10 Amazing MMA Fighters Who Started Training Late

Article updated on Feburary 01, 2024.

Ageing is a definite limiting factor for athletes. Most pro athletes begin to approach their sunset years already in their early 30s. But there are exceptions – just look at Novak Djokovic in tennis. Way of Martial Arts have researched some excellent MMA fighters who started training late in the MMA gym:

  1. Junior Dos Santos
  2. Frank Shamrock
  3. Nate Quarry
  4. Matt Mitrione
  5. Chuck Liddell
  6. Brock Lesnar
  7. Kimbo Slice
  8. Yoel Romero
  9. Randy Couture
  10. Mark Hunt

These champions are an inspiration and a reminder that one can become an expert and successful in anything if there is enough determination and strength. These ten fighters should inspire us To Just Do It.

10 Best MMA Fighters Who Started Training Late in Life

Junior Dos Santos – started MMA training at 21

Junior Dos Santos – started MMA training at 21

Junior dos Santos Almeida is a Brazilian mixed martial artist and a former UFC Heavyweight Champion. 

He has victories over 5 UFC Heavyweight Champions: 

  • Fabrício Werdum
  • Frank Mir
  • Cain Velasquez
  • Shane Carwin
  • Stipe Miocic.

Before becoming an MMA fighter at 21, he was working as a dishwasher in Brazil. His debut was as a kickboxer with only three months of practice. I have been a dishwasher, and on a busy night in the kitchen, with broken appliances, you certainly want to kick everything. While he isnt’ one of the few UFC fighters start training very late, but it is certainly later than most fighters in the octagon.

Dos Santos practiced Capoeira as a teenager.  Upon starting MMA training, he practised Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Yuri Carlton.

Dos Santos surprised many in his debut by becoming a UFC champion. He overpowered Fabricio Werdum in less than 90 seconds!

Junior dos Santos a won UFC heavyweight title in combat against Cain Velasquez, whom he finished off with a nasty barrage of punches. He continued by defending his UFC heavyweight championship by stopping the formidable BJJ fighter Frank Mir.

“Segano” was known for his powerful lead hook, dangerous barrages of punches and Muay Thai combos. The most entertaining knockout of his career happened at UFC 160 when he put Mark Hunt to sleep via a nasty Muay Thai spinning hook kick.

Frank Shamrock UFC Heavyweight Title Holder – started MMA training at 22

Frank Shamrock is a retired American professional MMA fighter. 

  • He was the first to hold the UFC Middleweight Championship and 
  • Retired as a four-time defending undefeated champion.
  • Shamrock was the No. 1 ranked pound-for-pound UFC fighter in the world during his reign as the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion

He has won numerous titles in other martial arts organizations, including the interim King of Pancrase title, the WEC Light Heavyweight Championship, and the Strikeforce Middleweight Championship.

At 22 years of age, Shamrock started training in submission wrestling. His first fight in the UFC was against Kevin Jackson, where he won the belt via armbar. 

The most impressive moment of Shamrock’s UFC career happened at UFC 16, where he defended his 205-pound belt with a slam win over Igor Zinoviev. The luck (and determination) of the Irish.

Nate Quarry – started MMA training at 24

Nathan Parker “Nate” Quarry is a retired American MMA fighter most famous for his appearance in The Ultimate Fighter, a reality show from the Ultimate Fighting Championship, as well as co-hosting the show MMA Uncensored Live.

Growing up as a Jehova’s Witness, he was not allowed to do any organized sports, let alone train in martial arts. This explains his late beginning in UFC, at 24 years of age. His first pro fight was at the ripe age of 29.

Quarry kicked off his UFC run with three back-to-back stoppage victories, and even at one point reached a title fight. Unfortunately, he was unable to become UFC middleweight champion – Rich Franklin knocked him out cold with a big left hand in a title fight

One of my dream UFC fights would be Anderson Silva vs Nate Quarry. It would be a real war between two technical southpaws. Unfortunately, they fought in different eras of the sport.

Matt Mitrione – started training at 28

Matthew Steven Mitrione is an American MMA fighter and former American football player. He was a featured fighter on The Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights. 

Mitrione holds notable victories over:

  • Fedor Emelianenko
  • Roy Nelson
  • Derrick Lewis
  • Gabriel Gonzaga
  • Kimbo Slice (see below)

Mitrione is known to knock out opponents with his right hand from a southpaw stance, despite being otherwise left-handed outside the ring.

In his youth, he trained in Shotokan Karate and even fought in a few professional kickboxing tournaments as a teenager.

Without a single professional MMA fight, Mitrione was chosen on Season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter in 2009. He lost in the quarterfinals of the show but earned the chance to fight at the Finale show, a fight he won against Marcus Jones.

Matt Mitrione is famous for his powerful punches and tricky boxing skills. His Bellator MMA run was also very impressive – he is one of a few guys in MMA history who knocked out legendary Fedor Emelianenko!

