. And at some point in time, Iím looking at the belt; thatís the ultimate goal, to be the number one guy. So Iím taking it one fight at a time, Iím not rushing anything, and Iím gonna make a believer out of him.Ē

Easton pauses, almost as if to reflect, and when asked if heís ready to be ďthat guyĒ to inject a new level of energy into the bantamweight division, he answers immediately in the affirmative.

ďIím probably one of the hypest dudes ever, and I get it from my dad,Ē he laughs. ďMy dad is hype like that. Iím considered the top hype man in MMA, right? Well, I learned that from my father. My dad is my number one hype man, and he has me ready to punish anyone. It doesnít matter who you are, doesnít matter where youíre from, I donít care. When I talk to my dad, he makes me believe that I am the best in the world. I believe that myself, but then you have your dad telling you this, and heís been telling me Iím the best since I started doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and mixed martial arts.Ē

Can you really argue with Mike Easton Sr.? No, because his son has been training for this since he was born. Literally.