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Over 40 and still going strong in MMA

Alexis Vila is undefeated with 11 wins and no losses in his professional MMA career.. He will turn 41-years-old in March. Photo by Meghan Wonder for ProMMAnow.com

In all professional sports once a player hits 40 he or she would be considered over-the-hill. However, it seems that in MMA many of these athletes actually seem to thrive as they get older. It would be wrong to suggest that all athletes are past their prime after they hit a certain age. Numerous professional athletes in various sports (football, basketball, baseball, boxing, and wrestling) are still training hard and in the game after the age of 40.

Below are some of the best MMA fighters who are still displaying a warrior’s heart, and no one can call these guys old.

Alexis “The Exorcist” Vila

Vila, who was born in 1971, hails from Cuba. He started out as a wrestler, and he went on to become a two-time World Wrestling Champion. He also won the bronze medal in the Men’s Freestyle Wrestling division at the 1996 Olympics.

When Vila made the move from Cuba to the United States he quickly earned a reputation as a premier collegiate wrestling coach. In fact, he trained UFC fighters Rashad Evans and Gray Maynard when they attended Michigan State.

In 2007, Vila, who was 36, began training in MMA. Fighting in the Bellator organization, Vila made his MMA debut at Bellator 51 when he defeated featherweight champion Joe Warren.

Today, Vila, who fights as a bantamweight, trains at the American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida. Vila, who is 40 years-old, feels he still has several years to go as a MMA fighter.

“I feel like I’m the best bantamweight in the world right now,” said Vila. “I have everything. I have all the training and all the tools. People don’t even know. Nobody has the stand-up that I have, the wrestling I have, or the strength that I have.”

His current fight record is 11-0.

Dan Henderson

Like many other MMA fighters, Dan Henderson was grounded in superior wrestling skills before he started training in mixed martial arts. As a former Greco Roman wrestler, Henderson represented the United States in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, where Alexis Vila also competed.

In 1997, Henderson, who had no real training in MMA, had his first fight.

“I did it for the money,” he recalls.

During his professional mixed martial arts career, Henderson has won numerous matches and titles in various MMA organizations, including UFC, Pride and Strikeforce. But the biggest surprise of his illustrious career came earlier this year when the two-time Olympian secured the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight title after he defeated Rafael Feijao. Henderson was 40-years-old.

In July 2011, Henderson went on to defend his title in a big way when he KO’d Fedor Emelianenko in the first round. His fight record currently stands at 28-8.

Herschel Walker

As a former football great, Herschel Walker is working to prove himself in the sport of MMA at the age of 49. Like many other former athletes, Walker became intrigued with mixed martial arts. Instead of trying to make a comeback in football, the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner decided to try his hand at MMA.

Although, he is a novice in the sport, Walker is no stranger to martial arts. He holds a fifth-degree black belt in tae kwon do.

In 2009, Strikeforce signed Walker to a contract to fight in the heavyweight division. He began training at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., under the guidance of Bob Cook.

Although Walker was successful and dominated his first two fights, he seems hesitant to book a third fight. Some people may think this has to do with his age, whereas others think he is still an inexperienced MMA fighter who is trying to get more training under his belt.

His fights against Greg Nagy and Scott Carson were sloppy, but effective; he scored a TKO on both opponents. Despite his lack of MMA experience, Walker still looked like he was in NFL football shape even at age 49.

Walker is now a 2-0 mixed martial artist.

Vladimir Matyushenko

Another impressive over 40 MMA fighter is Vladimir “The Janitor” Matyushenko, who got his start in MMA in 1997. At UFC 32, Matyusheno’s debut was a successful one when he won over Yuki Kondo.

Before Matyushenko started training in MMA he was the Soviet National Wrestling Champion. He made the transition to mixed martial arts when he won three fights on the same night at “IFC 5: Battle in the Bayou”.

Through the years, Matyushenko has fought and won matches over some of the best fighters in MMA, including Jason Brilz, Eliot Marshall, Pedro Rizzo and Antônio Rogério Nogueira.

With his 41st birthday creeping up in January 2012, Matyushenko, who fights as a light heavyweight, shows no signs of slowing down. In April, he knocked out Jason Brilz in just 20 seconds during the first round.