Chuck Liddell – started MMA training at 29

Charles David “Chuck” Liddell is a retired American MMA fighter and former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. 

Notable achievements:

  • Liddell had 23 fights in the UFC
  • Greatest fights were against Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz
  • Chuck Liddell is the first real knockout artist in the UFC
  • Inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.

He made his debut in 1998 during UFC 17 at 29. He had a fighting background. But never formally trained in MMA. 

His UFC fights were very entertaining to watch – Liddell will always be remembered as a “kill or be killed” fighter. I wish he fought the former UFC champion Michael Bisping – that would be a brawl until the last dying breath!

Brock Lesnar – started MMA training at 29

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One of the most interesting backgrounds in the sport:

  • Lesnar is an American professional wrestler
  • Former MMA fighter
  • Professional football player
  • Currently signed to WWE, where he performs on the Raw brand
  • He used to play for the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL

Lesnar started training in MMA in 2006 when he was 29 years old. Two short years later he became UFC champion by defeating Randy Couture. He was a sensation in the UFC, as his fights were some of the bestselling pay-per-view events. For some reason, he became the first UFC PPV-selling machine long before the arrival of the most popular cash cow ever, Connor McGregor. Here is an interesting fact – Brock has never competed at a UFC fight night event.

Brock Lesnar didn’t have technical punches, but his strikes were devastating. Also, his throws and ground-and-pound shots were brutal. He became the UFC title holder after a superb victory over Randy Couture. He defended the 265-pound belt against Frank Mir and Shane Carwin.

Ultimately, Cain Velasquez’s technicality was too much for Lesnar. The first-ever Mexican champion dragged him to the ground, trapped him into a crucifix, and unloaded many big punches, which resulted in a bloodbath. The referee was forced to stop the fight because Lesnar stopped defending himself.

Kimbo Slice – started MMA training at the 31

Kevin Ferguson (1974 – 2016), better known as Kimbo Slice, was a Bahamian-American MMA fighter, boxer, professional wrestler, and occasional actor. He became famous for combat street fights which were spread across the Internet, leading Rolling Stone to call him “The King of the Web Brawlers.”

He started his MMA career when he was 31, signing a contract with EliteXC in 2007. He also fought in UFC and Bellator MMA.

Kimbo Slice competed in the UFC once, where he lost dominantly to Matt Mitrione due to his poor cardio. His Bellator MMA journey was partially successful – Kimbo turned the lights out on Frank Shamrock and destroyed Dada 5000, but that fight was later overturned to no contest because Slice was positive on nandrolone.

Kimbo will always be remembered as a toe-to-toe brawler with powerful hooks. Unfortunately, his mixed martial arts career was not a success because of his poor defensive skills.

Yoel Romero – started MMA training at 31

Yoel Romero Palacio is a Cuban MMA fighter and former freestyle wrestler. 

Notable details:

  • World gold medalist in freestyle wrestling
  • Olympic silver medalist
  • Won 6 world and olympic medals in wrestling
  • He fought UFC, competing in the Middleweight division

Yoel started his MMA training when he was 31 years old and had his first MMA debut when he was 32 years. He is one of the oldest UFC fighters in the history of the sport. Interestingly, despite his background in freestyle wrestling, Yoel mostly chose to stand and bang against strikers.

Yoel is one of the most powerful fighters in the history of mixed martial arts. His weakness may have been poor cardio, related to cutting too many pounds. Even though Romero never won the UFC championship, his abilities have earned him several comparisons to the greats of the sport.

Randy Couture – started MMA training at 34

Couture, in American fashion, has an interesting background:

  • American actor
  • Former U.S. Army sergeant
  • Retired MMA fighter
  • Former collegiate and Greco-Roman wrestler
  • Oldest UFC champion in history.
  • UFC Hall of Fame member

Couture is one of the greatest UFC fighters of all time, starting at 34 years of age, and within ten years:

  • Became a three-time UFC Heavyweight Champion
  • Two-time UFC Light heavyweight king
  • Interim UFC Light heavyweight title holder, making him a six-time UFC Champion 
  • UFC 13 Heavyweight Tournament winner. 

He lost his last fight to Lyoto Machida via a crane kick to the chin. But he’ll always be remembered as the oldest active UFC fighter. In his match against Machida, Couture was 47 years old. This record will probably never be broken.

The former 205-pound and heavyweight champion competed in the same weight class as legendary Jon Jones, but unfortunately, Randy retired when legendary “Bones” started his domination. It would’ve been an epic fight if it came to fruition.

Mark Hunt – started MMA training at 36

Mark Richard Hunt is a Kiwi MMA fighter and former kickboxer of Samoan descent. Hunt competed in UFC and was the winner of the 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix. Mark showed very decent takedown defence, scrambling, and defensive wrestling in his long MMA career.

