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UnderGround Forums >> Does MMA have a Nine Year Rule?


6/21/11 3:27 PM
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Underground News
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Athletes have a shelf life.

Many gymnasts retire in their teens. Professional baseball players generally reach the majors between ages 23 and 25, peak between 27 and 31, and are usually out of the sport by their late 30s. 1500 meter runners peak at 25, with the age going up for longer distances, and down for shorter ones.

MMA as an organized sport is still a teenager, so it does not have the advantage of generations of athletic performance to discern patterns from. However, David Williams has studied the record to date, and come to an interesting conclusion.

For MMA, there doesn’t seem to be a specific age range in which fighters enter their prime or suffer a decline. Great fighters such as Wanderlei Silva and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira are 34 and 35 years old, respectively, and both appear to be on the last legs of their careers. Randy Couture, on the other hand, didn’t even begin his career until he was 34 years old. A remarkable fact about recent high-profile MMA collapses is that there’s little consistency about what age they occur. While Chuck Liddell’s collapse took place in his late-30s, fighters like Joe Stevenson and Karo Parisyan aren’t even 30 years old yet.

Despite this inconsistency, I’m going to argue that MMA fighters have consistent career paths. I believe that there’s a particular point at which most fighters enter the prime of their career, and a point at which most fighters exit their prime, and either decline or suffer a brutal career collapse. This is based not on the age of the fighter, or even how many times the fighter has competed professionally, but instead on how long a fighter has been competing professionally.

For this study, I want to look at the collective performance of fighters over time against only the top tier of opponents, or what I define as a “UFC-quality fighter.” The reason I do this is to filter out wins against inferior opponents: if a fighter is in the midst of a collapse, nobody is going to be convinced otherwise by a win against a 4-10 opponent on the regional circuit. With the parameters of the study set, I evaluated the careers of over 300 fighters, most of whom have competed in the UFC, to determine how well they perform according to how long they’ve been competing professionally.

The steepest drop takes place after the fighters measured had been competing professionally for 9 years. At that point, the ability of the fighters to compete against quality competition declines to the same level as when they were relative rookies in the sport. It doesn’t mean that the fighters are incapable of winning against good opponents, but their ability to compete at the highest levels of the sport is greatly diminished. This can take root in various ways. Some fighters become much more prone to being knocked out. Some have a slower reaction time. Others start getting injured on a frequent basis. For some, the collapse is psychological: the fighter becomes mentally broken.

Recent high-profile collapses appear to bolster the case of the “9-year rule.” Here are a few examples:
CHUCK LIDDELL: MMA debut – 5/18/98, 9-year mark – 5/18/07
FEDOR EMELIANENKO: MMA debut – 5/21/00, 9-year mark – 5/21/09
TAKANORI GOMI: MMA debut – 11/27/98, 9-year mark – 11/27/07
JENS PULVER: MMA debut – 4/24/99, 9-year mark – 4/24/08
WANDERLEI SILVA: MMA debut – 11/1/96, 9-year mark – 11/1/05

Further, the 9-year rule seems to apply regardless of the age of the fighter or how many times he’s competed professionally. Ortiz and Arlovski only had fought 17 and 18 times, respectively, when they reached the 9-year mark of their careers, but they’ve both suffered recent collapses. Meanwhile, to go to the other extreme, Jeremy Horn had competed 91 times when he reached the 9-year mark of his career. Horn went 7-6 in his following 13 fights.

The rule seems to defy age as well. The effects of the 9-year rule on Randy Couture are debatable, because he went 5-3 afterwards with the famous win over Tim Sylvia, but given that two of those wins were against James Toney and Mark Coleman, I would argue that the rule applies to him as well. Meanwhile, the rule appears to have affected the careers of two fighters currently in their 20s: Joe Stevenson and Karo Parisyan were each just 25 years old when the 9-year rule took effect. Stevenson is 3-5 since then, and Parisyan is 1-3, with the latter having become known for suffering from severe panic attacks before his fights.

