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MMA ‘Senior Attraction’ bouts will only gain steam with ‘Gracie vs. Shamrock III’

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Despite what you may think, senior golf tournaments can be fun. You’re outside, the sun is shining, and you’ve got a beer in your hand; watching a dude old enough to be your father play a few rounds is merely icing on the cake. What makes it a worthwhile experience is the opportunity to see athletes play the game they dominated in their youth, now with the added expertise and judgement that comes from time and age.

A lot of the fun goes out the window, though, when you try to apply the same metric to mixed martial arts. Something about seeing fighters with a combined age of 101 years trading haymakers makes you feel…off.

That’s what Scott Coker and the nameless faces of Viacom have in store for viewers this Friday as Royce Gracie meets Ken Shamrock at Bellator 149 live on Spike TV. Despite what many viewed as a sad walk down memory lane, the matchup has garnered a level of buzz that only two aged stars of MMA’s yesteryear could generate. Meanwhile, the MMA community as a whole doesn’t really know how to unpack it.

On the one hand, you couldn’t ask for more iconic name power than “Gracie” or “Shamrock” in today’s MMA landscape; the two men were pivotal in building the sport into the machine it is today. Their fights back in 1993 and ’95 still stand as some of the earliest examples of well-rounded grapplers dominating the primordial ooze that was 90’s mixed martial arts.

But that was literally decades ago. Despite what the Bellator hype machine would lead you to believe, no one is asking for this fight. During a recent appearance on former UFC heavyweight Brendan Schaub’s podcast, Royce asked aloud, “Who doesn’t want to see Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield fight again?”

The answer is everyone. Outside of the masochists who would watch Gary Goodridge lace up the gloves one more time, no one is pining for a nostalgic fight between two of the pioneers of the sport. These guys competed when you could wear a gi and a pair of wrestling shoes to the fight. Now, at 49 and 52, the sport has passed them by. Gracie hasn’t competed since 2007, while Shamrock boasts a 4-11 record dating back to 2000.

Records and inactivity aside, though, there is the very real concern over brain trauma and overall health when you have two quinquagenarian’s throwing down in the middle of Houston, Texas. Shamrock was knocked out in seven of his last consecutive losses, while Gracie hasn’t won a (clean) fight since submitting Akebono in 2004. What if one of them is brutally knocked out and is left twitching on the canvas for an uncomfortable amount of time? What if one of them has a heart attack in the moments after victory?

Hyperbolic as these concerns may be, they are very real dangers. Gracie tested positive for steroids after his last fight in ’07, as did Shamrock in ’09. If the only way we can see these men compete is on anabolic steroids, should we really watch?

We remember Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan so fondly because we remember them as the legends they were when they competed; Jordan’s ill-advised foray with the Wizards stands as an example for an athlete not knowing when to call it quits. Both Gracie and Shamrock have earned the right to continue fighting if they so choose, but we as viewers also have the right to say “enough is enough.”

The MMA senior tour seems to only be gaining steam, though; rumors of Pat Militech wanting to face the victor are already circling this Friday’s event while Chris Leben just signed a Bellator contract last week. There will be a tipping point eventually, you just don’t want it to come in the form of a beloved fan favorite hurting themselves permanently.

image credit – Sherdog

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