What the pros are thankful for

Every year at this time, people pause to gather with friends and family and ponder that for which they are thankful. Those who populate the mixed martial arts world are no different.

Sherdog.com recently caught up with dozens of professional trainers and fighters and asked them to discuss what they were most thankful for this holiday season:

Erik Paulson: I'm thankful for big seats in first class on American Airlines. Also, I'm thankful for our freedom thanks to our troops. God bless … hoorah! And I'm thankful for one more thing: Living on Earth in the best of times the entire human race has ever experienced. Think about it. We have the best of everything and are as spoiled as s---! Be truly gracious for your great life, as many others were never so fortunate as we. Say "thank you" and smile!

Royce Gracie: Hello from the Philippines! I'm thankful for being born into the Gracie family in Brazil; to have Helio Gracie as my father; to be able to live in the USA, where I met my wife and raise my kids; and to be able to travel the world doing what I like: teaching Gracie jiu-jitsu. What a life!

Dan Hardy: I'm thankful for my health and quality of life, my girl and my family. I'm thankful to be a part of the UFC and all of the fans that support me. Oh, and to Carlos [Condit] for the wakeup call to get my s--- together and refocus on training.

Travis Lutter: I am thankful for a lot of things: my family, being able to fight as long as I have and the opportunities that have come with it.

Chance Farrar: I guess that I'm a pretty simple guy. I'm thankful to be an American and to have the opportunities that I've had in life. I'm thankful to have been raised by my parents, who loved my siblings and I and taught us to understand the importance of liberty and the freedoms that our country offers. I'm thankful for my brothers and sister, who are my best friends. I'm thankful for the handful of additional friends that I consider family. I'm thankful to have had great mentors and coaches throughout my life, each teaching me different things but consistently that dedication is above all omnipotent.

Alan Belcher: I am obviously thankful for my eye healing and having a great doctor, Dr. [Chris] Semple! But above all, I'm thankful for my amazing and beautiful family: Ashlee, Savannah and Baby Ava.

Nam Phan: I am thankful to have such a loving family and being able to make a living doing something I am truly passionate about.

Charlie Brenneman: I'm thankful for my life. I am living my dream. Without my family, girlfriend Amanda, friends and loyal supporters, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing. People don't realize what it takes to compete at the highest level of MMA. It's not just me; it's my team -- fight team and trainers, sponsors, generous supporters. There are people who give so I can spend my time working toward one goal -- becoming my best; people like my strength coach, Don Messing, and Dr. Tom Boorujy, a friend, chiropractor and overall supporter. These guys help my world go 'round. I'm thankful for good old Hollidaysburg, Pa., my hometown, for all of their support, and, lastly, Cambria Martial Arts, where it all started.

Sam Hoger: I'm thankful for the blessings the Lord has bestowed upon me to help improve the lives of those around me at Hoger MMA.

Brad Imes: I'm thankful for my beautiful wife and baby-girl-to-be, who will be arriving in March; thankful to be living in the greatest country on Earth; thankful for a great job in this tough economy; and thankful that every once in a while people give a damn what this old has-been has to say. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. God Bless.

Jorge Lopez: I'm thankful for my family, friends, fans and the sport that makes my life complete -- MMA.

Mike Whitehead: "You will never have to work another day if you get paid doing what you love." I am thankful for my family, friends, health and that I get paid doing something I love.

Roli Delgado: This year, I have been very thankful for what martial arts has brought to my life. Of course, I am thankful for my health, mother, son, etc. Lately, I have been very thankful for the lifestyle being a coach and competitor has brought me. A little over four years ago, Matt Hamilton and I thought we could run a great program here in Little Rock, Ark. I never would have thought we would end up with competitors in the UFC, Abu Dhabi [Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships] and Strikeforce. Fighting has allowed me to travel as a coach and competitor and meet some really great people. The networking and friendships that I have developed create a fellowship I have come to love. I travel to Connecticut a lot now and work with CTMMA and C3 Athletics and get to enjoy training with awesome people. I work out in Memphis, Tenn., with Memphis BJJ, train at Genesis BJJ in Dallas, Fight Sports and soon CheckMat in Florida and a lot of other great places. I feel like I have a home in almost every city, thanks to this sport. Finally, I am thankful to have supportive people in my personal life who allow me to travel and bring awesome competitors to our gym, especially my coach and business partner, Matt. He never complains when I have to go out of town to train or work. When I want to bring someone in to work with us, like Densilon Pimenta a couple weeks ago, he never bats an eye. When loyalty goes both ways, we can all have some real strong, beneficial relationships and enjoy this awesome life martial arts brings. So thank you to my coach, Matt Hamilton, my students at Westside MMA and all of my friends across the world that open their gyms and homes to me.

Scott Lighty: I am thankful for training partners that let me punch them in the face, and I'm thankful that they are OK with it. I'm also thankful for my supportive girlfriend.

Juanito Ibarra: I'm thankful for God being in my life and for God putting his hand on me and protecting me. I love people, but I'm very thankful for being a believer and having God in my life, protecting me and my family. So that's what I'm thankful for. I'm also thankful for seeing how this sport has grown and for Sherdog.com taking the time out to do something like this.

