There are two reasons you’d want to know about MMA age limits.
Either you think you’re too young to be allowed to fight, or you’re wondering if you’re too old to get into MMA.
Let’s get into the numbers.
In the United States, if you’re fighting in a State Athletic Commission sanctioned fight you’ll need to be at least 18 years old. There is no official upper age limit stipulated for competitive MMA, but some sanctioning bodies like the ISCF have a theoretical upper age limit of 40, which can be waived.
The minimum age limit is really there reduce your risk of serious injury during your developmental years.
However, competing competitively in MMA into your later years is very much a personal choice and depends on how well your body is able to cope with repeated injury.
At a certain age, you have to choose between a few more glorious fights or maybe living the rest of your life with an injury that could’ve been avoided if you’d quit while you were ahead.
What Is The Best Age To Start MMA?
If your child is showing an interest in fighting, then it’s best to start them in some form of martial art as early as possible. BJJ allows training from as young as 4 years old in many schools. Eventually transitioning to MMA between the ages of 13-14, when their adult bodies are forming.
Giving your child the opportunity and time to develop the required movement, speed, and technique for MMA will give them a huge advantage later on in their career.
Learning to deal with combat is a big part of developing as a fighter, especially in the early years.
It does wonders for a child’s self-confidence when they learn to deal with bad situations, especially situations like in BJJ and MMA where both mental and physical toughness is needed to beat an opponent.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a great foundation for getting your young one started in MMA while teaching them valuable self-defense skills.
However, starting early isn’t always necessary.
Starting MMA at 25 – 30 Years Old
There are fighters who’ve achieved a good level of professional MMA success that started training relatively late in life.
Obviously, it’s a big plus if you’ve developed athleticism and good hand and eye coordination early on with other sports.
Starting MMA after the age of 25 or 30 is possible, but requires a more intense training regime to cut the learning curve that comes with years of martial arts experience. It takes around 3-5 years of hard work to achieve a competitive level of fighting skill, so planning your training ahead of time is very important.
By combining your natural skills with an intense training schedule that addresses both striking and grappling, you could realistically get into MMA in your late twenties or early thirties.
MMA Fighters In Their 30s and 40s
Though these fighters might’ve started training earlier in their lives, many of them competed (or continue competing) well into their 30s and 40s.
Some even manage to win world titles, often beating out younger competitors because of their considerable experience advantage.
Keep in mind, the average age for fighters in MMA is between 28 and 30 years old.
Anderson Silva (45 Years Old)
One of the most dominant fighters to ever grace the octagon, Anderson “The Spider” Silva had his professional debut in 1997 at the age of 22.
He would only experience his first loss 3 years later to Luiz Azeredo by decision in 2000.
The Spider holds the UFC record for the longest title reign, a total of 2,457 days which spanned from 2006 to 2013.
During this time he managed the record for the most consecutive wins, dominating 16 of his fights in a row.
Considered the best MMA fighter of all time by well-known figures like Dana White and Joe Rogan, Anderson Silva had his last fight in the UFC in 2020 at the age of 45 against Uriah Hall.
Georges St-Pierre (37 Years Old)
Another legend of the sport, GSP was the reigning Welterweight Champion when he retired from professional MMA in December 2013.
He came out of retirement in 2017 to fight Michael Bisping, dominating the fight and winning by rear-naked choke for the Middleweight title.
He was 37 years old at the time.
Having started his professional MMA career at the age of 20, GSP managed to win titles in two weight categories (welterweight and middleweight) and is currently tied with Demetrious Johnson for the second-most wins in title fights and falls within the top 3 for the longest title reigns (2021).
Demetrious Johnson (34 Years Old)
Nicknamed Mighty Mouse, the insanely talented Demetrious Johnson is still fighting professionally under One Championship.
At the age of 34, he’s in the running to compete for the Flyweight title against the current champion, Adriano Moraes (2021).
Also considered one of the best mixed martial artists to ever exist, Johnson held the UFC Flyweight belt for a record 11 successful title defenses.
He lost his last fight in the UFC against Henry Cejudo by a split decision, before being traded to One Championship for Ben Askren.
José Aldo (34 Years Old)
José Aldo is still fighting competitively in the UFC at the age of 34.
In his last fight against Marlon Vera (28) in December of 2020, he won by unanimous decision.
He’s currently ranked number 5 in the UFC Bantamweight division (2021) and shows no signs of slowing down.
Aldo remained unbeaten for 10 years, from 2005 to 2015 winning 18 fights in a row.
He would eventually lose to Conor McGregor at UFC 194 by knockout in a fight that lasted only 13 seconds.
Kazushi Sakuraba (42 Years Old)
Kazushi “The Gracie Hunter” Sakuraba, has been fighting since the age of 15 when he first started his amateur career in wrestling.
Most notably known for his success against the Gracie family, who specialize in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Sakuraba fought in the UFC until his early 40s.
His last fight was against Yan Cabral at the age of 42, who he lost to by submission due to an arm-triangle.
The Gracie Hunter can still be found hanging around BJJ events, spectating or even taking an exhibition match from time to time.
Vitor Belfort (43 Years Old)
Vitor Belfort has had a very long career in MMA, with his professional debut at the age of 19.
“The Phenom” was the youngest fighter to win inside the octagon when he first debuted at UFC 12 (1997), where he managed two victories in the heavyweight division.
Vitor’s last event for the UFC was in 2018 against Lyoto Machida at the age of 41.
The crazy thing is, The Phenom is still competing at the age of 43 for One Championship (currently 2021).
Chuck Liddell (48 Years Old)
UFC Hall of Fame member, Chuck “The Ice Man” Liddell made his UFC debut in 1998 at the impressive age of 30.
After retiring for the first time at the age of 41 in 2010, he came back to fight Tito Ortiz in 2018 which was hosted by Oscar De La Hoya’s, Golden Boy Promotions.
His knockout loss to Ortiz at the age of 48 would be his last professional MMA bout.
The Ice Man once again announced his retirement in March of 2020, at the very respectable age of 50.
What Age Is Too Late For MMA?
If you want to compete professionally, it’s generally not recommended to start after the ages of 25 – 30 if you’re starting from scratch. If you have a background in martial arts or other physically demanding sports that would complement MMA training, you could start as late as 30-35.
Starting MMA late in your life doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start competing in the sport.
As a hobby, MMA provides lots of useful skills that will benefit you in self-defense situations and will keep you in great shape well into your older years.
If you’re like me and prefer not to be hit and kicked every training session, I would highly recommend looking into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
A grappling art like BJJ is far less demanding on your body than striking arts like traditional Boxing or Kickboxing, but still provides the thrill of full-contact fighting that you can do well into your 60s, 70, and 80s.