Ron Van Clief

Of all the fighters who appeared in the early UFC tournaments, none provokes a wider range of emotions than Ron “The Black Dragon” Van Clief.

On one hand, there he was, stepping into the octagon at age 51 — to this day, the oldest man ever to fight in the UFC — a renowned karate expert and martial arts film star who bravely put his reputation on the line against men half his age. On the other hand, watching him struggle on the mat under a much younger Royce Gracie still generates a profound sense of What were you thinking?

“I did it because I wanted to do it and I thought it was a beautiful event,” Van Clief said. “There was no safety equipment, time limits or weight divisions. It was pure. I don’t feel bad about losing to Royce. I was 51 and he was 27, and I hung in there for four minutes. I can’t think of ever having competed in anything I enjoyed more.”

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