Dan Caldwell (Punkass of "Tapout"): I'm obviously thankful for all of my friends and family who put up with my s---. And I'm thankful because I feel so lucky to be able to do what I love, but this year, being thankful means focusing on helping other people and giving! There's nothing like that feeling to make you feel thankful!

Rob McCullough: I am very thankful for having the opportunity to have a career with my passion. The thrill of competition and the dedication that goes into the training is what I live for. This Thanksgiving, I'm also very thankful for being able to support my family with the fruits of my labor.

Mike Ciesnolevicz: I am thankful for an amazing family and friends that have supported me in my dreams of being a professional MMA fighter. I am thankful my parents pushed me to go to college and get a degree first. I am thankful for all the troops who have fought for our country over the years and gave their lives for us. I am also thankful for my health because life can oftentimes be short, and I have lost a few friends in the past few years that died way too young and unexpectedly. I am thankful that I was lucky enough to find my soul mate in life, my future wife Valerie, who makes me a better person every day and always has my back. Lastly, I am thankful for the Canadian version of a Bloody Mary, only a hundred times better, called a Ceasar. I am also thankful for chocolate-covered almonds and anything to do with coffee.

Ray Elbe: I'm thankful for all the opportunities fighting has given me. I have traveled the world making friends and can't believe that I have called Thailand "home" for the past three years.

Ron Foster: I'm thankful for so many things. First and foremost, I thank God for my health and my loving friends and family; my wife, Rachel, my son, RJ, and my two daughters, Raechyll and Sydney, who support me in all I do. I love you guys! I've been active duty Army now for going on 15 years and have missed countless holidays, birthdays, weddings and other special occasions, so it's such a blessing just to be able to spend this holiday season with my friends and family. I'm thankful for all the troops fighting for our right to live free in America! Last but not least, I'm thankful to my team at Stars MMA. Look out for Stars MMA in 2011; we are changing the game.

Brian Warren: I'm thankful that the Lord Jesus Christ is always there when I need him, sad that family and friends never are. Thankful for my baby that gives me joy, her mother, well, that's another time. Thankful to be able to help others in this world with my new business.

Keith Berry: I think a lot of us complain about petty things and take things for granted. I'm just thankful to be healthy, to be living in California and to be fighting professionally. It's always been what I wanted to do, even when I was a little s--- (laughs). God bless, and Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

Stephane Vigneault: I am thankful Cain Velasquez took the belt from Brock [Lesnar].

Robin Black: I am thankful for the UFC, Georges St. Pierre, [UFC president] Dana White and stuff making people so hungry for MMA in Canada that I can work in the media and make a half-decent living in the sport that I love. I am thankful that I am a bantamweight, so I never have to get smashed by [Brock] Lesnar or [Cain] Velasquez or [Shane] Carwin. I am thankful I don't have [a] gross staph [infection] and that the paralysis in my face from a bad punch went away after four months.

Matt Hamilton: I'm thankful most for my parents. Without them, I wouldn't have all the other things that I'm so thankful for: my friends, my gym, my life as it is. My parents always supported me, even when I was not using either of my college degrees by making $100 to fight in a dog pen in some smoky club. Thanks to their unwavering support, I've gotten to live a dream, and I appreciate it more than I can ever convey to them. But, I guess, in the end it's the least they could have done after saddling me with these non-fighter genetics. Happy Thanksgiving, Mom and Dad.

Ricardo Liborio: I am thankful for my family, working in the field that I love and for my daughter to be alive. I can't ask for much more than that.

Roy Arriola: I'm thankful for my beautiful wife of 16 years. I'm thankful for my four beautiful, healthy kids. I'm thankful for my health. I'm thankful for my family and friends. I'm thankful that I am able to put food on the table and clothe my family. I'm thankful for the trials and tribulations I've experienced. I'm thankful for the opportunity to live my dreams in and outside the cage and ring. I'm thankful to be blessed with a loving family that puts up with my shortfalls. I'm thankful to be who I am. I ain't thankful for this big gut I have, though.

Chase Beebe: I'm thankful for the fact that God allows me to continue to do what I love, helps to keep me on the right path and allows me to pursue my dreams. I'm also thankful to my family for all their support and always being there; also for my friends, training partners and gyms for your support and for keeping me sharp. And for the sport that has brought new meaning to sports entertainment and has shown us how far we can push ourselves.

Anthony Leone: I'm just so thankful to be living. I fill my life with great people. Whether it's my family, friends or training partners, we all have a common interest: make the best of this life and do it with risk, rewards and a ton of fun. Everything else I do is just a plus.

Shamar Bailey: Being thankful implies that you have been given something that enhances who you are as a person and your quality of life. That being said, I'm thankful for the gift of family, for the stability that faith in God brings and for everything he has provided for me in life. All of us here know that life as a fighter can be a wild ride with lots of ups and downs. I'm thankful for being able to compete in the greatest and purest sport of mankind and hope to make the most of the opportunities given to me. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Mike Sloan is a contributor to Sherdog.com. Brian Knapp contributed to this report.