“Over the hill” is a phrase used often in the sports lexicon. It often describes an athlete when they have reached a certain point in his or her career where we as fans begin to see diminishing returns.
The once great competitor seems to slow down and not have that edge or killer instinct we grew to admire or even love. Combat sports may be where we see the most brutal exposure of these athletes reaching their athletic end.
Fighters such as Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Joe Louis, and more recently Oscar De La Hoya have all run into the brick wall that is age. Unfortunately in combat sports, that brick wall is more literal than other sports.
With the growth in MMA over the past 15 years, there have been similar cases where the fighter cannot keep up with the growth in population of younger fighters, as well as the evolution of the sport.
MMA is constantly evolving. As the new generation of fighter emerges looking bigger, stronger, faster, and more well-rounded than ever, it’s amazing to think of the fighters from MMA’s origins who still remain relevant today. The first name that would come to mind of most MMA fans is the legendary Randy Couture.
His career in MMA dates back over a decade to 1997, where he competed in his first UFC after a stellar college wrestling career. He competed in and won his first UFC tournament at UFC 13. He then went on to capture the first of his record five UFC titles and the first of his three heavyweight titles at UFC Japan.
He had a long and storied career winning, defending, and losing multiple titles until finally retiring at UFC 57, after losing by KO to the king of the light-heavyweight division, MMA poster boy Chuck Liddell. However, his story does not end here. This is where his legend begins.
Much like current boxing phenom and fellow 40-year-old fighter Bernard Hopkins, he continued to fight back after a tough loss and prove that he can still compete with the top fighters in the world.
Thirteen months after his devastating loss and retirement, Couture came back to fight for the heavyweight title against a giant of a man in Tim Sylvia.
Sylvia was the reigning, defending, UFC heavyweight champion who had defended his title twice, and had won his last six fights in a row.
He also stands 6’8” and weighs 265 lbs. Couture, who stands a paltry (for the heavyweight division) 6’1” and 220 lbs, had just unretired after being KO’d, and hadn’t stepped inside a cage for over a year.
In true Rocky fashion Couture, came in and knocked Sylvia down within the first minute, and never let up, constantly keeping the bigger, younger man with the longer reach on the mat for 25 minutes.
He thoroughly dismantled his opponent at the ripe old age of 44, using a potent combination of wrestling and dirty boxing that has been his calling card for over a decade.
Couture recently lost his heavyweight title to the monstrous Brock Lesnar last fall, but by no means is he finished fighting in the UFC.
He is slated to face another top-flight fighter (former UFC interim heavyweight champ and PRIDE heavyweight champ Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira) later this summer and everyone expects him to look as sharp as ever.
Every time someone doubts him, it only seems to fuel him further. Losing will only create more doubters and that is when Randy is at his best.
Randy Couture may be the exception to the rule, especially in combat sports, but with so many great aging athletes in sports today (Shaquille O’Neal, Kurt Warner, and the aforementioned Hopkins to name a few) Couture stands out amongst his much younger competition.
Age is nothing but a number to this legend of the cage and UFC Hall of Famer. We should all be so lucky.