Matyushenko, who holds a 26-5 record, will go up against Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 141 in December.

Special Mention

Dan “The Beast” Severn

With a current fight record of 100-18-7, Dan “The Beast” Severn is considered one of the greatest athletes in the world, and he’s still going strong. Severn, at age 52, still competes in MMA competitions and pro wrestling.

Severn became a two time All-American Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestler while he attended Arizona State University. Later, he became a wrestling coach at Arizona State and Michigan State. Before he became an MMA fighter, Severn traveled the world and competed in wrestling, winning many titles from 1982 to 1994.

With mixed martial arts still in its infancy, Severn took his wrestling skills and became a part of history when he competed in his first MMA bout at UFC 4. “The Beast” has had more fights past the age of 40 than the majority of MMA fighters have had their whole career.

For the record, since 1998 when he turned 40, Severn has competed in 95 MMA bouts; having notable wins against fighters such as Ken Shamrock, Tank Abbott and Forrest Griffin. He not only fights, but Severn has been able to rack up a good number of wins.

His 100th career victory win came on April 16, 2011 when he submitted Aaron Garcia. During his noteworthy fight career, Severn has fought in several organizations, including Pride and UFC. He was a two-time UFC Tournament winner, a UFC Superfight champion, and in 2005 he was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.

Severn, who was also a professional wrestler for organizations such as National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), has acted in films and often travels the globe instructing seminars in MMA, grappling and amateur wrestling.

Although Severn is still winning matches, he has decided to finally hang up his gloves in 2012.

Randy “The Natural” Couture

Couture was around near the beginning of MMA when the sport was still wet behind the ears. He actually made his debut in May 1997 at UFC 13.  So, it is understandable why he is considered a pioneer for mixed martial arts just like Dan Severn.

As a former Olympic wrestler and a semifinalist at the 2000 Olympic Trials, Couture eventually worked as an assistant wrestling coach and a strength and conditioning coach for Oregon State University.

During his wrestling career, Couture was a three-time National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division-I All-American and a two-time NCAA Division-I runner-up at Oklahoma State University.

Couture started training in mixed martial arts when he saw a commercial on TV. In May 1997, he had his first bout, and by December 1997, Couture became the new heavyweight champion after he beat Maurice Smith.

Over the years, Couture has had notable wins over MMA fighters Vitor Belfort, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Tim Sylvia and others. One of his greatest fights happened when Couture battled the five-time defending champion Tito Ortiz for the undisputed light heavyweight title. At age 40, Couture won a unanimous decision and became the undisputed UFC light heavyweight champion.

Couture has fought and won champions in two different divisions, heavyweight and light heavyweight.

In 2006, Couture moved to Las Vegas where he opened Xtreme Couture, a facility where MMA hopefuls and professionals train and learn all the disciplines needed to be successful: boxing, grappling, Muay Thai and Jiu-Jitsu.

On June 24, 2006, Couture was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. He retired from fighting in that same year, but made a return to the UFC in 2007. At age 43, Couture’s first fight back was against Tim Sylvia for the UFC heavyweight championship at UFC 68. Couture took the belt from Sylvia by dominating the entire five rounds and winning a unanimous decision.

In Couture’s last fight against Lyoto Machida at UFC 129, he had already made up his mind that it would definitely be his last fight, no matter what the outcome. Although Couture wanted to leave the UFC with a win that wasn’t the case; the fight ended with Couture getting KO’d by Machida.

“This is gonna be the last time you see these gloves and these shorts in this Octagon. I’m retiring tonight. I want to thank all my fans for all there support. That’s it for me, I’m ready to do something else,” Couture stated after the bout.

His final fight record: 19-11.

Now that Couture has retired, for good this time, he is concentrating on expanding the Xtreme Couture brand and acting. He has been featured in “Redbelt,” ‘The Scorpion King 2,” “Big Stan,” and in 2010 he starred in “The Expendables,” featuring Sylvester Stallone, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Stone Cold Steve Austin and other highly skilled athletes. He will also be in the sequel, which will hit theaters in 2012.

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