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70-Year-Old MMA Fighter John Williams Got in the Cage to Feel Alive Again

The first thing John Williams wants you to know about his record-breaking MMA fight this past weekend is, it wasn't a gimmick. It wasn't a novelty act, some cheap ploy to sell tickets or attract headlines.

Well, maybe attracting the headlines was important, but for a good reason.

The 70-year-old from New Brunswick, Canada became the oldest person to ever compete in a professional MMA bout when he took on 49-year-old former pro wrestler Larry Brubaker on July 24 in Moncton. On paper it sounds like a carnival act, but the fight was serious business, Williams said, done to prove a serious point.

"I was trying to bring attention to the fact that when a person becomes a senior, society kind of pushes them out of the loop. The attitude toward them is that they're dumb, they can't do anything, physically they're just vegetables, and they're sort of shunned by society," Williams told MMA Fighting. "I wanted to find a way to show that life isn't over at 55 or 60 years old. You're not useless or obsolete. We live in a use-oriented society, and you get told that enough that even you start to believe you're useless."

As someone who prides himself on being a man of action -- if you want to hear about his many athletic exploits, just ask, but you might want to put on a pot of coffee first -- useless is the one thing Williams couldn't stand to be. Certainly, he's not the only one to ever feel this way. He's just the only one to combat that feeling by getting into a cage and fighting another human being.

But this wasn't simply an idea that popped into Williams' head after watching too much cable TV. He didn't do this on a whim. It was a quest five years in the making, and one that hit several roadblocks along the way.

First, there was the issue of licensing. Even back when Williams was a young man of 65, the local athletic commission wasn't exactly eager to let him fight. Even though he'd been competing in one form of martial arts or another since he was seven years old, and even though he'd kept up with the sport during seminars with Royce Gracie and Georges St. Pierre, all the commission officials saw when they looked at him was a liability.

Williams submitted to every medical test he could think of in order to prove his fitness and physical readiness. He took numerous blood tests, wore a heart monitor for 24 hours straight, did extensive tests on treadmills. His blood pressure was spot on. His resting heart rate would have made a distance runner jealous. Still, no one wanted to put a senior citizen into the cage, so Williams had to try another route.

"I went and got information on discrimination towards a person because of age, and I realized that if I say this is my job and I'm physically capable of doing the job, there was no way in the world they could stop me," he said. "This had nothing to do with risk factors. When you know what you're doing, MMA is safe. I could have done an amateur thing or an exhibition, but no, I wanted to do a real fight."

His discrimination approach worked. The commission realized they were fighting a losing battle, he said, and they relented. There was one obstacle out of the way. The next problem was finding someone willing to fight him.

"Nobody wanted to take me on because it's a no-win situation for them," Williams said. "If they win, people will say all they did was beat an old man, and if they lose it's embarrassing for them."

Just when his prospects for finding an opponent were looking hopeless, a candidate revealed himself the old-fashioned way.

"It was a strange thing. I went and bought a car – [Brubaker] owned a car lot – and we had a disagreement over one of the car payments and I've got a kind of short temper and so does he, so we almost got into a scuffle right there in the parking lot. My son had a car from him as well, and when my son saw him the guy said, 'Your dad thinks he's pretty tough [expletive]. I heard he wants to get someone to fight him in the cage, so why doesn't he fight me and we'll settle our differences there?'"

This, as it turned out, was all it took to get two fighters with a combined age of 119 years (another world record) in the cage together. Well, that and a few extra meals. Brubaker was considerably heavier, so Williams put on about twenty pounds to barely squeak into the heavyweight class. He's still a little upset about it, because he's sure it hurt his quickness and cardio -- a regrettable, but necessary consequence in this case.

The fight itself was a bit of a blur for Williams. He remembers opening up Brubaker's face in the first round with a series of backfists. He remembers Brubaker tagging him with a kick to the body when the two touched gloves to start the second (what Williams describes as "a desperation move"). He remembers transitioning from an ankle lock to a twisting knee lock, and back to an ankle lock for the submission finish in round two.

Mostly, however, what he remembers is how it made him feel to get in the cage and mix it up.

"The point of life is living it. And I tell you, I got in that cage and I felt alive. I felt human again. You get that thing over your head, people think you're 70 and you don't know [expletive]. They don't bother to get to know you. I like Eminem. I like rap music. ...Mentally, I feel the same as I did when I was 30. I like the same kind of cars and the same kinds of women. Nothing's changed for me, but there's this stereotype. You don't change, but they try and make you fit a mold and be something you don't want to be, which is an old person. Not me. I've been a fighter all my life."

