As the UFC 156 post-fight formalities wound down in Las Vegas last weekend, a familiar face emerged amongst the crowd. To the surprise of many, it belonged to Melvin Manhoef. The Dutch-Surinamese powerhouse, long revered as one of the most devastating strikers in the sport, was spotted snapping a photo alongside UFC President Dana White, which of course led to endless speculation about the nature of the pair's relationship.
While Manhoef refuted the notion that he was the UFC's latest free agent pickup during an appearance on this week's edition of The MMA Hour, he gushed about the prospect when asked if he hoped to be fighting inside the Octagon soon.
"Who wouldn't?" Manhoef bluntly responded. "I think everybody would want to be fighting in the UFC, because [it's] one of the biggest organizations at the moment. I'm a fighter and I want to entertain people, so for me it'd be nice to fight in the UFC. If the chance is there, I'm going to do it, 100-percent."
When and if that opportunity arises, Manhoef will be waiting. But for now, the 36-year-old continues to shop his services to international promotions -- he has a ONE FC fight tentatively slated for April 5, 2013 -- while serving as a last-minute training partner for Lyoto Machida at the acclimated Blackhouse gym, located along the sunny coast of San Diego, CA.
Although he is hesitant to commit to a permanent move to the United States, Manhoef's recent exploits led him to an important conclusion. A decorated kickboxer and veteran mixed martial artist, it became clear that Manhoef finally needed to stop splitting his focus between the two sports in order to make one last push into the upper echelon of MMA.
Manhoef now hopes to work with Blackhouse to continue to refine his skills. After a lifetime devoted to fighting, he admits just one goal remains untouched on his checklist, and he is prepared to dedicate the entire year toward accomplishing it.
"I have fought everywhere," reflected Manhoef. "K-1, DREAM, Strikeforce; and the only thing that is missing is also the UFC. So I'm going to do every fight that I have to do, I'm going to put it all in. If it happens, it happens, and I want it to happen. This year I'm going to fight like four, five fights, so this will be a year to watch me."
If the one thing is certain, it's that Manhoef's style meshes beautifully with what White and Zuffa CEO Lorenzo Fertitta value within their promotion -- a prioritization on excitement over victory. 35 of Manhoef's 38 professional bouts have ended prior to reaching the judges' hands, and since 2005, Manhoef has failed to finish his opponent just once.
"I finish everybody with my hands, and now also with my knees," Manhoef explained, referencing his recent, brutal victory over Denis Kang. "If I fight, it's always like this. It's not the time to get a snack or something, you know? I come to fight and I want to do everything [to finish].
"I would like to fight fighters who like to stand and brawl," he continued. "This is the [type of] fight I want to choose for myself, to give the fans a nice fight. [Michael] Bisping is one of those guys. Wanderlei [Silva] is one of those guys. Cung Le is one of those guys. There are a lot of guys who like to bang, so those guys, I would really like to fight them."
A meeting with Silva, in particular, interests Manhoef -- "He is like one of my idols," the Dutchman explained -- though he knows much first must happen before it can become a reality.
Yet even as he approaches his late-30s, Manhoef shows no intention of slowing down.
"It's funny, but I'm getting stronger everyday and everyday I'm learning more," he concluded. "I'm training with the young guys and everything. I overpower them, my speed is not normal. My ground [game] is getting better everyday, because I'm doing it now a little bit more. Everyday I'm increasing with everything, so I don't know how long I'm going to do it for more, but there are a lot of years [left] in me."