Aleksei Oleinik put together what many would consider a pretty outstanding career during a 53-week stretch running from October 20, 2007 to October 28, 2008, competing a staggering 21 times and amassing a 19-2 record, with all but two of those triumphs coming by way of stoppage.
Think about that for a second.
Reigning welterweight champion Kamaru Usman has been a professional since the tail end of 2012 and has 20 career appearances, while Israel Adesanya’s successful title defense over Marvin Vettori last weekend at UFC 263 was the 22nd fight of his career, which began a little more than a decade ago.
Oleinik’s 12-month run fits neatly between the two, and yet somehow still accounts for less than 30 percent of the veteran’s career totals.
“It was great experience and it was very good for me because I wasn’t tired, I wasn’t injured,” the 43-year-old veteran says, reflecting on his hyper-active years ahead of his clash with Serghei Spivac this weekend at the UFC APEX. “I was hungry and ready for war every week, no problem.
Every UFC Submission By Aleksei Oleinik
Every UFC Submission By Aleksei Oleinik
“I didn’t think about anything at that time. Someone would ask, ‘Are you ready to fight in 10 days? Are you ready to fight in one week, two weeks, three weeks?’ and it was always, ‘Yes, of course.’”
Locked into the memories, Oleinik continues playing both parts in the conversations of yesteryear.
“‘An eight-man tournament in one night?’”
“‘Yes — it’s no problem. How much is the prize money?’”
He chuckles at the recollection.
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“These were cool times,” he adds. “Sometimes you fought with guys that had not a lot of experience — maybe two, three fights — but sometimes you fought with very good guys; multiple-time world champions and they have 25, 30, 35 fights. I was very young and very hungry.”
More than a decade later, Oleinik remains an active, successful heavyweight, serving as a fixture in the UFC heavyweight division for the last eight years, and entering this weekend’s bout with Spivac stationed at No. 15 in the rankings.
He’s fought 75 times in total, and this weekend, the venerable Oleinik takes a third crack at collecting career win No. 60, while also attempting to avoid the first three-fight losing streak of his career.
“I’m ready to fight every time,” he says when asked how he’s managed to avoid even one prolonged run of disappointing results over the course of his 25-year career. “I’m prepared for any fighter, anywhere the fight goes.
“Are you a striker? Are you a wrestler? Are you a black belt? Are you a 10-time world champion? All of this is no problem. It doesn’t matter what your name is or your legacy — are you a legend or no legend? It’s all no problem.”
While Oleinik has never been bothered by the vast possibilities that can present themselves in the fight game, permanently maintaining his “no problem” approach well into his third decade as an active competitor, he makes it clear that operating that way takes a very specific mindset.
“This is my life,” the dedicated heavyweight declares. “I can’t have a fun time for three, six, 10 months where I don’t train, don’t think about my diet. All my life, all my time, I must think about what I drink now, what I eat now, what I’m doing tomorrow, what I need to support my physical and mental condition.
“This is not easy to be ready, to be training for more than 20 years, but this has been my life for the last 24-and-a-half years.”
After a quarter-century in the fight game, the motivation pushing Oleinik to maintain his committed approach has changed more than once, but it has never wavered as he’s navigated the different eras of his career.
“I don’t separate the times; it’s all my career,” he says. “I have my early career when I started, my mid-career, and this now. This is one career, one life, and one way.
“When I fought (at the start), I fought for myself — I wanted to prove I could do it and that I wasn’t afraid; I wanted to prove these things to myself and no one else. After that, I fought for my country, my gym, my coaches, and my fans; and now I fight for my family and my legacy.”
And as he readies to compete for the 76th time, just a few days ahead of his 44th birthday, what does Oleinik want his legacy to be?
How does he want to be remembered?
“I don’t know,” he says with a laugh, aware that the question was coming, but still not a hundred percent sure how to answer it.
“When you have a fighter that competes 20 times, 30 times, 40 times, 70 times and more times, I think, ‘Who are you?’”
Once again, Oleinik takes on both sides of the conversation, asking and answering his own set of questions as if he were both the subject and the interviewer, trying to figure out what his legacy should be.
“I am Aleksei. I am almost 44 years old,” he says, answering the prior question.
“Does the UFC have 44-year-old fighters?”
“No, I’m the oldest fighter in the UFC, so that’s not bad.”
“Does the UFC have fighters that have 75 or more fights?”
“No, the UFC doesn’t have fighters with so many fights.”
“Does the UFC have many smaller heavyweight fighters?”
“No. I’m the smallest heavyweight and I fight these guys that are 260, 280, 300 pounds and it’s no problem for me. They cut weight and they’re super-big, very heavy, very young, super-strong, and it’s no problem for me.”
His personal inquiry completed, Oleinik settles on an answer.
“Maybe I’m not the best, but I’m one of the not bad guys.”
He’s certainly more than “not bad,” and as of right now, he doesn’t have any designs on calling it a career, either.
“Nobody knows,” he says quickly, laughing, when asked how much longer he sees himself competing. “Maybe I have one fight and finish, maybe I have 10 fights still.
“I train with many good guys — Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Juan Espino, Andrei Arlovski, Junior Dos Santos, and many other strong and tough guys, and I’m not last in this group. If I train with these guys, if I’m sparring with these guys and I understand that I am one of the last guys, then of course, I must be finished, but if I am not last, so not yet.
“If I feel well, why must I finish — just because I’ve had a 20-year career?” he asks. “The most important is how I feel, and right now I feel a little tired, but I still have gas in my tank.”
After 25 years, 75 fights, 59 victories, and somewhere in the neighborhood of five-and-a-half hours of competition time, give or take a couple bouts with no record of fight time, still having gas left in the tank is simply another impressive accomplishment amongst the many accolades and achievements that make up Aleksei Oleinik’s remarkable, one-of-a-kind career.