Ed Ratcliff was a basketball and football star in high school, but those sports were never more than pastimes for him.
His passion was fighting, which shouldn't be much of a surprise; Ratcliff's mother, Lacine, was a karate expert who began teaching him karate as soon as he could walk.
He used to spar with her in their living room and says she knocked him down on more than one occasion.
"My mother started in karate back in the '70s and in those days, there weren't many women doing it, so she had to spar with men all the time," Ratcliff says. "She was used to that. It was no big thing to her."
It's Ratcliff who's doing most of the damage these days. He's adapted his karate skills to mixed martial arts and stands on the precipice of a shot at the WEC lightweight title. A victory over Marcus Hicks on Wednesday at WEC 33 at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas would make Ratcliff the logical contender for Jamie Varner's first title defense.
Ratcliff and Hicks each are undefeated, and each has finished all of his professional bouts via KO, TKO or submission. Ratcliff expects nothing different on Wednesday.
He professes great respect for Hicks, a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu who fashioned a 5-4-1 record while boxing professionally. And while going to the ground with Hicks may not be the smartest strategy for Ratcliff, he insists he's prepared to fight Hicks wherever he needs to.
"I've never considered myself just a karate guy, because I realized at a very young age the need to be multi-dimensional," Ratcliff said. "You need an answer for every situation and that's how I've trained."
Ratcliff, at heart, is a striker whose fast hands and hard kicks make him one of the WEC's dangerous men.
He pummeled veteran Alex Karalexis in a brutal assault in their bout in December. That win, over the highly regarded a cast member of "The Ultimate Fighter 1," opened plenty of eyes.
"Ed is so quick and he can overwhelm someone who isn't prepared for it," WEC matchmaker Scott Adams said. "His hands are probably some of the fastest in this sport. And he's kind of unorthodox with some of the things he does, some of his kicks."
Brett Cooper would tell you he's more than unorthodox. Ratcliff used a spinning back kick to the head to knock out Cooper in their December 2005 fight. Ratcliff calls it his spinning hook kick and says he has spent hours working on it.
In that fight, Ratcliff came out of the spin in perfect position and caught Cooper on the side of the head, instantly knocking him out. The video has been viewed more than 4,000 times on YouTube.
"It took me a while to get that kick down," Ratcliff said. "But it's second nature now."
He fired one at Karalexis that seemed to turn the tide in that match. Ratcliff, though, says Karalexis managed to avoid the shot.
"I think it passed by just in front of his face or myself over his head," Ratcliff said. "It definitely didn't land. I land that and you would know it for sure."
He may need to limit the kicks against Hicks, because kicking a jiu-jitsu expert could lead to a quick submission.
But whether it's with his hands, feet or some other part of the body, Ratcliff says he'll be looking to end the bout.
"The fans, the media, the promoters, they all want to see you finish the fight," he says. "They love knockouts. I don't want to be the guy that is in there laying on someone and grinding out a win. I want to do spectacular things and get guys out of there as soon as possible."