This isn't Williams' first world record. He set one in the 1970's for doing 13 straight hours of judo throws, he said, then another for breaking an eleven-inch chunk of ice with a single blow, which he did to bring awareness to treaty disputes that his Native American brethren were having with the government.

But at the same time, he can admit that setting this particular record was as much for himself as it was for the other seniors he was trying to inspire. Yes, he wanted to get people up and get them moving, but he had selfish reasons too. Time is running out now, and Williams knows it. It feels like it's going much too fast and there's nothing he can do to stop it.

"A lot of people just give up and don't do anything," he said. "You only live one time and then you're gone forever. If you're remembered by people for something, then it's like you're immortal. It's like you never really cease to exist. If people don't remember you, then you're just a little checkmark in a cemetery somewhere. This is kind of my shot at immortality, I guess. They'll always talk about the 70-year-old who got in there and fought."

Outcome: John Williams def. Larry Brubaker by Ankle Lock at 1:40 of the 2nd round. In a fight that was breaking two Guiness Book of World records, John Williams and Larry Brubaker gave us an entertaining match. Brubaker was able to get some solid body shots in while Williams, who is 70 years old, began to start working his leg kicks. This proved to be the winning gameplan, as Brubaker began to hobble after taking a few in the left leg. Early in the second, Williams was able to submit Brubaker sinking in an Ankle Lock. After the fight, both men were awarded a belt for breaking the records for Oldest Fighter to fight professionally and Oldest combined age between two fighters at 119 years.

A Dementia That Can Kill Quickly

People with frontotemporal dementia have shorter life spans than Alzheimer's patients, study finds.

Study Disputes Menopause-Memory Link

Despite frequent complaints of forgetfulness among women going through menopause, a new study suggests their memories are just fine.

Better With Age? Men's Sex Lives Better at 50 Than 30

Research shows men in their 50s are more satisfied than men in their 30s -- where do the rest rank?

Anesthesia Can Dim Elderly Patients' Minds

Effects can last two years after surgery, study says.

Tai Chi Chih Boosts Shingles Immunity In Older Adults

Fifteen weeks of tai chi chih practice may have helped a small group of older adults increase the levels of immune cells that help protect their body against the shingles virus, according to a new study.

AMA Offers Web Guide On Elderly Drivers

The American Medical Association is offering a new Internet guide to help doctors decide whether their elderly patients are still fit to drive.

New Treatment for Chronic Eczema

New research reveals hope for the millions of people throughout the world who suffer from chronic eczema.

Improper Drugs Prescribed for Elderly

One in five elderly Americans filled prescriptions for drugs considered inappropriate for older patients, according to a study of 1999 insurance claims. Of the 765,000 patients age 65 or older in the study, nearly 20% ordered two or three drugs "of concern," says the study in the Archives of Medicine. The drugs that were commonly misprescribed included two antidepressants, anitriptyline and doxepin. An accompanying editorial calls the rate of errors, even if exaggerated, "a significant failure in the American health care system." It suggests a computerized system that would alert pharmacists to possibly inappropriate prescriptions or dosages.
Source: USA Today

Envy Eats Away at Everyone

Jealousy much the same in men and women, study says.

Through Sickness and in Health

When one spouse cares for the other.

Surgery Better Than Drugs For Serious Lack Of Blood Flow To The Heart

Surgery or angioplasty to improve blood flow in patients with moderate to severe levels of blood flow restriction to the heart reduces the risk of cardiac death more than medication alone, researchers report.
Source: American Heart Association ,

Bush Pledges To Support Rural Medicare

The White House will support increased Medicare funds for rural hospitals when Congress considers overhauling the federal health care program for older people.

Hearing Tests

Hearing tests can determine if you have hearing loss and can help to identify the cause.

Americans Can Grill Worry-Free, Experts Say

Given the discovery of a single case of mad cow disease in Canada on Tuesday, is there any danger to Americans as they head to the grocery store to stock up for Memorial Day weekend, the first big grilling holiday of summer?

Alzheimer's Vaccine Again Shows Promise

An experimental Alzheimer's vaccine that was pulled from clinical trials because of bad side effects now appears to have shown success in slowing or even reversing symptoms of the disease, a new study says.

Drug Plan May Call For Wealthy To Pay More

With debate on Medicare prescription drug legislation expected this summer, House Republicans are considering a plan requiring upper-income beneficiaries with high bills to pay more than others with similar expenses.

Benefits Of Physical Activity For Older Americans

HHS released a new report finding that frail health often associated with aging is in large part due to physical inactivity, but that it's never too late to benefit from becoming physically active. The report also provides strategies that individuals, clinicians and communities can follow to foster greater activity among older Americans.

