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On Sunday, Aug.7, David Mitchell plans to take a break from his day job and head up to Laytonville for the Gaia Festival, a "music and sustainable living fair" featuring good-vibe acts like the Wailers and India.Arie.

Twenty days later, Mitchell will step into an octagonal ring in Rio de Janeiro and attempt to kick, pummel and bend his opponent into submission in a UFC 134 bout.

It's a contradiction, or would be to most people. Not to Mitchell, who sees his upbringing on a vestigial hippie commune as a natural lead-in to a pursuit that he sees more as an art form than an act of violence.

"It's the opposite of war," the mixed martial arts fighter said recently at the Nor-Cal Fighting Alliance gym, where he trains quasi-religiously with Eli Stravrinides, Raul Guerra and gym owner David Terrell. "You go in there and you battle the guy, but then after, I've never seen a fight where they don't just hug each other. Backstage, these guys are just chit-chatting even though they're about to go out there and fight. There's a lot of respect in this sport."

The cement-jawed Mitchell looks younger than his 31 years, but carries himself with a calm that makes it easier to reconcile the boy who traveled with his family to visit the redwood-borne protest of Julia Butterfly Hill with the guy who dispatched one opponent, Tim McKenzie, with a move called a "guillotine choke."

Mitchell was 3 years old when his parents, Martin and Joanie, moved from Oakland to the Hog Farm, a Mendocino County commune legendary within the counter-culture. Founded by activist-clown Wavy Gravy, the Hog Farm cooked and handled security at Woodstock and established communes in various locales around the country. The Mendocino property, called Black Oak Ranch, sits on 200-plus acres outside of Laytonville.

David Mitchell was known as Daudi growing up there, named for a friend the Mitchells met in Tanzania. (It's a Swahili word that means "beloved.") Mitchell rode horses, raised sheep and chickens, and cooked and ate organic produce grown by fellow Hog Farmers.

"It was a great experience — the land, the spring water coming right out of the mountain," Mitchell said.

Joanie ran a shop in Laytonville called Nobody's Business, and started up an import-export trade. The family traveled the globe in search of crafts and adventure — to Africa and Bali and the ruins of Machu Picchu. One summer the Mitchells loaded up their wood-paneled Pontiac Bonneville station wagon and drove to Guatemala and Belize. Closer to home, they backpacked in the Sierra.

There were disadvantages, too. David traveled enough to know that he didn't have the same access to computers, TV and other media that most children took for granted.

"Sometimes I just wanted to be more like the normal kids," Mitchell said. "Maybe I felt a little isolated by my different lifestyle. But looking back on it, it just seems amazing."

One drawback, from his current perspective, is that Laytonville High didn't have a wrestling program. Mitchell played soccer and a little basketball there, and ran track at Shasta College.

He started to drift as a young adult, though, and after getting a DUI, committed to changing his lifestyle. He got himself into great shape, with no idea where it was taking him.

Then Mitchell watched a replay of Chuck Liddell knocking out Tito Ortiz in a famous UFC bout, and he had found his calling. Shortly thereafter, he heard that Terrell was teaching the sport in Santa Rosa, just a couple of hours down Highway 101.

Mitchell was 25 when he came to MMA, downright old for a newcomer. He made up for lost time, though, with an obsessive devotion to conditioning and an uncannily quick grasp of jiu-jitsu.

Mitchell won his first 11 fights, nine of them by submission, a tribute to those on-the-mat jiu-jitsu skills.

Then came the setbacks.

He lost for the first time last September, to a young fighter named Anthony Waldburger in a UFC Fight Night event at Austin, Texas. Mitchell admits now that he was nervous for his first big fight, and not at peak condition. He simply got tired against Waldburger and lost in a decision.

Three and a half months later, Mitchell had to pull out of another UFC-affiliated fight in Killeen, Texas, because of a shoulder condition that proved hard to diagnose. All he knew was that he no longer had the strength to push guys away.

"It was extremely depressing not to be able to fight, and really not knowing what the problem was," Mitchell said. "It made me really sad."

So sad, in fact, that Mitchell considered leaving the sport. He flew to Thailand to clear his head, and wound up in Asia for three months, traveling through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam before feeling himself lured back to Bali. He moved into an ashram just outside of Ubud, the artistic and spiritual capital of the island, praying and meditating every day, practicing yoga and doing volunteer work.

"I just tried to heal every day," Mitchell said. "I found a lot of good bodywork people over there. I was planting turmeric and ginger, and eating the ginger and the turmeric and all these herbs.

"I learn now that they're super anti-inflammatory healing plants."

Mitchell also built up his strength by digging out six-foot-diameter tree stumps by hand, a radical workout even by MMA standards.

He eventually learned that he had an impinged nerve in his neck. The time off — his first significant downtime in about 18 months — healed him both physically and psychologically. He was ready for the gym again.

"I just realized that this is what I was meant to do, that I have a lot of talent and a great team, and I really enjoy it," Mitchell said. "It's like my family, you know? It wasn't a good feeling to walk away from my family."

Mitchell will need all the support he can get against Paulo Thiago, in a fight at 170 pounds on the Brazilian's home turf. The UFC preliminary bout will be on Spike TV, a warmup to Anderson Silva's middleweight title rematch with Yushin Okami.

Thiago, a member of Brazil's special police force, is as hungry and as talented as Mitchell.

"He's a good stand-up fighter, good at Muy Thai. He throws a lot of punches," said Mitchell's manager, Tom Call. "He doesn't have a lot of weaknesses. But I guess you could look at David Mitchell and say the same thing."

This is something of a do-or-die fight for Mitchell. If he loses for the second straight time, he might find it harder to get another shot at UFC. A win would almost certainly lead to bigger opportunities.

He feels the pressure, but he deals with it in his own way.

"I meditate and I pray," Mitchell said. "I just know that everything I'm doing, I'm doing it for the greater good. I don't use the &‘God' word much, but this I do for the glory of God, and just to carry on for my family."

And, strange as it seems, for the peaceniks back on the Hog Farm.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.

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