Even though Anthony Perosh is 43 years old, I never ask him about when he’s going to retire. Instead, I wonder if there are days in the gym when he feels like he could fight another ten years.
That brings an “are you crazy?” disguised as a chuckle.
“I’m my biggest critic, and if I don’t feel like I’m performing, and especially if I don’t want to be there, then I would walk away,” Perosh said. “But ten years, definitely not. At the moment, I’m taking just one match at a time, focusing on getting back in the win column, and beating Gian Villante at UFC 193.”
So is five years out of the question?
“How about three?” he counters.
Fair enough. I apologize for trying to stir up trouble. The gracious Sydney native accepts.
“That’s okay. A bit of trouble’s good.”
The fact that we’re even talking about a 40-something competing at the highest level of the sport is impressive enough when it comes to Perosh’s run in the UFC, and though a three-fight winning streak in 2011-12 has been followed by a five-fight stretch in which he’s alternated losses and wins, a victory over Villante this weekend puts another jolt of life into a career that is inspiring to his peers in their fifth decade of life.
But this is no farewell tour for “The Hippo,” and if you want evidence of his continued dedication to his craft and to getting better, look no further than his decision to spend a full training camp with the Jackson-Wink MMA camp in Albuquerque after spending two weeks there for each of his last two bouts.
“There were a couple reasons,” he explains. “Being a fighter, you have to be very selfish. I’ve got two MMA gyms back home and I’m kind of a workaholic – I always want to be in my gym and look after my students. So I said I’ve got to go, and the best way is to just not be there. So the main reason is that I wanted to focus on myself, and number two, back home I have separate striking coaches and wrestling coaches, but I don’t really have an MMA coach, and at Jackson-Wink MMA gym, they definitely provide that.”
That they do, and whether it’s coaches or training partners, Perosh has been covered in the lead-up to his pivotal bout against Villante. Yet more importantly, what his stay in New Mexico has provided him is an opportunity to be a student again and not the boss. Not that letting go was easy.
“It was (tough) at first,” he said. “The first couple weeks you still want to know what’s going on, but it’s almost like dieting. Once everything’s clicking over after a week or two, then I can stop worrying about it. It’s my 14th year of running my gyms and I have 650 students and I know how to run a business. And I have a good staff, I teach my staff and they all know what to do, so I’m lucky in that sense.”
With those responsibilities put to the side for six weeks, all Perosh had to do was train.
“I show up 15-20 minutes before the class, I get changed, warm up, do the class, and then afterwards I hang out, stretch out a bit, talk with the guys and go home,” he said. “It’s a great, great feeling being a student again and just focusing on myself.”
And with being a student comes the most important part of keeping that fighting flame burning for Perosh – the ability and desire to learn something new every day.
“As soon as you stop learning and stop growing, you should give it up,” he said. “And the beauty of martial arts, and not just BJJ, but striking and wrestling as well, is that you could have been doing a move for 10 years and all of a sudden the coach tells you to change one little angle of the same move, and all of a sudden it’s a hundred percent better. Just because you learn a move, that doesn’t mean you’re the master of it. It’s great having those little moments like that with techniques.”
Sounds like something a fighter can keep doing for a long time – like another ten years. This time, Perosh isn’t biting, and while he admits that things can get rough at times, when camp is over, he’s prepared to fight, and that’s a feeling he would like to keep going as long as possible.
“In training camp, every day can’t be a good day,” he said. “You have your ups and downs, good sparring days, bad sparring days, but with some good planning and scheduling, and talking to your coaches, by fight time you peak. All the mistakes have been made, you’ve fine-tuned your game, and you’re ready for the fight.”
Thomas Gerbasi is the editorial director of UFC.com, has covered the sport since 2000 and has authored the official UFC encyclopedia and UFC: A Visual History. Follow him on Twitter @tgerbasi