In a lot of sports, it's generally unheard of that athletes have very long careers and retire nicely close to 40. Most (and I say that loosely) mainstream sports have players retire by their mid 30’s at the latest.
The rigours and intensity of certain sports take a toll on the body and players either have to make radical adjustments to their styles, or retire knowing they’ve given what they can and can’t sacrifice much more.
Mixed martial arts, boxing and wrestling are not necessarily careers that many people would think for any form of employment, let alone longevity of any kind.
That's not the case for mixed martial artists of late, proving that there’s no limit of age or skill so long as you have the hunger in your belly
I’m referring specifically to a few fighters in MMA today who have experienced very long careers and show no signs of slowing down just yet.
For starters, most these guys are all in their mid to late 30s and are dominating their last couple of fights. Nobody expected them to come out guns blazing the way they have lately, but hey, if they can give the audience a show and score some amazing wins, then why not?
Let’s begin with Frank Mir. Aged 36, the former UFC heavyweight champion experienced successive losses against highly rated opponents from 2012 to 2014. Frank even admits himself that he considered retirement, as his confidence was hurt and his body was always covered in tape, never giving his injuries the proper time to heal.
Fast forward 18 months, Frank has secured two very impressive knockout wins over Brazilian giant, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, and young stallion, Todd Duffee. Nobody expected Mir, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner, to knock out Bigfoot in the very first round, which made the feat all the more impressive. The result against Duffee just goes to show that by improving his boxing, Mir has become a well-rounded fighter and the knockout against Bigfoot wasn’t a fluke or stroke of luck KO.
Frank is generally a technical and strategic fighter, making him all the more dangerous with the addition of his boxing repertoire. A personal favourite, Mir will be taking on the 4th ranked UFC heavyweight, Andrei Arlovski.
That brings me to Andrei Arlovski himself. The “Pit Bull”, also a former UFC champion, is also aged 36, and shows the same ferocity and hunger for fights as ever. Should the Belarussian find himself victorious against Frank Mir, he will be knocking on the door for a potential title fight, or at the very least a number one contender’s match.
Since his horror run of 4 straight losses between 2009 and 2011, the Pit Bull has won an impressive 9 of his last 11 fights, earning two fight of the night bonuses in his KO victories over Bigfoot Silva and Travis Browne.
Browne was mentally a tough fight for Andrei due to their close friendship. As Arlovski himself says, ‘knocking out Travis Browne felt like punching my mother or father.’
Despite his heavy heart after that win, Arlovski is making a definite charge up the rankings, and it is hard to see anything but a moment of brilliance from his next opponent to stop him. If it goes to a decision, I wouldn’t be able to pick a winner due to both fighters being personal favourites.
The third fighter to prove my point, and probably the best example there is that age doesn’t matter.
You must be wondering, who, or how?
Fabricio “Vai Cavalo” Werdum. For those who are unfamiliar with the name, he is the current UFC heavyweight champion at age 38. There’s not many 38 year old athletes, let alone 38 year old world champions. He defeated then champion, Cain Velasquez, in Mexico, a fight that supposedly favoured the Mexican-American Velasquez.
Werdum has been fighting since 2002, and in the last 13 years he has fought a multitude of big name fighters across various organizations around the world. (Travelling with work, a slight perk of an MMA fighter)
Five straight wins propelled the Brazilian to the top as the interim UFC Champion, and he subsequently upset Velasquez for the heavyweight strap.
His Muay Thai and boxing is enough to keep his opponents at bay, but his ground game is where he experiences the most success. An incredible 10 of 20 career victories have been as a result of various submissions, two of which came over legendary fighter Fedor Emelianenko and Cain Velasquez.
While this is the first time Werdum has been crowned champion, he definitely worked his butt off to get there. His general approach to a fight doesn’t seem extremely demanding, as does the way of a wrestler for example, which gives him the abilities to approach fights without radically changing style, quite a useful technique for ageing fighters especially.
His eventual rematch against Cain will prove whether or not Velasquez can bounce back to his best, or if Werdum is truly cementing himself as one of the greatest.
The last fighter I’d like to mention is Fedor Emelianenko, a man who I’ve not had the pleasure of watching fight, but long time MMA fans know the legend that is Fedor when they hear his name. His career began in 2000 and ended in 2012 following his last victory in M1-Global.
An utterly remarkable record of 34 wins, four losses and one no-contest solidified his name as one of, if not the greatest champion of all time, winning championships an accolades in many different organisations.
Fedor retired after his last fight, and left fans to wonder what would have been if he had signed with the UFC and had a fight against former heavyweight champion, Brock Lensar.
It’s been 5 years since his retirement, but Fedor is making arguably the biggest comeback of MMA today, announcing in July the following simple hashtag.
Rumour has it that Fedor is currently in negotiations with UFC and Bellator over potential deals. Whichever promotion he will ultimately sign for will definitely reap huge rewards. Personally I’d like to think he’ll sign with the UFC and help boost the interest and fan base, as the organization is experiencing a little criticism in light of the newly signed Reebok deal.
Whether you’re young, old, in between, and involved in sports professionally or socially, there’s no limit as to what you can do. The only limit you have is the one you place on yourself. These guys don’t see limits, they see opportunities.
In their mid to late 30s, some of these fighters have never looked better. Former champions, current champions, champion hopefuls, there’s no stopping them.
Where will your career be at that age? Who knows, only you can decide what comes next.