With only the odd exception, the world of MMA – and the UFC in particular – has never been a country for old men. While the promotion has seen older fighters ascend to win UFC titles, for the most part, ageing veterans are more often used to build the names of younger prospects.But 2020 has been a surprisingly good year for some of the UFC's most battle-hardened warriors. While the likes of Tyron Woodley and Anthony Smith fell to younger opponents, more veterans thrived in big fights.
Here are five past-their-prime UFC fighters who turned back the clock in 2020.
1. Alistair Overeem: 2-0 in the UFC in 2020
2019 didn’t end so well for Alistair Overeem. The former UFC Heavyweight title challenger was knocked out in December in somewhat controversial fashion by Jairzinho Rozenstruik, snapping a two-fight win streak and putting an end to any hopes of another UFC title shot.
With his 40th birthday on the horizon, it appeared that Overeem – who’s been fighting professionally since 1999 – was probably at the beginning of the end of his career. However, the Dutchman turned everything around in 2020.
First, just one day before his 40th birthday, he was able to recover from a horrendous beating at the hands of Walt Harris to turn things around and TKO ‘The Big Ticket’ in the second round. It was undoubtedly one of Overeem’s better wins in the UFC.
Following that, ‘The Reem’ was able to pick up another huge win over a younger opponent in October. He became the first man to beat Augusto Sakai in the UFC, stopping the 29-year old in the fifth round of their main event clash.
Overeem will now begin 2021 by facing off with fellow top-ranked Heavyweight Alexander Volkov. If the Dutchman can win that fight, an unlikely UFC title challenge – probably after his 41st birthday – could well be on.
2. Glover Teixeira: 2-0 in the UFC in 2020
One of the UFC’s longest-serving veterans, Glover Teixeira was already enjoying a career resurgence in 2019 despite turning 40 that October. The Brazilian picked up three wins last year, defeating Karl Roberson, Ion Cutelaba and Nikita Krylov.
2020 has been an even more successful year for him, though. Faced with an ultra-tough challenge in former UFC title challenger Anthony Smith in May, Teixeira turned back the clock. Despite taking some severe punishment in the early rounds, the Brazilian bounced back to punish ‘Lionheart’, eventually finishing him with a fifth-round TKO.
An even better showing was to come though. November saw Teixeira faced with another dangerous former UFC title challenger in fellow Brazilian Thiago Santos. On paper at least, this was a bad match for the 41-year old, as Santos appeared to be a more explosive, faster, harder-hitting fighter.
However, that didn’t matter in the end. Teixeira weathered another storm, but was eventually able to wear ‘Marreta’ out on the ground, finishing him off with a third-round rear-naked choke.
Whether the Brazilian will end up facing the UFC Light-Heavyweight champion in 2021 is still up in the air, but one thing is for sure – he enjoyed one of the best years of his UFC career in 2020.
3. Andrei Arlovski: 2-0 in the UFC in 2020
Few fighters were written off as many times as Andrei Arlovski. ‘The Pitbull’ – who debuted in the UFC way back in 2000 – looked finished about a decade ago when he suffered four losses in a row. However, Arlovski proved to be more challenging than his doubters figured.
A career resurgence saw him make an unlikely UFC return in 2014, and four wins in a row put him into UFC title contention. However, another lousy slide – this time a five-fight losing streak – appeared to have him on the verge of retirement again.
Somehow Arlovski kept ticking on and picked up enough wins to keep him afloat, but when he was KO’d by Jairzinho Rozenstruik to end 2019, it looked like his time was up.
Once again though, the former UFC Heavyweight champion has proven everyone wrong. Arlovski picked up two big wins in 2020, defeating both Philipe Lins and Tanner Boser via clear-cut decision. The win over Boser, in particular, was impressive, as ‘The Bulldozer’ had been on a strong run and looked like a potential contender.
Now 41 years old, whether Arlovski can keep going into 2021 is anyone’s guess, but ‘The Pitbull’ indeed turned back the clock in 2020.
4. Jose Aldo: 1-1 in the UFC in 2020
When Jose Aldo decided to drop to 135lbs for the first time in his UFC career in late 2019, it sounded like a bad idea. However, despite losing a tight decision to Marlon Moraes, the former UFC featherweight kingpin looked like he still had plenty to offer.
That wasn’t the case in July though, as Aldo was completely shellacked by Petr Yan, missing out on the chance to win the UFC bantamweight title in the process. Few fans would have begrudged the legendary Brazilian choosing to retire after the loss.
However, Aldo decided to stick around – and stunned everyone by turning back the clock to defeat Marlon Vera in his most recent fight.
The Vera fight showed Aldo at his best – landing punishing shots to the Ecuadorian’s legs and body, as well as making the most of his long-vaunted ground game to seal his victory over ‘Chito’ finally.
Following his victory – his first official one in the UFC at 135lbs – Aldo called out former UFC bantamweight champ TJ Dillashaw, who is due back from a USADA suspension in 2021. Judging by his showing against Vera, it’d be hard to bet against the 34-year old turning back the clock again in that fight, too.
5. Rafael Dos Anjos: 1-0 in the UFC in 2020
The former UFC lightweight champion, Rafael Dos Anjos had been on a career slide coming into 2020. The 36-year old had picked up just one win – over Kevin Lee – in his last five fights, and his 2016 decision to move to 170lbs didn’t seem to be working.
So when it was announced that ‘RDA’ would be dropping back to 155lbs for a fight with Islam Makhachev, it sounded like a final roll of the dice for the Brazilian. Lose, and it seemed likely that his career as an elite-level UFC fighter would be over.
However, despite eventually facing late replacement Paul Felder instead of Makhachev, Dos Anjos stunned everyone by rolling back the years and producing his best performance since his 2016 win over Robbie Lawler.
The Brazilian took the fight to Felder from the off and beat ‘The Irish Dragon’ in all areas, proving that he has plenty to offer to the UFC’s lightweight division. Despite being 36 years old and having over a decade of UFC wars to his name, the future may well still be bright for ‘RDA’ going into 2021.Published 28 Dec 2020, 23:08 IST