I predict that a lot of highly-ranked fighters are going to lose fights that people don’t expect them to in the near future. Anderson Silva has been fighting for 11 years now – the beating he endured at the hands of Sonnen was no fluke; there’s a real possibility that he loses to Yushin Okami in a “shock” upset. Georges St. Pierre reached the 9-year mark in January, and subjectively, he looked less impressive against Jake Shields than he had in a while. Other top-ranked fighters who have been competing for 9 years include Jon Fitch, B.J. Penn, Forrest Griffin, Frank Mir, and Alistair Overeem.

There are exceptions to the rule. Most notable is Henderson, a fighter who debuted in 1997 and is 5-1 in his last six fights. His loss was to Jake Shields, who has now been competing for almost 12 years, and is doing just fine. Vitor Belfort has been competing for almost 15 years now, but his loss to Anderson Silva broke a five-fight winning streak (although his recent injuries may be a sign that his career doesn’t have much time left). Quinton “Rampage” Jackson may have barely gotten by Keith Jardine and Lyoto Machida, but he’s still 4-1 since reaching the 9-year mark of his career. Still, these fighters are exceptions, and any of them could collapse at any moment.

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6/21/11 3:37 PM
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butcher4
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Zach Arnold didn't write the article, he just posted it on his site. Phone Post
6/21/11 3:40 PM
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Pernicious
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Does this validate or fly in the face of the 7 year itch?
6/21/11 3:43 PM
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MattBenwa
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I don't buy it - everyone ages at a different pace, some fighters take more abuse than others, etc - there are FAR too many factors to make a blanket assessment like this.
6/21/11 3:44 PM
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dirtymfmoney
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Sure I suppose and I'm sure there's a study that says diff.. Phone Post
6/21/11 3:49 PM
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JimmersonzGlove
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 I thought it was a cool article.
6/21/11 3:53 PM
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DaTazzManianDevil
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interesting read.
6/21/11 3:54 PM
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ChangoBravo
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It is an interesting premise. I would like to see more about this.



Chango
6/21/11 4:47 PM
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clattymine
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 So lots of fighters apply to the nine year rule, however lots don't.

I think he's found the peak of the bell curve, but that's it.
6/21/11 4:49 PM
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Blackbeltpanda
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Kinda cool but I don't see a whole lot of merit in the arguement. Gsp def isn't slowing down Phone Post
6/21/11 5:05 PM
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JeffersonDArcyChoke
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Hermes Franca has a nine year rule. Or is it fourteen? Too soon? Phone Post
6/21/11 5:10 PM
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AndyMain
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This is interesting theory. However I completely disagree. There is no way at this stage of the life of mma to be able to figure out the amount of time fighters can compete. The game is so young and fighters are still improving at an extremely fast pace. That is why you see guys like Fedor, Gomi, and Pulver on a downslide. They haven't evolved with the level of fighters, where others have. However if you had them fighting the type of guys who were at the top back when they were dominating I'd bet they would still be dominating the game. I think it has little to nothing to do with how long they've been fighting. Also i think it will always be very difficult to pinpoint a consistency because there are so many different types of fighters. A fighter like Anderson Silva could potentially fight for a long time because he takes very little damage. It would also depend on how people are training. Like who lifts, or swims, or spars 5 days a week, etc. There are so many variables that would affect how long a fighter can fight. My bet is that eventually there will be a slight consistency in the age around where guys stop fighting and that's about it.
6/21/11 5:19 PM
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JDSFTW
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This article is quite dumb imo. I think it's more so that the sport is growing so fast, that fighters get passed up within a decade if they don't keep up with the times. It's the evolution of the sport Phone Post
6/21/11 6:53 PM
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Kirik
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 Very cool article. There is a lot to think about there.
6/21/11 8:27 PM
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awilson82
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While Chuck had lost a couple in a row prior to 05/2007 (one being a damn close split decision against Jardine) he did win one of the best fights in MMAs history against Wand late in 07 and imo what did him in was the Rashad KO in 08.

