Opinion: Fighting Past 40 in MMA

By Edward Carbajal Nov 22, 2017

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s No. 2-ranked heavyweight picked up another win at UFC Fight Night 121 on Saturday in Sydney, as Fabricio Werdum replaced Mark Hunt in the main event and secured a unanimous decision over Marcin Tybura at the Qudos Bank Arena. A former M-1 Global champion, Tybura entered the cage ranked eighth.

Werdum has gone 8-2 since returning to the UFC in 2012 -- a run that includes wins over Hunt, Cain Velasquez and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira; his only losses came to current champion Stipe Miocic and top contender Alistair Overeem, the latter by majority decision. At 40 years of age, Werdum seems to be in good company with other mixed martial arts heavyweights who have excelled in their middle age and convinced fans that experience can carry them a little longer than expected in their combat sports careers.

Randy Couture started in MMA at 34, typically the tail end of a fighter’s prime. Nevertheless, Couture became a two-time light heavyweight champion and three-time heavyweight titleholder in the UFC. Many times during his remarkable career he defeated younger and seemingly faster opponents who were favored to topple “The Natural.” Couture retired from MMA at the age of 47 but remains involved in the sport.

No one is exempt from the aging process, and MMA can take a heavy toll on the bodies of those who compete. Some wear the mileage better than others, as Werdum showed in his most recent win. He is not alone. Hunt, the man for whom he filled in Down Under, is 43, and no one takes the king of the walk-off KO lightly. His last bout came against the monstrous Derrick Lewis, a man 11 years Hunt’s junior. “The Super Samoan” stopped Lewis with punches in the fourth round. He was not the only younger opponent Hunt has finished, either. Wins over Frank Mir, Roy Nelson, Antonio Silva and Stefan Struve fill Hunt with the belief that he can continue fighting and beating younger men well into his 40s, no matter what others might think.

Speaking of Nelson, he is another aging heavyweight known for knockouts and an underrated grappling game. The 41-year-old lost a decision to Alexander Volkov before leaving the UFC, but he picked up a win over Javy Ayala in his Bellator MMA debut at Bellator 183. Following his victory over the 29-year-old Ayala, Nelson was entered in the forthcoming Bellator heavyweight grand prix, where he will have a chance to become champion in 2018.

While not the fighter he was in his heyday, Mirko Filipovic will compete as a featured attraction for the Rizin Fighting Federation on Dec. 29, when he faces Tsuyoshi Kosaka in Japan. Filipovic, 43, is on a seven-fight winning streak that includes a technical knockout of Gabriel Gonzaga in the UFC in 2015. That victory, over a man who handed “Cro Cop” one of his most embarrassing and high-profile defeats, appears to have reinvigorated the 2006 Pride Fighting Championships open weight grand prix winner. In December, Filipovic finished Muhammad Lawal in the 2016 Rizin Fighting Federation open weight grand prix quarterfinals. “King Mo” was recently named one of the participants in Bellator’s upcoming heavyweight tournament.

Like Couture before them, all of these fighters will have to recognize when to play it safe and call it a career. That time may be at hand for Hunt, who turns 44 in March and has admitted to suffering from early signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. No one wants to see legends fighting longer than they should, but even as they reach a time when they are considered “over the hill,” who are we to stop them if there is a potential title shot waiting over that hill? Werdum might soon be in position for one, so maybe age is nothing but a number.
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