–Kenny Rice

One has stood atop the Olympic podium receiving a Gold Medal. Another has stared into the bright spotlight tearing through a guitar riff to thousands of adoring fans. And the other has had his hand raised while a championship belt was wrapped around his waist.

They have lived out the dreams most everyone has sometime in their average life. This far above averageĀ  and diverse trio sits on the Inside MMA panel this week, a glowing reminder of the growth of MMA, how the sport continues to cross sectors of a fan base with lessening boundaries.

Wrestler Rulon Gardner, New Found Glory guitarist/producer/singer Chad Gilbert and former WEC light weight champion Ben Henderson have varied backgrounds, almost a generational age gap between and a passion for success that have driven each of them to the top at one time in their careers. And all know and appreciate what the other continues to bring to thisĀ  fraternity table.

Gardner pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history when he defeated Aleksandr Karelin for gold in 2000. Karelin had not lost in thirteen years and had not allowed a single point in six years until he met Gardner. Now after a well documented weight loss/health rejuvenation on “The Biggest Loser,” he is planning a comeback that would rival beating Karelin–making the 2012 Olympic team at age 40.

He understands MMA well, actually a 1-0 record in the sport with a 2004 victory in a Pride event. Gardner with his stellar wrestling background has long followed it through wrestling friends and acquaintances Randy Couture, Don Frye, Mark Coleman and Matt Lindland.

Henderson was an NAIA All-American wrestler launching his MMA career. Coming off an impressive unanimous decision victory over Jim Miller to go 2-0 in the UFC since losing his WEC belt to Anthony Pettis in December, Henderson is a solid bet to be getting a UFC title shot in the not too distant future. He considers Gardner a boyhood hero and he also might have found a new song to walk out to from a quick bonding talk with Gilbert.

Gilbert is the common thread of the group in being a fan of combative sports, watching Gardner while growing up in Florida working on his garage band licks to closely observing Henderson’s rise through his computer while on the road. He talks about seeing Pride fights that got his appetite whetted and how he trains in MMA now for the conditioning needed with a grueling tour schedule. The founder of New Found Glory knows the sport as well as a three chord change, even laughing about being asked to turn the volume down on his laptop as he watched the recent UFC in Rio while sitting at a London, England airport.

Ben was the obvious for a panel discussion, but Rulon’s knowledge and respect for the game and Chad’s passion and refreshing insight for it shows how much MMA continues to grow across age limits and cultural choices. It’s a diverse group this week, with more in common that one would think at first glance.
Watch Chad Gilbert, Ben Henderson and Rulon Garnder on Inside MMA, tonight at 9 PM ET on HDNet your home for MMA.

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