6/21/11 8:58 PM
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gibboau
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It's an interesting statistic, but makes no logical sense. It would greatly depend on the individual, how much they train and what their body can withstand. Phone Post
6/21/11 9:06 PM
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nhbguy
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JDSFTW - This article is quite dumb imo. I think it's more so that the sport is growing so fast, that fighters get passed up within a decade if they don't keep up with the times. It's the evolution of the sport Phone Post


So you really don't think that guys like Wanderlei Silva, Mirko Cro Cop, or Minotauro Nogueira are losing fights due to the fact that their in their mid 30s, have upwards of 40 fights each, have all been competing for over 10 years? They are as good as ever, than just getting beat by guys who are "more evolved"?

So fighters don't age and slow down, they just eventually run into guys who were always better than them?
6/21/11 9:09 PM
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ILoveWatchingJonesBoneShogun
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or competition started to get alot better around 2005?


nooooo thats just way to obvious and makes to much sense to be true
6/21/11 9:13 PM
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ILoveWatchingJonesBoneShogun
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nhbguy - 
JDSFTW - This article is quite dumb imo. I think it's more so that the sport is growing so fast, that fighters get passed up within a decade if they don't keep up with the times. It's the evolution of the sport Phone Post


So you really don't think that guys like Wanderlei Silva, Mirko Cro Cop, or Minotauro Nogueira are losing fights due to the fact that their in their mid 30s, have upwards of 40 fights each, have all been competing for over 10 years? They are as good as ever, than just getting beat by guys who are "more evolved"?

So fighters don't age and slow down, they just eventually run into guys who were always better than them?


i cant think of a single example where this has happened.Every single instance was post pride and every single time it was within 1 year of leaving pride that they mysteriously all got old

i remember Crocop peaking when pride folded,then he ran into Gonzaga who isnt even a top 10 guy right now.Did Gonzaga get old?

I think that the premise that alot of guys simply werent anywhere near as good as guys now makes alot more sense
6/21/11 9:14 PM
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nhbguy
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^^^So are you also in the "fighters don't age" boat?
6/21/11 9:23 PM
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ILoveWatchingJonesBoneShogun
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Edited: 06/21/11 9:24 PM
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nhbguy - ^^^So are you also in the "fighters don't age" boat?


i dont think they all got old on the flight back from japan
6/21/11 9:27 PM
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The Triangle
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Disagree with the 9yr shelf life I've been in MMA over 10 years now and feel I've got plenty of years left if not better ones Phone Post
6/21/11 9:28 PM
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nhbguy
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ILoveWatchingJonesBoneShogun - 
nhbguy - 
JDSFTW - This article is quite dumb imo. I think it's more so that the sport is growing so fast, that fighters get passed up within a decade if they don't keep up with the times. It's the evolution of the sport Phone Post


So you really don't think that guys like Wanderlei Silva, Mirko Cro Cop, or Minotauro Nogueira are losing fights due to the fact that their in their mid 30s, have upwards of 40 fights each, have all been competing for over 10 years? They are as good as ever, than just getting beat by guys who are "more evolved"?

So fighters don't age and slow down, they just eventually run into guys who were always better than them?


i cant think of a single example where this has happened.Every single instance was post pride and every single time it was within 1 year of leaving pride that they mysteriously all got old

i remember Crocop peaking when pride folded,then he ran into Gonzaga who isnt even a top 10 guy right now.Did Gonzaga get old?

I think that the premise that alot of guys simply werent anywhere near as good as guys now makes alot more sense


Well let's take a look at it. Wanderlei had lost two straight fights in Pride before coming over to the UFC. He had been slowing since 2005 when he lost to Mark Hunt and Ricardo Arona as well.

Nogueira last fight in Pride was at the end of 2006. His first loss in the UFC occured a full 2 years later at the end of 2008. You don't think a lot can change to in athlete who's in his 30s and has been through as many wars as Minotauro had?

