10 MMA Fighters Who Didn't Let Age Stand in the Way of Success

Dustin FilloyFeatured ColumnistMay 16, 2013

10 MMA Fighters Who Didn't Let Age Stand in the Way of Success

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    Because age brings wear and wear breeds setbacks, few fighters in the realm of MMA continue to experience high levels of success once they pass their prime.

    It's certainly a rarity, but certain fighters have gained momentum and achieved excellence in their mid-to-late 30s or even early 40s.

    When the bodies, minds and chins of the other great fighters of their generations wore out, these men never let up, perpetually chasing their dream of becoming MMA champs.

    Here's a look at the 10 fighters that didn't let age stand in the way of success.

Honorable Mentions

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    At 36 years old, Brazilian legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who made his pro debut in June 1999, still possesses the chops to garner the No. 8 slot on the UFC's list of top 10 heavyweights.

    Roughly two years after "Big Nog's" debut, his younger identical twin brother, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, accepted his first pro scrap in Japan's DEEP organization.

    "Little Nog" scored two of the most pivotal wins of his career over Tito Ortiz and Rashad Evans in his last two bouts. He's currently the UFC's fifth ranked 205-pounder.

10. Chael Sonnen

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    Chael Sonnen absorbed plenty of lumps before his 30th birthday but has dished out plenty more in the years preceding it.

    Roughly two months after turning 29, Sonnen suffered his eighth career loss at the hands of Jeremy Horn at UFC 60.

    But over the next seven years, Sonnen won 12 of 17 fights, earning three UFC title shots in the process.

    Albeit Sonnen squandered each of his three shots at UFC gold, but "The American Gangster" put on his best shows in his mid 30s, besting the likes of Yushin Okami, Michael Bisping and Nate Marquardt during that stretch.

9. Kazushi Sakuraba

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    Although his time has clearly passed, Japanese legend Kazushi Sakuraba just doesn't want to give up the sport he loves.

    Sakuraba may have landed higher on this countdown had he not dropped six of nine bouts since turning 37 in 2007.

    Before his long drought, Sakuraba won 23 pro fights between July 1996 and December 2007, 16 via submission and four over members of the Gracie Family, garnering the moniker "The Gracie Hunter" along the way.

    Since turning 35 in 2005, Sakuraba has notched nine wins, eight of which came by submission.

8. Cung Le

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    For a man who didn't make his MMA debut until 2006 or his UFC debut until 2011, Cung Le has accomplished some remarkable feats in the sport.

    Le needed just six pro fights and two years of competition to swipe the Strikeforce middleweight title from Frank Shamrock in 2008. He did so by snapping Shamrock's arm with a brutal body kick at Strikeforce: Shamrock vs. Le. 

    At 40, Le's easily the oldest fighter in the UFC's stable of 185-pounders. But age hasn't stopped the former Sanshou champion from reeling off back-to-back wins over Patrick Cote and Rich Franklin at UFC 148 and UFC on Fuel TV 6, respectively.

7. Vitor Belfort

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    He certainly doesn't lack experience, but having a birthday that falls just two days before Sonnen's makes Belfort the second youngest fighter on this list.

    Belfort won via TKO over Tra Telligman in just 1:17 in his promotional debut at UFC 12 in 1997. 

    Thirty fights and nearly 16 years later, "The Phenom" put on one of the best performances of his career in a second-round thrashing of Michael Bisping at UFC on FX 7. 

    Belfort critics make the claim that he won the light heavyweight belt from Randy Couture at UFC 46 because of a technicality (Couture suffered a corneal abrasion in the first round and couldn't continue).

    However, The Phenom's critics can't diminish the fact the Belfort nearly snapped the arm of 25-year-old light heavyweight champ Jon Jones at UFC 152.

6. Mark Hunt

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    In Mark Hunt's debut in the Octagon, the then 36-year-old got submitted by Sean McCorkle at UFC 119 to suffer his sixth consecutive loss.

    Three years and four enthralling bouts later, "The Super Samoan" stands on the cusp of top contendership in the UFC's heavyweight division.

