At 5'10'' and 155 lbs, Din Thomas looks like your average, fit 30-year-old, not a 10-year veteran of one of the nation's most violent sporting events, the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
This series of international, competitive mixed martial arts events known as UFC, as its name suggests, is not for the faint of heart.
The UFC began a little over a decade ago with the goal of determining the world's "Ultimate Fighting Champion." The organization rounded up the best-skilled fighters in the various disciplines of all martial arts, and held its first tournament.
"UFC actually originated in order to see which fighting style was the best, and, at that time, it wasn't mixed martial arts, but style versus style," said Thomas, in an interview with ABC News.
Over the past 14 years, however, the UFC has developed into a series of 12 to 14 annual matches, broadcast live on Pay-per-View throughout the U.S., and internationally.
Although still described as "in its infancy," the UFC, which is owned by Zuffa LLC, has grown exponentially throughout the years, attracting more than 19,000 people to a recent UFC event in Columbus, Ohio, and pulling in record ratings for a martial arts telecast.
In many households across the U.S., however, the sport of mixed martial arts, or MMA, is relatively unknown.
An intense combat sport — in which competitors use interdisciplinary forms of fighting, such as jiu-jitsu, judo, sumo, karate, boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, and many others, to their strategic and tactical advantage — MMA is constantly evolving, combining disciplines to develop new maneuvers and techniques.
"Most people have heard of the UFC," said Thomas. "However, they haven't studied it enough to really understand the rules, the regulations, or the procedures."
With relatively few rules, and virtually no padding worn by its contenders, the UFC is as tough as it gets, and so are its fighters. The violence and intensity of the sport are, in fact, the appeal for many UFC fans.
A typical UFC match consists of three five-minute rounds, in which contenders fight each other until one person either gets knocked out, submits, or, in the event that both walk away from the match, the judges declare a winner.
Widely criticized for its brutality and lack of regulations, the UFC does, perhaps surprisingly, have rules. Some of them seem obvious — no head butting, or eye gouging, or shots to the groin allowed.
But other rules, most of us would never think of, such as no "putting a finger into any orifice, or into any cut or laceration on an opponent," or no "timidity, including, without limitation, avoiding contact with an opponent, intentionally or consistently dropping the mouthpiece, or faking an injury."
Not surprisingly, Thomas disagrees with the characterization of the UFC as unsafe. "A lot of times, people like to criticize the UFC, and they like to [point to] the violence of it. In my opinion, it's no more violent than any other sport. … what I do isn't anymore violent than, say, football," he said.
For Thomas, who headlines tonight's latest UFC fight in Las Vegas, the appeal of MMA and UFC lies in both the physical and psychological challenge. Enticed into the martial arts field after seeing a few UFC matches on TV, Thomas got his start in 1996.
"It just looked like something interesting," he said. "It showed a smaller guy defeating a much larger guy. At the time, they didn't have weight limits. Because I'm a smaller guy, it was something that I wanted to do."
Thomas credits the UFC's rising popularity with the sport's ever-changing nature, both in terms of players' techniques and the match outcomes.
"I feel that MMA has gotten so much attention and popularity, because of the unpredictableness of the UFC and its matches," he said.
"You can never know when a match is going to end. There are so many different ways to win, and there are so many different things that can happen. So many outcomes. So unpredictable. People really want to see that."