As for Mirko, everyone always love to point out that his loss to Gonzaga occured 7 months after the OWGP. The Pride Open Weight GP was the pinnacle of his career, but not his absolute best from a performance standpoint. That was sort of his last hurrah as a great fighter, but he had already showed signs of slipping coming into that tourney, losing a striking battle and getting outworked by Mark Hunt, a fighter he had beaten decisively in K-1 3 years ago. And if you think that mma rules made it a different fight, you should go back and check it out. They just kickboxed in their Pride fight, same as they had in K-1. He was extremely motivated for the 2006 GP and was able to squeeze out one last great performance. A lot can happen to an athlete in 7 months(amount of time from GP victory & Gonzaga fight) when he hits his 30s and he's already shown signs of slowing down. It's also important to remember that he shattered his ankle on Wanderlei's head in that fight.

I often wonder if mma fans watch any other sports. I'm guessing a lot do not, that might explain why so many fans simply don't get how aging and wear and tear effect an athlete. How many times in football have we seen a player be great one year, and then not be the same guy the next. Interestingly enough the time between the end of one season and the start of the next is about 7 months. It's baffling to me that so many mma fans can't grasp this concept.
6/21/11 9:28 PM
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ILoveWatchingJonesBoneShogun
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If i said Tim Sylvia got old in 2007 everyone would say bullshit,he lost to good fighters and he was never that good. I think we use the age excuse for fighters that we like
6/21/11 9:32 PM
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ILoveWatchingJonesBoneShogun
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nhbguy - 
ILoveWatchingJonesBoneShogun - 
nhbguy - 
JDSFTW - This article is quite dumb imo. I think it's more so that the sport is growing so fast, that fighters get passed up within a decade if they don't keep up with the times. It's the evolution of the sport Phone Post


So you really don't think that guys like Wanderlei Silva, Mirko Cro Cop, or Minotauro Nogueira are losing fights due to the fact that their in their mid 30s, have upwards of 40 fights each, have all been competing for over 10 years? They are as good as ever, than just getting beat by guys who are "more evolved"?

So fighters don't age and slow down, they just eventually run into guys who were always better than them?


i cant think of a single example where this has happened.Every single instance was post pride and every single time it was within 1 year of leaving pride that they mysteriously all got old

i remember Crocop peaking when pride folded,then he ran into Gonzaga who isnt even a top 10 guy right now.Did Gonzaga get old?

I think that the premise that alot of guys simply werent anywhere near as good as guys now makes alot more sense


Well let's take a look at it. Wanderlei had lost two straight fights in Pride before coming over to the UFC. He had been slowing since 2005 when he lost to Mark Hunt and Ricardo Arona as well.

Nogueira last fight in Pride was at the end of 2006. His first loss in the UFC occured a full 2 years later at the end of 2008. You don't think a lot can change to in athlete who's in his 30s and has been through as many wars as Minotauro had?

As for Mirko, everyone always love to point out that his loss to Gonzaga occured 7 months after the OWGP. The Pride Open Weight GP was the pinnacle of his career, but not his absolute best from a performance standpoint. That was sort of his last hurrah as a great fighter, but he had already showed signs of slipping coming into that tourney, losing a striking battle and getting outworked by Mark Hunt, a fighter he had beaten decisively in K-1 3 years ago. And if you think that mma rules made it a different fight, you should go back and check it out. They just kickboxed in their Pride fight, same as they had in K-1. He was extremely motivated for the 2006 GP and was able to squeeze out one last great performance. A lot can happen to an athlete in 7 months(amount of time from GP victory & Gonzaga fight) when he hits his 30s and he's already shown signs of slowing down. It's also important to remember that he shattered his ankle on Wanderlei's head in that fight.

I often wonder if mma fans watch any other sports. I'm guessing a lot do not, that might explain why so many fans simply don't get how aging and wear and tear effect an athlete. How many times in football have we seen a player be great one year, and then not be the same guy the next. Interestingly enough the time between the end of one season and the start of the next is about 7 months. It's baffling to me that so many mma fans can't grasp this concept.


those arent new sports where the competition is 50 percent better every 5 years.Did Royce Gracie get old when he started losing consistantly? or was he fighting better, more evolved fighters?

its the same thing now,its still a baby sport

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