MMA, the Professional Athlete's Retirement Plan

Brendon LemonContributor IFebruary 10, 2010

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - MAY 26:  Former Oakland Athletics slugger Jose Canseco (L) fights with Choi Hong-man at first Round of Super Hulk Tournament during Dream.9 at Yokohama Arena on May 26, 2009 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. Canseco lost at 1 minute 17 seconds in the first round.  (Photo by Hiroki Watanabe/Getty Images)
Getty Images/Getty Images

In the wake of the Couture-Coleman fight, Herschel Walker’s dramatic debut into the world of mixed-martial-arts, and speculation on a second Jose Canseco fight, it seems that if you’re an aging former professional athlete, MMA might become your retirement program.

Herschel Walker, 47, in his Strikeforce debut, impressively beat 28 year-old Greg Nagy, a fighter nearly half Walker’s age, by TKO in the third round. Retiring from the Dallas Cowboys in 1997, Walker’s been out of the professional athlete circuit for over a decade. However, he returned just last month to deliver a royal beat-down in Miami.

Perhaps because of Walker’s win, speculation has been growing surrounding a second Jose Canseco fight, perhaps in Strikeforce. Losing in his first MMA fight, last year in Dream, Canseco wants another shot at the world of ground-and-pound. What’s more, he’ll probably get it.

The fact that any of these events are taking place is living proof of two things. First, the world of mixed-martial-arts hasn’t yet carved out its niche. Secondly, in the gray-area at the edge of that niche, there’s definitely room for aging stars or semi-stars, to attempt to fight people on a professional level.

Couture, 46, has stated repeatedly in interviews that the world of MMA offers a certain longevity to fighters that isn’t present in other professional sports. Positive proof of this has been in his recent wins against both Mark Coleman and Brandon Vera. Herschel Walker’s win at such an advanced age has opened the door for the legitimacy of other now-retired and aging former football players to enter the cage and attempt to get a second career going. If Canseco can somehow gerrymander his way into the cage with Strikeforce and step out with a win under his belt, all bets would be off—we’d see dozens of retirees stepping up.

Even the UFC, the one organization that above others seems to strive to maintain an air of legitimacy for the sport, isn’t exempt from this. In season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter, Dana White allowed Wes Shivers, former player for the Tennessee Titans, to enter the octagon and compete for a shot at the UFC heavyweight spot. Although Shiver, 32, wasn’t exactly “aging” in the way that we think of 47 year-old Herschel Walker as “aging,” it seems impossible to think of someone entering another professional sport at that age. 32 is simply too old for let’s say, a hockey player to enter professional football. Although Shivers lost his first match on the show, someone who didn’t lose was a second former football player we’ve all heard of: Kimbo Slice. Though Kimbo never played in the NFL officially, he did train with the Dolphins in 1997 on the preseason squad.

As the sport of MMA begins to find its place, it’s probable that two things will happen. First, More former professional athletes from other sports will enter to fight in both serious, and ridiculous capacities. Secondly, MMA leagues will begin to stratify the way other professional sports have and top tier leagues will likely see little influence from retired athletes.

However right now, if you’re an aging athlete, learn to throw some punches and ask Strikeforce if you can fight someone.