Win or lose, Melvin Manhoef has always gone out with a bang, and the situation is no different as he prepares to compete in MMA for the final time.
Manhoef, 46, takes on Yoel Romero this Friday in the co-main event of Bellator 285 at 3Arena in Dublin, Ireland, a bout that is being billed as the last of Manhoef’s 25-year pro fighting career. Since taking his first fight in December 2015, Manhoef has amassed 32 wins in 50 appearances, with 29 of those wins coming by way of knockout.
MMA Fighting spoke to Manhoef ahead of Friday’s momentous matchup to discuss the vigilante justice he doled out earlier this year, why this is the right time for him to step away from fighting, the most memorable knockouts of his career, the one opponent he wished he could have fought in his prime and, of course, whether this truly is the end.
(Questions and answers edited for grammar and clarity. )
What was the aftermath of you chasing down those burglars back in March?
I didn’t get in any trouble. They understand that I did it. It’s not good, but there was nothing wrong. Everybody was saying for this time, they’re going to leave it like this, and for me this was OK.
This will be your last fight. Why now?
It is the final fight over the contract, and I doubt they will renew it. I’m 46 years old and it’s also time to go and let the young kids do other things. Training camp was great and I feel happy. I’m training with a lot of young guys and they find it’s still hard to fight with me.
It’s a little bit strange. One side of me, I don’t want to stop because I think I can still handle some good guys. I can still knock people out. I knocked people out in this training camp, I knocked a lot of people out, so I’m doing a good thing, I think. The other side wants to keep going, but the one on the right must consider all of the damage that I have done, and how I am getting older. Every punch will count. Normal is fine, I think everything is okay, but maybe it’s best to just keep going and thank God for such an amazing career.
If you beat Yoel Romero in impressive fashion at Bellator 285, will that make it easier or more difficult to walk away?
Of course, it’s going to make it easier to retire if I knock him out. I don’t know. Even if it does not go according to plan, I know that it will be simple to retire. It’s not going to be, like, wait around. This is the fight game. Sometimes you get hurt and other times you win. Everyone knows my name and how I fight. I’m aggressive, I’m coming to knock people out and if it happens it happens, if it don’t, I think I have always entertained the audience.
How do you maintain that connection with the audience after having competed for 25 years?
I think that I always come to fight, I always give it my all. Even though all the fights that I have lost, I was beating everybody up. For example, people love it when they put their best foot forward and give it all. Sometimes, it’s also not wise that I fight like this, but I think people are paying a lot of money, I get paid a lot of money by the promotions, so I have to deliver. This is obvious. You can see this is my energy, what I believe.
Your most recent fight was against Corey Anderson, one of the best light heavyweights in the world, and now you fight Yoel Romero. Was there ever any thought to ask Bellator for a step back in competition for your final fight?
This is what I needed. It’s the last fight, so come with a bang and go with a bang. It’s how it works. I think people are going to enjoy this fight and people are watching very closely this fight, so I think I’ve made a good choice.
Fighting Corey Anderson was also a good fight – and you see, Corey Anderson is one of the greatest fighters. It was a great training camp. I’m not sure what went wrong because I choked. Even that fight, I’m still proud of myself that I did it and it took him two rounds to finish me. The wrestling took one round, so I hold onto that a little bit, to keep that positive.
Looking back a little further, should this be the last fight as planned: 32 pro wins, 29 by knockout. It is possible to identify the best knockouts of your professional career.
I think that the Mark Hunt and Sakuraba fights are my most memorable. Also, the fight with Cyborg [Evangelista Santos]. is one of the best.
These three fights are ones that I carry with me. Sakuraba was a legend who raised PRIDE and all that is good about the sport, and I felt honored to have the opportunity to face him. Also with Mark Hunt I had the same feeling that he was a K-1 champion and a legend and he had never been knocked out and I did it. These are very special things to me.
Seventeen years ago, I fought against Cyborg, and that was also a fight that the crowd was standing [on their feet]. It was a memorable fight for me. These three fights were very significant to me, and they were all great fun.
Those are the fights I imagine would jump out for most fans as well when talking about your career. You’ve been in there with so many famous names: Hunt, Sakuraba, Gegard Mousasi, Robbie Lawler, Mamed Khalidov. Is there anyone that you wish you had the chance to fight earlier in your career that you missed out on?
I should have fought Anderson Silva early in my career. At the moment we were both champions. I was light-heavyweight at [middleweight], while he was there. But then, I did not know him. Now I do know him, and despite the fact that a friend of mine, I have no desire to face him. But when I didn’t know him, I think this was the fight that people should see.
Was there ever any chance of that happening?
No, because then he went to the UFC and I went to K-1.
You mention Anderson, what do you think about him boxing Jake Paul?
I hope [Silva] beats him up. He should beat him up. Maybe I’m going to support him and help him a little bit to beat him up.
He [knock Paul out]. Fight experience is with Anderson, but [Paul] has the youth. Anderson wants to fight and can bang. You saw his performance with [Tyron] Woodley so it is important to treat him seriously. Anderson, however, is smarter and more experienced and has won more heavy fights. Anderson could manage to knock out Woodley.
Heading into this final fight, are you able to look back on the impact you’ve had on fighters from The Netherlands and your native Suriname?
It is very important to be able to motivate others towards doing what I enjoy the most. This is very beneficial for me. It’s also fuel, because I know that people are counting on me. It’s a nice feeling. Many people have said to me that they consider me their inspiration. It’s nice that you are appreciated.
What’s the most important piece of advice you have for fighters seeking to achieve the kind of longevity that you have?
Believe, man. Be consistent, it’s very important. It will happen by itself if you keep going, continue training and believing. It is important to put in the effort. You cannot put something in and get it the next day. If you put the seed in the ground, the next day it’s not a tree. You have to wait 10, 15 years, and then you’re going to have a hell of a tree. The most important thing is to invest in yourself. Everybody can say, ‘You’re not going to make it.’ Just keep on believing and go.
Are there any mistakes your career you would warn other fighters to avoid?
Sometimes you fight and you didn’t think about health. I had a fight against Remy Bonjasky and then on five days’ notice, I had two liters of blood in my lungs, and after that I still got on the plane to Japan and I still fought [another] fight. Although this is dangerous it can be very beneficial for fighters. This is advice I am able to give now that I am older. But when I was younger I thought, “Yes, it’s part of the deal.” It’s part of life.
After Sept. 23, if the right matchup, the right offer comes along, is the door open to fight again?
If the money is right, the doors will open. It is our main occupation. This is our job, to put bread on the tables. In this moment, I’m very sharp and I’m very healthy, so if it’s going to be a few months later it could be. It’s impossible to imagine it happening a year or more later.
So a year from now, that’s when you’ll know for sure.
I’m done, I’m done. If the money was right, I could fight. But it must be within the next six month. If I have to wait longer, then no, man, I’m almost 47 and that’s good for me.