Monday, May 24, 2010

Don't wait to pay tribute to your loved ones & friends

Hard to believe, but coming up next week on May 31st is the fourth anniversary of the passing of the late great Ryan 'The Hitman' Bennett. For those unfamiliar, especially new MMA fans, with who Ryan Bennett was, he was a major contributor and pioneer in the world of MMA. 

A former sports broadcaster, he was a visionary who loved this sport and saw the potential it had long before the growth it has experienced to this point. He was one of the first to have a website and internet radio show devoted strictly to MMA, where now you find them a dime a dozen. He also was an employee of the UFC, working as an interview and backstage reporter from UFC 33-UFC 40. 

The following is a tribute piece I wrote on June 6, 2006, one week after his passing, for an opinion column I used to write in a local newspaper. I'm so happy I now have this worldwide forum to share this tribute to someone I called and considered a friend, even though we actually never met.

How often does it happen? Unfortunately, too much. Tragedies such as accidental death and illness are a sad part of life, but what makes it even worse is waiting till they happen to let someone know how you truly felt about them. In circumstances such as death, it is all too late.

As everyday passes and I continue to get older, my mortality seems to become more prevalent in my thought process. Part of that is realizing now that life is very short, even if you are able to live a long one. Whether we live long enough to witness grandchildren or become an unfortunate victim of the aforementioned tragedy, what is most important is that we make it count while we are here.

This past week I suffered the loss of a friend. Now let me clarify the definition of friend. I did not grow up with this person, nor did we see each other from time to time; truth is, we never formally met in person, yet we spoke often over the telephone numerous times during the week. This person's name was Ryan Bennett. While the vast majority of you may not know who this man was, he was a minor celebrity of sorts.

He was, until recently, a sportscaster for an NBC affiliate in California. He then became the lead broadcaster and head of production for an up and coming cable channel called 'The Fight Network'. However, I came to know him through his daily Internet radio show called 'Soundoff' on MMAWeekly Radio, which mainly covers the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.

For more than two years I listened to Ryan's show religiously from noon to 1PM, Monday-Friday, as I worked at my desk. Over that time span, I became a regular caller to the show exchanging opinions on various topics mostly regarding the sport. What endeared me to his show, along with countless other listeners around the world, was Ryan's knowledge regarding MMA, his quick wit and uncanny ability to make you feel welcome and part of the show whenever he opened up the phone lines. It got to the point that when I would call, I didn't even have to identify myself because once he heard my voice he knew it was "Sam from Pennsylvania."

Last Thursday I sat at my desk ready to listen to the show as I always did at noon, only this time it did not come on. When I went to the website to see if the show was cancelled for the day, I was stunned to find out that Ryan was killed in a tragic car accident as he drove with his wife and four children on an interstate in Utah. He was 35 years old.

Luckily, his wife and children have survived. I wondered why this bothered me so much. I never met this man face to face, yet it hit me hard and personal. Then, I realized it made no difference that we never formally met. A bond and even a friendship had formed over time, one that went beyond radio show host and listener.

As my natural sorrow over his passing continues, I have found solace in knowing one thing. A couple of weeks ago, I e-mailed Ryan as I would do from time to time. Only this time it was to tell him that I appreciated all his efforts regarding his radio show and how happy I was for him on his new opportunity with 'The Fight Network'.

He thanked me and told me how much he appreciated my e-mail. Luckily for me, I did not wait until it was too late to let him know how I felt. So today when you come across someone that is dear to you, maybe you should consider that tomorrow just may be too late.

I want to publicly state that I feel Ryan Bennett should be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame posthumously, for his many contributions to the advancement of MMA, his part in the growth of the UFC and his unwavering support for this sport that he loved so much. RIP my friend. Easy!

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