Longevity is a wonderful thing in MMA. A white-hot superstar can enter our sport like a storm, causing rapid, seismic changes before leaving as suddenly as they arrived, but there’s something special about the sort of long-term, interminable career that persists, even thrives, amid the challenges and threats of ever-improving techniques and styles.
As there’s no event this weekend, I thought I’d take a look at some of the longest-serving UFC fighters, specifically those who are on the brink of reaching 30 fights with the promotion, to see who’s likely to reach that figure first.
Michael Bisping – 29 UFC fights – 39 years old – UFC debut June 2006 – fights once every 131 days
Bisping, whose 20 UFC victories see him tied for first place with Georges St-Pierre and Donald Cerrone in terms of all-time UFC wins, is a clear favorite to reach the 30-fight landmark first. At this stage, the lure of retirement could be the only thing that stops Bisping, who doesn’t have a fight booked at the moment, from reaching this milestone.
The Chasing Pack
Jim Miller – 28 UFC fights – 34 years old – UFC debut October 2008 – fights once every 113 days
Assuming his scheduled bout with Dan Hooker goes ahead as expected, Miller will pull level with Bisping on 29 UFC fights on April 22nd. Given the frequency at which Miller fights (10 times in the last 3 calendar years), don’t be surprised if he pips the Englishman to the post.
Jeremy Stephens – 28 UFC fights – 31 years old – UFC debut May 2007 – fights once every 115 days
The youngest fighter on this list, two fights (and two wins) in 2018 by the 24th of February have put Stephens firmly in the running. If he continues at anything close to this pace he could reach 30 bouts in just a couple of months.
Donald Cerrone – 27 UFC fights – 34 years old – UFC debut February 2011 – fights once every 101 days
If Cerrone had joined the UFC a little earlier, he’d have wrapped up this contest a long time ago. His UFC debut came significantly later than every other fighter on this list and yet just three men here exceed his tally. He fights more frequently (once every 101 days) than any other fighter mentioned here.
Gleison Tibau – 27 UFC fights – 34 years old – UFC debut November 2006 – fights once every 145 days
If it weren’t for a 2-year suspension stemming from a USADA anti-doping violation- a ban Tibau returned from in January- he could easily have reached the 30 figure already.
Diego Sanchez – 27 UFC fights – 36 years old – UFC debut April 2005 – fights once every 152 days
The only cast member of The Ultimate Fighter 1 still actively fighting today, Sanchez has a lot of miles on the clock and although he’s only 3 fights away, retirement may come before the 30 mark.
Demian Maia – 27 UFC fights – 40 years old – UFC debut October 2007 – fights once every 183 days
At 40 years old, Father Time could be the opponent who stops Maia reaching the 30-fight milestone. One more win would see him level Bisping, St-Pierre and Cerrone’s all-time record of 20 UFC victories.
The Long Shots
Vitor Belfort – 25 UFC fights – 40 years old – UFC debut February 1997 – fights once every 196 days
Having flirted with retirement, it seems unlikely that Belfort, who spent a considerable portion of his career competing outside the promotion, has 5 UFC bouts left in him. He has his 26th UFC fight booked, against Lyoto Machida, on May 12th.
Joe Lauzon – 25 UFC fights – 33 years old – UFC debut September 2006 – fights once every 126 days
Still only 33 years old, fan-favorite Joe Lauzon was just 22 when he made his memorable UFC debut against former champion Jens Pulver. Could well reach the 30 mark, but won’t be first to do so. Will face Chris Gruetzemacher in his 26th UFC fight on April 7th.
Clay Guida – 25 UFC fights – 36 years old – UFC debut October 2006 – fights once every 105 days
Of all the fighters listed in this column, only Cerrone competes more frequently than Guida. Like Lauzon, Guida, who is 2-0 in his last two fights, should make it to the 30 milestone, but not before a few others get there first.
B.J. Penn – 25 UFC fights – 39 years old – UFC debut May 2001 – fights once every 206 days
Currently riding a 5-fight losing streak and with just 1 win in his last 9 fights, it’s fair to say Penn is nearing the end of his career. It would be a surprised if he had too many more UFC contests.
Andrei Arlovski – 25 UFC fights – 39 years old – UFC debut November 2000 – fights once every 161 days
Another one who would have smashed the 30 mark with ease if he’d remained with the promotion throughout his career. Showed against Stefan Struve last week that he still has gas in the tank.
Snowball’s Chance in Hell
Tito Ortiz – 27 UFC fights – 43 years old – UFC debut May 1997 – fights once every 238 days
OK, so this one’s a real long shot. He’s only three fights off the mark, but has fought his last four fights with Bellator and is technically retired. He did claim just last month that he pitched the idea a third fight with Chuck Liddell to the UFC brass, though that seems unlikely, to say the least, to become a reality.
Frank Mir – 27 UFC fights – 38 years old – UFC debut November 2001 – fights once every 210 days
This one’s so far-fetched it makes Ortiz’s chances look positively possible. Although on 27 fights, Mir has recently signed a multi-fight contract with Bellator and is about to begin participating in their heavyweight tournament.
Michael Bisping has already confirmed that his next fight will be his last and I’d be surprised if his retirement fight didn’t happen in England.
Given that the UFC have announced most of their dates between now and summer and there’s no possible U.K. date for Bisping scheduled as of yet, I’m going to put my money on Jim Miller to be the first man to reach 30 UFC fights.