Melvin Manhoef buys into the timeless notion that age is just a number.
"I'm 39 years old, but I don't feel like I'm a day over 29," says Manhoef, who has 93 documented mixed martial arts and kickboxing fights to his name. "I feel good. I still love training. I still love what I do."
A positive attitude can bring someone a long way in life -- just look at everything Holly Holm had to say leading up to UFC 193, when the whole world was telling her she couldn't defeat Ronda Rousey -- but some professions favor the young more than others.
And Manhoef's profession of choice ranks pretty high on the danger scale. Even Rousey, three months shy of that 29 number Manhoef cites, got violently knocked out last weekend. Manhoef, for his part, has been finished both of his past two MMA fights (one, against Alexander Shlemenko, was overturned after Shlemenko failed a drug test) and his last kickboxing match.
Manhoef made his MMA debut on Dec. 2, 1995, using an open-handed palm strike to finish the long-forgotten Jordy Jonkers. That fight was seven months after Royce Gracie tangled with Ken Shamrock the second time.
Gracie and Shamrock will fight again in February, but they've also had many years of rest in the interim. Manhoef, though, has just kept going and going, with no real breaks of note.
If you try to politely prod him on how long he thinks he can keep doing this, Manhoef responds with a laugh and a good-natured retort.
"I love competing," Manhoef said. "I love fighting. I love showing up in the gym. Do you do what you like to do? Because that's what you should do in life. Do the things that bring you happiness."
Manhoef (30-11-1, 2 NC) must be doing something right as he barrels toward 40. His Manhoef Fight and Fitness gym, opened in 2012, will soon relocate to a new space in Amsterdam, since they've outgrown their original setup. And he's still main eventing nationally televised events. Manhoef returns to the cage to meet Hisaki Kato (5-1) in the headline middleweight fight at Friday night's Bellator 146 in Thackerville, Okla.
"I've been counting down the days until my return," Manhoef said. "One thing that does not change over the years is that when you lose, you want to push past it as soon as you can and get your hand raised."
Of course, Bellator pretty much has an unofficial legends division, meaning Manhoef could continue fighting for quite some time. But Melvin isn't ready for the senior circuit just yet.
"My goal is to win a title," Manhoef said. "My goals are still the same they've always been since I started fighting. There's no use being in this sport if you're not trying to be the No. 1 man. I can't give you a timetable on when I want a title shot, because those things are up to the promotion. But Kato is the man getting in the way of my goals and I'm going to take this fight seriously."