Opinion: The Viability of a Masters Division in MMA
By Jesse Heitz
As I have chronicled in many past articles, the legends of this great sport are rapidly entering into retirement from active competition. We’ve seen the likes of: Dan “The Beast” Severn, Tito “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Ortiz, Fedor “The Last Emperor” Emelianenko, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell, Randy “The Natural” Couture, and many others retire in the past year or two.
I’ve chattered on and on about my admiration for the first two generations of MMA fighters. Their heart, tenacity, and overall unique personalities have made them into individuals that have truly transcended the sport. Yet, as the age-old adage says, all good things must come to an end. What if it were possible to somehow delay the sun setting on the careers of these incredible fighters. Is that not something that MMA fans across the globe could get behind?
There has been a long history of MMA fans, through written pieces, forum discussions, and general garden variety informal discussions, of the value in establishing a “masters division” for aging fighters. I am of the mindset that there is a distinct need for a master’s division in MMA. I find that there is very little to lose by doing so, and tremendous things to gain.
It simply doesn’t seem right that once a fighter who has put his body on the line for the adulation of fans and as a workhorse for the bottom line of a given promotion (undoubtedly for the ability to put food on the table as well), that once they reach an age or a level of wear and tear where they are no longer able to compete with the 20-somethings that control the A-leagues, that they’re either forced to retire, or end their career fighting in obscurity.
Many fade away into retirement due to having “lost a step”, they’re still capable fighters, and more importantly, they still have the overwhelming desire to fight. What a prolific waste it is to basically throw these veterans and legends away simply because they can no longer compete against the highest level of competition.
So why doesn’t the UFC, as the premier promotion where many of these legends spent their glory years, establish a “masters division”? Why not follow in the PGA Tour’s (of all sports organizations) footsteps? Create a division where legends only fight other legends or veterans, go so far as to create a championship for it. By doing this, we can indulge in some much-needed nostalgia, enjoy our favorite fighters for a little bit longer, and give fighters a better opportunity to leave on their own terms from and make their exit from the promotion they helped to put on the map.
Critics will most certainly argue that there are ample health concerns, letting older fighters continue careers that have raged for the better part of two decades. Let’s face it, if an aging fighter wants to continue fighting, they’ll simply move to promotions operating out of bars and basements if that’s what it takes to feed their warrior spirit. On top of that, they’ll still have to be medically cleared to fight, like any other fighter.
I see little sense in stalling out this proposition. It’s good for the fans, good for the promotions, and good for the fighters. It seems like a win-win all the way around.