Two MMA Legends Prove Age Is Just a Number
Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock are two of the oldest lions in mixed martial arts (MMA), but they’re still lions. The two iconic figures are ready to pick up where they left off more than 20 years ago, proving 50 isn’t too old to do what you love.
In 1993, I was 12 years old, enjoying a bag of ketchup chips and a cold pop with my father in the basement watching the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) – a bare-knuckle, anything-goes mixed martial arts tournament. It was the first time I had ever seen anything like this. Ken Shamrock, a shootfighter (a mix of wrestling and striking) from California, and Royce Gracie, a 26-year-old Brazilian who practised the art of Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ) – whatever that was – squared off in the semi-finals.
The event was a tournament style; fighters would have to win three fights in the same night to leave as a champion – and Shamrock was favoured to win. Weighing in at more than 200 pounds, he looked as though he was chiselled out of stone and extremely angry.
Gracie, dressed in his traditional BJJ gi, was 180 pounds soaking wet and looked like he could be your next door neighbour. He, too, was focused and intense, but I was generally concerned for his health; Shamrock was much larger, all muscle and a little scary.
The fight started, and the two combatants clashed. Within seconds, they were on the ground and, seconds after that, it was over. My first thought was, “What was that?” As a smaller-than-average kid, I marvelled at Gracie’s ability to make this much larger man submit without even throwing a punch. I have been a fan ever since.
The fighters met once more in 1995 and fought to a draw, leaving some unfinished business between the two cage warriors.
Fast forward more than 20 years and Gracie, now 49, and Shamrock, 51, are poised to clash one more time. The two will not only participate but headline Bellator MMA’s upcoming event on Feb. 19. Some people are calling the idea of two 50-year-old men fighting crazy.
Both Shamrock and Gracie, however, know exactly what they’re getting themselves into. “I wouldn’t put myself in a situation where I thought I was going to get hurt,” Shamrock says. “I don’t think Royce would do that either. I think we’re both pretty smart. We know our limitations.”
Gracie disagrees with those who say men in or around their 50s are too old to compete in MMA. “We’re not just sitting around gaining weight … we have been going to the range … shooting the target, we have been practising. The draw is fast, the grouping is good,” he notes, comparing his MMA skills to that of a marksman. “It really depends on the 50-year-old that you are talking about.”
Training camp is often tougher on fighters than the fight itself due to overtraining in preparation. Shamrock admits overtraining has been an issue for him but credits his age and experience for knowing how to properly train for competition at this point in his life. “Now it’s going to take a lot longer because I need a little bit more time to get the rest period and recovery time. It has taken me about 10 years to really dial it in.”
Dan Henderson (45)
Henderson is a two-two time Olympian wrestler and professional mixed martial artist. At the age of 45, Henderson has had one fight for every year of his life. In April he will make it 46 when he takes on Lyoto Machida – a man 10 years his junior. Henderson, who seems to defy the laws of aging, made his MMA debut in 1997 and doesn’t seem ready to walk away any time soon. He hasn’t exactly been at the top of his game lately, but the man they call Hendo is still competing in the sports elite promotion against the very best fighters in the world.
John Tavares (46)
The name John Tavares might sound familiar … no, not the New York Islanders flashy young star but his uncle John. John Tavares played professional lacrosse for the Buffalo Bandits of the National Lacrosse League for nearly 25 years. He holds the league’s all-time record for games, goals, assist and points in both the regular season and playoffs. He retired last September but stayed on with the organization as an assistant coach.
Kazuyoshi Miura (48)
The world’s oldest soccer player, King Kazu, as fans know him, is still going strong. Last November, he signed a new one-year deal with Yokohama FC. His pro career started in 1986 and while most of it was spent playing in his homeland, he did a stint in both Europe and Brazil. Miura was most successful on the international stage, scoring 55 goals in 89 games for Japan. The striker can still find the net at 48, netting three goals in 16 appearances for Yokohama this season.
Bernard Hopkins (50)
Bernard Hopkins has been one of the best boxers in the world for a very long time. He is still ranked in the light heavyweight top 10 by the World Boxing Association and as high as second by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. The 50-year-old prizefighter recently announced that he would like to have one more fight in the first half of 2016 before calling it quits. Hopkins may not be as good as he once was, but he can still compete with the very best in the sport.
Julio Franco (57)