In the first part of the article we looked at some of the UFC’s most dominant champions of all time. In the second we look at more ageing stars currently fighting for the promotion including both former UFC and Pride champions.
Dan Henderson (25-7) – Age: 39 – UFC 17 Middleweight Tournament Winner
One of the remarkable statistics in Dan Henderson’s 12 year mixed martial arts career is that he has never been finished by KO or TKO. Considering that his opponents have included some of the sports most dangerous strikers such as Wanderlei Silva (twice – both in Pride), Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Vitor Belfort that is quite an achievement for the former Pride middleweight and light heavyweight champion.
This durability may partially explain why, at the age of 39, Henderson still appears to be in excellent condition and has been a legitimate contender for a title shot in recent times. It should not be forgotten that he has already won a UFC middleweight tournament back at UFC 17, defeating Carlos Newton, but since his return to the UFC from Pride in 2007 he has failed in back to back attempts to claim the light heavyweight and middleweight belts.
As for his long term future, Henderson revealed earlier this year that, “I feel like I’ve still got a few good years ahead of me, but there’s no way I’ll still be fighting at 44.”
Verdict: Like Randy Couture, Dan Henderson is a fighter who still appears able to compete at the highest level as he approaches his 40’s, and remains a credible threat in whichever division he fights in. He is currently out of contract with the UFC, but despite rumors he may go elsewhere it is more than likely that he will spend the remaining years of his career in the sports leading organization before retiring.
Frank Trigg (19-7) – Age: 37
With a record of 2-4 in the UFC Frank trigg hasn’t exactly set the welterweight division on fire. He has however competed twice for the welterweight title in that time. Unfortunately for him both times were against Matt Hughes during his dominant reign as champion. His other losses came from Georges St. Pierre which ended his first run in the promotion, and most recently against Josh Koscheck in his return to the fold at UFC 103.
After his most recent loss rumors surfaced that the 37 year old was to be cut from the UFC after just one fight back. Reacting to the news he told mmajunkie, “If the UFC cuts me, I’m done fighting. I don’t have the strength or determination to go fight in the minor leagues anymore.”
It gave an interesting insight into a man who has fought professionally in a number of different organizations, both large and small, for the past 12 years. As it turns out the UFC have thrown him a career life-line – offering him one more chance to prove himself, with fellow veteran Matt Serra rumored to be his likely opponent.
Verdict: His confession that Josh Koscheck was a ‘younger, stronger version’ of himself sums up Trigg’s current position in the UFC. Much like his nemesis Matt Hughes, he now finds himself in a position where he is being surpassed by the next generation and thoughts of retirement are clearly on his mind. Though Trigg is not to be taken lightly, he will struggle to see out the remainder of his three fight contract.
Sean Sherk (33-4-1) – Age: 36 – Former UFC Lightweight Champion
A dominating wrestler known for grinding down his opponents, Sean Sherk has amassed an impressive thirty three wins with only four losses in a pro career that began back in 1999. His record inside the octagon currently stands at 7-4 and includes a win over Kenny Florian for the vacant lightweight championship at UFC 64 in 2006.
Having only lost four times in his career, the fact that Sherk has lost two of his last three fights must be a cause of concern. Despite turning 36 recently it is unlikely that his age is affecting his performance however. He is well known for being a cardio machine with one of the toughest training regimes in the sport. Instead it it appears that a change in strategy – dispensing with the wrestling base that has proved successful for him in the past and replacing it with a boxing based stand up game – is part of the reason for his recent results.
Speaking earlier this year on his thoughts on retirement Sherk said, “I’m not ready to walk away from this sport anytime soon. As long as I’m performing at a top level I’ll keep fighting.”
Verdict: Still in excellent shape, Sherk should be able to compete at a good level for several more years. How he chooses to use that time remains to be seen. He must re-connect with his wrestling and focus on a more well rounded strategy if he wants to make the most of the remainder of his career.
Matt Serra (9-6) Age: 35 – Former UFC Welterweight Champion
With an MMA career that spans a decade it’s perhaps surprising that Matt Serra’s record only contains 15 fights. Many of them have taken place in the UFC where he holds a somewhat chequered record of 7-5 in the lightweight and welterweight divisions.
He does hold some notable accomplishments in the UFC including winning season four of The Ultimate Fighter (featuring former UFC fighters) and then topping that he then went on to shock the world by handing Georges St Pierre only the second defeat of his career to claim the welterweight belt.
His reign at the top of the division was however short-lived as St Pierre defeated him in a rematch a year later. Since then Serra has fought in a grudge match with Matt Hughes, being edged out by the former champion by a split decision which he claims he should have won.
Having only fought once a year since winning against Ivan Menjivar at UFC 48 in 2004, questions have to be asked whether Serra still has a strong desire to compete. A highly regarded coach, Serra currently runs three martial arts schools and admitted prior to his fight with Matt Hughes that thoughts of retirement had crossed his mind, saying, “I feel like if I retired tomorrow, I have enough to tell my grandkids what I was doing.”
Verdict: Serra showed in his last fight that he is still a game competitor, but at this stage he is unlikely to gain another title shot and questions must be asked whether he still has the hunger to compete in the long term. If he can convince the UFC to set up a rematch with Matt Hughes in the coming year then that may well prove to be his final curtain call.
Mirko Cro Cop (27-7-2-1) – Age: 35
If you had only seen Mirko Cro Cop’s past few fights in the UFC you may wonder what all the fuss is about. The Croatian does however hold a fearsome reputation from his days in Pride and as a K1 kick-boxer where his ability to take out opponents with a single leg kick became the stuff of legend.
There is no doubt that the years of competition have taken there toll on the fighter though. He has had to contend with a number of injuries over the years, not least of which was a knee reconstruction after his frontal cruciate ligaments, collateral ligaments and meniscus were destroyed.