Hunt made his debut in UFC in 2010 when he was 36 years old. His fight with Junior Dos Santos, in 2013, is regarded as one of the best fights in the history of UFC.

Mark “The Super Samoan” Hunt is the first-ever walk-off knockout artist. Hunt turned the lights out on Roy Nelson and started celebrating before Nelson’s face touched the floor. He repeated the same in the bout against Frank Mir. This revolutionary  behaviour brought him many fans all around the mixed martial arts community.


In wrapping up, our journey through the tales of these remarkable fighters who stepped into the ring later in life is far from complete. Yet, the message rings clear and inspiring: Age is but a number in the arena of competition.

While these champions may have honed their skills in other sports, their transition to MMA underscores a universal truth – with unwavering determination and a relentless pursuit of strength, the boundaries of what’s possible can be redrawn, even in the demanding world of mixed martial arts. Remember, it’s never too late to chase your dreams and etch your name among the greats.

In the world of MMA, perseverance isn’t just a virtue; it’s the key to unlocking a legacy. So, yes it is possible to defeat a great like Wanderlei Silva even if you started training late, but you’d also need to work hard and have superior genetics.

Further Reading

If you liked this list, you might enjoy the below.

Frequently Asked Questions about Best MMA Fighters Who Started Late

When did McGregor start fighting?

Conor McGregor had his first professional MMA bout in 2008 when he was 20 years old. Conor’s first UFC fight happened against Marcus Brimage in 2013. The legendary Irishman was 25.

Chuck Liddell started MMA training at the age of 29, but he had a lot of experience in Kajukenbo, Kempo, Koei-Kan Karate, and Brazilian jiu jitsu. Interestingly, he is one of the rare UFC fighters who have never integrated their skills into mixed martial arts before his first MMA bout.

Start by visiting an MMA gym. If you have a background in martial arts, focus on your weaknesses. It means, a striker should train Brazilian jiu jitsu and wrestling, while a top-notch grappler has to learn to strike or at least block kicks and punches.

The MMA world is stacked with high-quality Octagon warriors, you must learn everything if you plan to succeed in mixed martial arts.

I will focus on the five oldest MMA fighters who ever participated in the competition. The oldest guy is John Williams, who competed in one professionally sanctioned MMA bout at the age of 70.

The second place belongs to Skip Hall, who took part in an MMA bout at the age of 63. The third place belongs to the former UFC heavyweight champion Dan Severn, who had his last bout at 54.

Place number four is reserved for Ken Shamrock, who lost to Royce Gracie when he was 52 years old. Finally, number 5 on the list is Maurice Smith, who also tested his luck at the age of 52, and lost the bout via unanimous decision.

Yoel Romero started MMA training at the age of 31. His first MMA fight happened against Sascha Weinpolter in Berlin, where Yoel scored a fantastic TKO win in only 48 seconds!

Guido Cannetti, he’s 43 years old.

Glover Teixeira is the oldest UFC fighter who fought for a title in 2023. He lost the light heavyweight belt bout in January via unanimous decision at the age of 43. Also, he used to be the oldest guy on the roster before his retirement. Brazilian jiu jitsu expert from Minas Gerais proves that fighters who started late can touch the sky.

The oldest active UFC fighter in 2023, right now, is Guido Cannetti. “The Ninja” comes from Argentina, and he’s 43 years old at the moment.

First, visit an MMA gym, start training, and don’t expect to become a superb striker like Wanderlei Silva overnight or a Brazilian jiu jitsu God like Royce Gracie after a few training sessions. Patience is a virtue, learn, visit your training sessions regularly, and when your coach feels you’re ready, test your skills in the amateur circuit.

If you start winning, build your social media. Humble fighters rarely fight for UFC championships because the crowd loves trash talk and action – focus on building your Instagram or Twitter when you score a few back-to-back wins.

Have you reached UFC? Train even harder and don’t expect to dominate like Anderson Silva! The era has changed, and now everybody learns every single aspect of the game – work with the best, push your skills to the next level, and try to win the belt!

Vladimir Vladisavljevic has been training in the art of kickboxing for over seven years, holds a Taekwondo black belt, and has a master's degree in sports and physical education. He's also a huge mixed martial arts fan. He's a big deal in Bulgaria as a mixed martial arts commentator, analyst, and podcaster.
Article by

Vladimir Vladisavljevic

Vladimir Vladisavljevic has a master's degree in sports and physical education. He has been training in kickboxing for over seven years and holds a Taekwondo black belt. He's also a huge mixed martial arts fan. Vladimir is a big deal in Bulgaria as a mixed martial arts commentator, analyst, and podcaster. He was known as The Bulgarian Cowboy in the Western world. In addition, he has a YouTube channel where he talks about his love of esports, one of the fastest-growing fields in the world. Our testing and reviewing method.
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