Mixed martial arts has become a national phenomenon in America, and with the creation of the Ultimate Fighting Championships, only continues to grow in popularity.

This week, competitor Shad Smith became the first openly gay fighter in the sport when he revealed his sexuality in a New York Times interview.

According to the article, Smith entered his first fight in 2000 shortly after his release from prison, where he was serving time for carjacking, one of his many stints.

He joined a more underground organization called Felony Fights, which has similar rules to the way UFC began in 1993.

Smith explained that he started fighting at an early age because of he was concerned about someone discovering his sexual orientation.

“I was always scared that my mom and dad would find out and wouldn’t like me, and my brothers wouldn’t like me,” he explained to the New York Times.

“I was petrified, because I didn’t want anyone to find out. And I would try to be the toughest person around.

“That way, no one would suspect, no one would ever say it, no one would think it.”

Now at 35, Smith has had several run-ins with the law, but is learning to settle down with his boyfriend Jesse.

Of his 20 fights, Smith has won 10 with 8 losses and 2 draws.

Although he most likely will never make it to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, he explained to writer Paul Wachter that he has learned a lot about himself from the sport.

© 2008 GayWired.com; All Rights Reserved.