Recently I’ve shed any and all reservations and social mores and have gone from being a silent fan of the Ultimate Fighting Championship to a bona fide, openly rabid rooter.I realize many view the UFC as a saloon brawl minus the beer broken beer bottles, but like most people who fight for a living the competitors often share, shall we say, interesting backgrounds.

The closest the UFC has a legitimate superstar is one Chuck Liddell. Nicknamed “The Iceman,” Liddell, sporting a sinister blond mohawk and Kanji characters tattooed on the side of his head, has cut a wide swath through his opposition -- often leaving them sprawled out in varying states of consciousness.

Yet, believe it or not, he almost became one of you.

Prior to his chosen profession, the surprisingly soft-spoken Liddell was a serious student of accounting at a California university with every intention of becoming a practicing CPA.

Had he not traded in his calculator and spreadsheets for a pair of thinly padded grappling gloves and polyester tights, Liddell probably still would have enjoyed a secure and well-paid future -- not to mention one that was infinitely safer.

Because the demand for qualified accounting professionals has become something akin to a brutal, no-holds-barred contest.

A combination of business expansion and compliance mandates from Sarbanes-Oxley has firms scurrying to meet the challenges of reaching “par” levels in terms of staffing.

Not coincidentally, salaries have risen as well.

According to the 2007 Salary Guide from Robert Half International, the average increase for base compensation is approaching 4 percent from prior levels, while the staffing conglomerate projects that the greatest salary spikes will come for compliance experts, internal auditors, analysts and of course, CPAs.

The Robert Half guide revealed that the competition for accounting talent has prompted many CPA firms to elevate recruiting to a year-round directive -- particularly in the areas of audit, corporate governance, tax and risk management -- and not simply in May during college graduation.

For accounting and finance people with experience, salaries at midsized firms, defined by Robert Half as those generating between $25 million and $250 million in revenues, will earn between $82,000 and $120,000 in 2007. Meanwhile, internal audit managers in larger companies will see their base salaries range from $77,500 to $101,500 -- up nearly 6 percent from the prior year.

Entry-level accounting and financial professionals at small firms -- defined as those up to $25 million in revenue -- can anticipate starting salaries from $38,000 to $44,000. Some firms have offered signing bonuses to new recruits as well as existing staff, and added options such as flexible and part-time scheduling, as well as telecommuting.

Look at the good news this way: The profession may have lost Chuck Liddell, but if salaries and demand keep rising, the profession is certain to lose fewer candidates to the UFC.

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