It would appear his mental game has also suffered. After his most recent loss to Junior Dos Santos, Cro Crop confessed, “Maybe the ones who have said that I’m done are right. Obviously I can’t break my mental block in the octagon. Besides, I’ve been training like a spartan for 20 years now, my body is worn out. The years caught up to me, I’ve been worn out.”
Despite many news outlets reporting that the 35 year old had retired Cro Cop recently stated that he intends to see out the remaining two fights of his current UFC contract.
Verdict: Sadly Mirko Cro Cop would appear to be an example of a fighter who’s desire to compete has left him as years of relentless training, hard fought battles and past injuries catch up with him. No longer the feared opponent he once was, retirement in the near future would appear to be the sensible option for this once deadly competitor.
Rich Franklin (26-5-1) – Age: 34 – 3 time UFC Middleweight Champion
Since his arrival in the organization back at UFC 42 in 2003, Rich Franklin has played a leading role in many of the promotions cards. Until his first loss to Anderson Silva in 2006 the former teacher had racked up seven wins without defeat in the octagon. He has struggled to maintain that form in recent times with a less impressive 5-4 record.
At 34, Franklin’s career is currently at a cross-roads. Earlier this year he admitted that the new six fight deal he had just signed with the UFC could be his last, though physically he still appears in good shape. His previous two fights have been at a 195lb catch-weight between middleweight and light-heavyweight, somehow fitting for a man who appears stuck between a rock and a hard place having already been defeated by the current champions in both divisions.
Whichever division he fights in Rich Franklin’s place in the UFC is not under threat as Dana White confirmed after his loss at UFC 103. “Rich Franklin is one of those guys that when I talk about people that have been loyal to me and helped build this company…He’s not going anywhere.”
Verdict: With five fights remaining on his contract this once dominant champion still has time left to get back to winning ways. A likely move to 205lbs could prove a risky strategy at this stage of his career however, especially if he continues to rely largely on his stand-up despite having a solid ground game.
Wanderlei Silva – (32-10-1 1 NC) – Age: 33
As fearsome a competitor as has ever fought in MMA, Wanderlei Silva has already secured his place in the history books regardless of what his future may hold. Is 33 to young to be included in the list? In Silva’s case, such is the ferocity of the battles he has been involved in that questions over his possible retirement were raised even before his return to the UFC in 2007.
Having fought for the light heavyweight title back in UFC 25 in 2000 (losing a unanimous decision to Tito Ortiz), Silva went on to become a legend in the Pride Fighting Championships, going on a four year winning streak as their middleweight champion with ‘Rampage’ Jackson (twice) and Dan Henderson amongst his list of 15 victims. Remarkably 13 of those wins were by either KO or TKO making him one of the most lethal finishers ever.
Silva has found wins harder to come by in recent times however. After his reign of dominance in Pride, he left on a low note with back to back K.O losses to Mirko Cro Cop and Dan Henderson. His return to the octagon has not seen a change in fortune. He has won only once in four fights – a knockout victory over Keith Jardine. Meanwhile he suffered his third K.O defeat in three years in a rematch with Quinton Jackson which has left questions over how much longer he can continue to take punishment before he hangs his gloves up.
His situation echoes Chuck Liddell’s who was asked to retire by UFC president Dana White himself. For a warrior like Wanderlei Silva it may take a similar intervention before he finally calls time on his career.
Verdict: Unfortunately for this much loved legend, his recent facial surgery is only skin deep and cannot erase the toll that a career based on a fighting philosophy of ‘kill or be killed” takes. Despite this his fighting spirit will never be broken, but even at the age of 33 this fan favourite’s time competing at the highest level looks to be limited unless he can find a way to break his losing streak.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (32-5-1) – Age: 33 – Former UFC interim Heavyweight Champion
Another legend of the Pride Fighting Championships, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira has crammed a lifetime of battles against the odds into his 33 years on this planet. Even as a youngster he knew more than most about surviving adversity having been run over by a truck in Brazil at the age of 11 which left him in a coma for four days and cost him the loss of a rib and part of his liver.
In Pride he quickly gained a reputation for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat despite taking heavy punishment, often thanks to his word class Brazilian Jiu-Jistu skills. Whilst it was a style that was exciting to watch and has brought him a great deal of success including becoming the Pride heavyweight champion, years of absorbing damage that would have stopped a lesser man appear to be taking their toll on the 33 year old fighter.
After a winning start to his UFC career in 2007 against Heath Herring, and then taking the interim light heavyweight belt at the expense of Tim Sylvia, Nogueira suffered the first TKO loss of his career at the hands of Frank Mir who knocked the fighter down several times with punches before the referee mercifully called a stop to the action. Later Nogueira would claim that a staph infection and knee injury were to blame for his poor performance in the ring that night.
The fight did raise doubts over Nogueira’s future though and in the lead up to his next fight with Randy Couture rumors that he had been getting knocked out in sparring also began to surface. If this is the case it certainly didn’t show in the fight as he won a unanimous decision in a competitive and entertaining ‘Fight Of The Night’ performance that has put him right back into the mix in the heavyweight division.
Verdict: In a heavyweight division that is becoming increasingly populated by significantly bigger men than his 230lb frame, even Nogueira’s legendary ability to take punishment will be severely tested. Whilst he possesses the skills to remain a threat in the heavyweight division for years to come, only time will tell whether his body will carry him that far.
Notes: Other UFC competitors aged 35 or over not featured in this article:
Nate Quarry (37), Jorge Rivera (37), Houston Alexander (37), Marcus Davis (36), Yoshiyuki Yoshida (35), Chris Lytle (35)
All photographs courtesy of sherdog.com
Article By Ross C