47 year old former NFL star Herschel Walker created a big stir when he signed to compete in MMA for the Strikeforce organization. Today, Strikeforce announced that Herschel Walker's opponent on January 30th 2010 would be none other than another sporting legend, Hockey Hall-of-Famer, Gordie Howe.
Scott Coker announced the signing in the press release saying:
"Thirty years ago, Gordie Howe proved that age is just a number, when he played all 80 games for the NHL's Hartford Whalers at the age of 51. On January 30th, 2010, Gordie Howe is going to prove that age is just a number once again.
He's taking his training for this fight very seriously, and the one thing that we've learned is that you just can't count out a world-class athlete like Gordy. He can do whatever he wants to do, and he'll get his chance against Herschel Walker."
UFC president Dana White did not respond positively to this latest Strikeforce announcement:
"This is (expletive) riddiculous! Gordie Howe was a great athlete, and someone whom I consider a friend, but if age doesn't matter, then why isn't he playing in the NHL anymore? Why? Because HE'S TOO (EXPLETIVE) OLD!!
This fight is nothing more than a freak show, and it's a (expletive) disgrace to the sport. We don't do that kind of thing in the UFC, but Strikeforce is going to ruin this thing for everybody."
Obviously some harsh words from Mr. White, but is he being hypocritical? The UFC recently announced the signing of 53 year-old Frank Dux to take on the 42 year-old in a battle for the aged at UFC 110 in Sydney Australia. When asked about it, Dana White had this to say:
"Oh My god! This is not the (expletive) same thing as Herschel Walker vs. Gordie Howe. Let me tell you something about Frank Dux. Frank Dux was fighting in the Kumite (allegedly) thirty years ago. This guy brings a ton of experience, and is a legend in the sport. If you compare Gordie Howe to Frank Dux, I'm going to (expletive) puke!"
Joe Rogan also commented on the bout saying:
"Frank Dux has had some injuries in the past, but time heals all wounds and Frank Dux has had like 20 years off, so I expect that we'll see the very best Frank Dux ever when he faces off against Renzo Gracie."
Whatever you believe, it's clear that there is a new trend in MMA of signing older and more experienced fighters. Consider for instance the recent mega-contracts given out to 46 year-old Randy Couture and 39 year-old Dan Henderson.
Couture still has six five fights remaining on his contract, and has stated a desire to keep fighting so that his unborn grandchildren get a chance to watch their grandfather compete at the highest level of the sport.
Add on to that the upcoming fights between Couture and legend Mark Coleman, and Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz and it's easy to see that Strikeforce and the UFC are trending towards an aging MMA audience.
This all seems to go back to some market research that shows MMA fans are far more interested in watching older fighters than they are in watching up-and-coming prospects.
Could this eventually lead to the creation of a "Legends" league within the UFC? Who knows. One thing for certain, 50 is the new 40 in MMA, and 60 is only ten years older than that.
It has come to the point where Matt Hughes has stated his desire to not fight contenders like Jon Fitch (31), and Josh Koscheck (32) because at their young ages, they simply don't bring the kind of excitement that comes in every Matt Hughes fight.
In a related story, the recent Strikeforce signing of Bobby Orr has prompted Jake Shields to call out the NHL legend.
"Bobby Orr says that he's a Stanley Cup Champion, but I don't think he wants to fight me. If you're a champion, then you're supposed to be fighting the best. I'm here to challenge myself, and I want this fight, but Bobby Orr is scared."
Orr could not be reached for immediate comment.