Census Finds 2.4 Million Grandparents Taking Primary Caregiver Roles Again

More than 2.4 million grandparents were found by the 2000 census to be primary caregivers to a grandchild. It was the first time the once-a-decade count tracked such living arrangements.

'Safe home' design may prevent injuries in elderly

Research shows that 80% of injuries in people over 50 years of age occur in the home. In response to this statistic, Brazilian doctors held a competition that called for people to design a "Casa Segura" (Safe Home), suitable for an elderly person.

Senate Probe: Abuse In Nursing Homes Not Treated Like Other Crimes

Nursing home patients have been dragged down hallways, doused with ice water, sexually assaulted and beaten in their beds, yet few prosecutions have resulted, a congressional investigation found.

Secretary Thompson Hails 30th Anniversary Of The Older Americans Act Nutrition Program

Calling it the one of the most successful community-based programs for seniors in America, HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today renewed his commitment to the Older Americans Act (OAA) Nutrition Program and launched its 30th anniversary celebration.

Census: More Elderly Live Together

Vic Pelton, 73 and in love, says there are no wedding bells in his future. He's content to share house keys and closet space - but not "I do's" - with his girlfriend of nearly two decades.

Gray hair can be a signature life event

Whether dyed, rinsed or allowed to grow naturally, gray hair can be a signature life event. Find out why it happens.

Census Finds 2.4 Million Grandparents Taking Primary Caregiver Roles Again

Hunched on the living room floor in front of a Lego set, 5-year-old Michael Simmons turned and waved at his grandfather. "Look, Grandpa," he said, holding a newly built toy in hand.

Boomers Age, Housing Needs Change

Experts call it the home of the future: wider hallways, nonslip floors, bathroom grab bars and adjustable shower seats - all for the comfort and convenience, too, of aging baby boomers.

UN: People Over 60 Will Quadruple

The number of people over 60 years of age will quadruple during the next half century in a worldwide "demographic revolution" that will strain pension and health care systems, U.N. officials and experts on aging said Wednesday. ,Source:

Get the Most from Your Health Care Team

Whether you are the primary caregiver for a family member, or even taking care of yourself, it pays to ask questions in a clear and assertive manner. Don't assume "the doctor will let us know if..." The best work actively with the health care team.

Use these suggestions to take the initiative:

Stay educated on each condition or treatment

Research suggests that caregivers and patients who educate themselves get better results from doctors. Learn all you can to explore treatment options and alternatives knowledgeably.

FamilyCare America ( ) offers articles designed to address the specific concerns of caregivers. The company's online resource locator can help narrow your search for relevant information.

Discuss personal wishes

Before meeting with the doctor, get firm answers to the tough questions. Review these issues as early as possible, before there is a crisis. And consult a lawyer about living wills, durable powers of attorney for health care, and other documents that can help insure your loved one's wishes are carried out.

Prepare for doctor's appointments

Before each meeting with the doctor, make a list of issues you want to discuss. Write down questions in advance and make sure you have a pen and paper handy to take notes and record the doctor's answers. Consider asking the following types of questions:

You can keep a record of all discussions by using the Appointment Information form and the Caregiver's Log worksheet found at

Schedule regular discussions with all team members

A health care team may include a primary doctor, specialists, nurses, health aides, care professionals, family, and friends. In cases of complicated illness, you may want to draw these people together for a "heath care conference" that will get everyone on the same page. Don't assume all members of the health care team know the full picture; ask the primary care physician to take charge as "quarterback" to make sure everyone is clear about their roles.

Call in "the cavalry" when necessary

If you are unable to get the results you want on your own, find professional assistance.

If you are dealing with an eldercare situation, consider hiring a geriatric care manager.

Most health care facilities have resource persons such as social workers, patient advocates, chaplains, and nurses who will work for you and help clarify any concerns.

If you are battling the "system," enlist the help of your state ombudsman for managed or long-term care. 

About this Article

This article is reprinted with permission of , a nationally recognized resource that provides families with interactive care planning tools, resource locators and helpful checklists to make caregiving easier. The company also provides corporations with a Work/Life program for employed caregivers. For more caregiving information, visit them on the Web.

© 2001 FamilyCare America, Inc.

Older Men and Community Building

Prof. John Macdonald, Director of MHIRC, presented a paper about the spiritual health of older men at the "Older Men and Community Building Seminar" in February 2001. New articles also include "Making it OK to be Male", by Professor John Macdonald, Dennis McDermott and Carmine di Campli, which was presented at the 8th National Australian Suicide Prevention Conference. These and other new papers are available on the "articles" page:

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We have to act now to make sure you don't have to be a Rockefeller to afford decent health care in this country. - Jay Rockefeller

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