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Mike Easton’s dream continues with UFC on FX main card slot

Easton making moves in 135-pound division after two years away from mixed martial arts

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

A general view of the UFC octagon is shown in this file photo.

Mike Easton's video blog from Nashville, Tenn.

Mike Easton constantly repeated three letters in his head to get him through the most difficult time of his professional life — UFC.

The Washington D.C. native missed two years of action starting in Oct. 2009 with two injuries, a severe fractured elbow and a knee ailment, that required surgery. The UFC was more than improbable for Easton. The world’s largest mixed martial arts promotion was also out of reach.

It didn’t even offer Easton’s bantamweight division for most of his hiatus, but he chose to believe that the octagon was where he’d end up.

“I told myself every single day that I was going to fight in the UFC,” Easton said. “Even when I was down and going through rough times, I told myself I was going to make it and change my life.”

Now fully healed, the 27-year old Easton could cement himself as one of the 135-pound division’s most intriguing prospects Friday night in Nashville, Tenn. Easton (11-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC) fights Jared Papazian (14-6 MMA, 0-0 UFC) on the main card of the first UFC on FX event, which airs at 6 with a lightweight main event between Jim Miller and Melvin Guillard.

Easton began his UFC career three months ago with a second round TKO victory over Byron Bloodworth in front of his hometown. His persistence is beginning to pay off.

“I had a strong belief,” Easton said of making it through his injuries and getting to the UFC. “It was destiny. This was what I was meant to do with my life.”

“Some people would have walked away from the sport because it wasn’t just the injuries. Life as a fighter is hard. You’ve got to realize this is a long road.”

Easton’s fascination with the UFC began 10 years ago. He spent a weekend in front of his television watching a free replay of pay-per-view events that featured fighters like Randy Couture and B.J. Penn.

He picked up a helpful tidbit of information that changed the course of his life.

“I noticed everyone’s ears looked funny in the UFC,” Easton explained. “They had cauliflower ear. A couple days later me and my mom went to a little restaurant, called Country Chicken, and I saw a couple of guys that all had cauliflower. I knew these guys did mixed martial arts or something to get their ears like that.”

Easton approached the group and met Lloyd Irvin for the first time. Irvin, who is one of the nation’s top Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners and coaches, happened to run a gym down the street from Easton’s home.

Easton began training under Irvin two days later. The partnership has now lasted a decade. Easton credits Irvin for molding his game to the point where the UFC recognized it.

Easton holds notable wins in regional promotions over “The Ultimate Fighter” 14 champion John Dodson and former WEC champion Chase Beebe.

The Beebe victory, however, came by decision and was highly controversial. It was Easton’s last bout before elbow surgery, which he said he underwent too late.

“My last three fights (before UFC), I was fighting with a fractured elbow,” Easton said. “I wasn’t at 100 percent. That’s why I had to take two years off to get it back together.”

It’s bad news for Papazian, according to Easton, that the elbow hasn’t flared up and no more injuries have come about in recent months.

Easton called Papazian “a brawler” and someone who would welcome the opportunity to stand and trade strikes. Stylistically, Easton says, the bout favors him.

“I think we’re both going to push forward and just keep going at it,” Papazian said on a UFC preview video of the fight. “He’s going to bring his stand-up. I can bring my stand-up. I feel like it’s going to go all over the place.”

Pushing forward is Easton’s specialty. It’s not only how he plans to stay in the UFC, but also how he got there.

“I’m where I’m supposed to be,” Easton said. “I made the commitment and look at where I am now.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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