    The aging Hunt has violently dismantled Chris Tuchscherer, Ben Rothwell, Cheick Kongo and Stefan Struve in his last four fights.

    Hunt pocketed "Knockout of the Night" bonuses for his wins over Tuchscherer and Struve at UFC 127 and UFC on Fuel TV 8, respectively. Hunt broke Struve's jaw with a vicious leaping left hook just 20 days after turning 39.

    If he can outdo former champ Junior dos Santos at UFC 160, The Super Samoan could soon get a shot at 30-year-old champ Cain Velasquez.

5. Chuck Liddell

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    In the last fight of his career at UFC 115, it seemed evident that the then 40-year-old Chuck Liddell had the body to stand the test of time, but not the chin to match.

    Once renowned for his ability to take a shot, Liddell, who broke Rich Franklin's arm earlier in the round, got KO'd from a right hook from Franklin with five seconds left in the opening round.

    Liddell suffered four of his six career knockout losses after he turned 36. 

    But before his 35th birthday, Liddell enjoyed a heyday that lasted from April 2004 to December 2006. 

    "The Iceman" opened and closed his most prolific run in the UFC with notable wins over nemesis Tito Ortiz.

    In April 2004, at the age of 34, Liddell pummeled Ortiz en route to a second-round KO at UFC 47.

    Nearly two years later, Liddell unleashed another furious beating on Ortiz, this time crushing "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" at UFC 66 for the light heavyweight strap.

4. Mark Coleman

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    In May 2000, at the age of 35, Coleman hit his peak when he crushed Igor Vovchanchyn with a barrage of knees in the finals of the Pride FC 2000 Openweight Grand Prix.

    Coleman, known for pioneering an effective and extremely active brand of ground-and-pound, topped some of the best heavyweights in the world in Japan before rejoining the UFC in 2009.

    More than nine years after smashing Vovchanchyn, a 44-year-old Coleman gutted out a unanimous decision win over a 32-year-old Stephan Bonnar at UFC 100.

3. Dan Henderson

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    One of few to blend high levels of durability and talent, the 42-year-old Dan Henderson saw one of his most fruitful winning streaks come to a halt against Lyoto Machida at UFC 157.

    But before getting outpointed by the former light heavyweight champ, "Hendo", the eldest of the UFC's 375 signed fighters, scored consecutive wins over Mauricio Rua, Fedor Emelianenko, Rafael Cavalcante and Renato Sobral.

    Henderson celebrated his 39th birthday less than fourth months before his win over Sobral at Strikeforce: Henderson vs. Babalu II. 

    Not yet finished with his storied career, Hendo will continue to square off with upper-echelon opponents when he faces former light heavyweight champ Rashad Evans at UFC 161 in June, roughly two months before his 43rd birthday.

2. Anderson Silva

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    Widely regarded the best mixed martial artist to ever compete, 38-year-old Anderson Silva began his incredible 17-fight winning streak in April 2007 at the age of 31.

    "The Spider" won the UFC middleweight strap less than six months later, TKO'ing Rich Franklin at UFC 64.

    Silva has since defended his belt 10 times, including four times since turning 35 in April 2010. 

    Ranked No. 1 in the UFC's pound-for-pound rankings, The Spider would have garnered the top spot on this list had he been born a few years earlier.

1. Randy Couture

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    It's seems like it's only a matter of time before a major motion picture based on the extraordinary MMA career of Randy Couture comes to fruition.

    Truth be told, the unlikely path "The Natural" took to super stardom in the sport screams Hollywood.

    Couture didn't make his UFC debut until the age of 34 at UFC 13.

    But The Natural wasted little time nabbing the belt, decisioning Maurice Smith less than six months later at UFC Japan to take home the heavyweight strap.

    At the age of 36, Couture TKO'd Kevin Randleman at UFC 28 to recapture the heavyweight title. 

    The Natural swapped the heavyweight and light heavyweight belts with some of the world's best between 2000 and 2006.

    Then, at the age of 43, Couture dominated gargantuan champ Tim Sylvia to amazingly recapture the heavyweight strap at UFC 68.

    A 46-year-old Couture preserved his legacy by swiftly choking James Toney and scoring his last career victory at UFC 118. 

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