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El médico de Bolivia, or the ballsy promise of Bentley Syler

Bentley Syler via Ed Kapp

The irony is rarely lost on Bentley Syler. A native of Bolivia, Syler spent seven years grinding through one of his country's top medical schools, studying the nuances of the human body and graduating as valedictorian of his class, only to end up punching faces alongside the rest of his loutish bunch on The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America. All that time spent deciphering how to heal his fellow man, only for the good doctor to turn around and dole out a few more broken noses in the name of the hurt game -- it's almost too curious.

"I try to compare it to this," Syler told "Imagine a mechanic who studies to fix cars. He understands the mechanics of the machine. I'm kind of like a mechanic for people. I understand the mechanics and the physiology of the human body, but at the same time, I use that knowledge to try to covert my body and my machine into an extreme competition machine.

"So I kind of use it with that point of view. I understand that MMA is a risky sport, in a certain way. But sometimes you love something so much and you have such a big passion for it that you're willing to take the risk. And everything in life has a certain level of risk."

Syler has a point, though his definition of risk may be a tad different than most. Sure, the broken limbs and battered brains of human combat are always scenarios in wait. But so, too, is the lucrative career Syler left behind -- the one that sucked out nearly a decade of his time, from genetics at Texas A&M to medicine at Universidad Cristiana de Bolivia, but never withstood that crazy voice in the back of his mind.

"It's always been easy for me to study. The physical part, that's always been a little bit harder," Syler said.

"But the drive and the passion that I had for MMA was so great. I thought about it many times, and as much as I thought about it, I kept going back to the same idea, that you only live once. If you believe it, then you can do this. Go ahead and do it. You'll have the rest of your life to invest in science and medicine and all of that. You'll have your whole life to dedicate to it, to your studies and to that career, but you'll only have right now to do MMA."

A lifelong martial artist, Syler teetered on the fence about his decision throughout much of medical school. He was, in many ways, living a double life -- the quiet five-foot-four kid who could snap an arm at night, then mend it back together with perfect marks in the morning.

It wasn't until Syler's final year of internship, on an evening where his dad powered through emphysema to come out and watch his son moonlight as a flyweight destroyer, that the good doctor finally resolved to take that plunge.

"He went to one of my fights in Bolivia, right when I was about to graduate from medical school, and he watched the fight," Syler recalled. "He watched me win, and he asked me after that, ‘What do you want to do with fighting?' I said, ‘Well, you know, I like to fight. It's just something that I do right now. I don't really know what I want to do with it.' And he said, ‘Well do you think you'll make it to the UFC?'

"And I'll never forget it. I said, ‘Well, it'd be great, but that's kind of a long shot, Dad.' He looked at me and he said, ‘I think you can do it.'

"A week later, he passed away. So it was really something of a promise to him, as well."

Last year, at the age of 31, Syler fulfilled that promise, landing an opportunity to represent Bolivia on Team Latin America for the UFC's expansion into Mexico. Syler (5-0) became one of the leaders of Fabricio Werdum's squad, and though he fell short in the quarterfinals, the American Top Team product will make that walk once more this Saturday when he meets fellow TUF: LA alumnus Fredy Serrano at UFC Fight Night 62.

It's not the path Syler expected his life to take, but he wouldn't have it any other way.

"A lot of the people who I went to school with, they're already doing a specialty or they're already working," Syler said. "I think back on it, but I'm happy because I've accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, which is make it to the UFC. I know that once I finish, I'll go back to it. I might be a few years behind, but hey, they can't say that they've fought in the UFC."

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