While UFC and Bellator veteran Houston Alexander took a nearly four-year layoff from combat sports competition between 2017 and 2021, he wants to make it perfectly clear he never once mentioned the word retirement.
"I don't think it was a retirement thing," Alexander told MMA Underground. "I've always been doing other things, and I think I was concentrated more on my foundation and doing radio and doing television. So, you know, I was doing other things, too. Along with MMA, I do other things other than MMA."
Of course, when Alexander started that break, he was 45 – well past the date that most combat sports athletes are still active, so assuming "The Assassin" had decided to hang it up is a completely understandable mistake. Alexander says when he does finally decide on retirement, he'll make sure there are no assumptions to be made.
"When I officially hang it up, everyone's going to know," Alexander said. "It's sort of like leaving the wrestling shoes on the mat. You're going to know when I'm done, you know what I'm saying? But it's hard to be done when you still are training with folks and you're still beating their asses.
"I feel like I am still beating the youngsters' asses while we're training, so if I'm still doing that, man, I know I'd rather get paid to fight than spar."
So Alexander – who stormed on to the UFC scene in 2007 with back-to-back devastating knockout victories and would later go on to fight the likes of MMA notables Jan Blachowicz, Joey Beltran, James Irvin, Keith Jardine, Alessio Sakara, Thiago Silva and Gilbert Yvel, as well as legendary street fighter Kimbo Slice – returned to competition this past September. He took off his MMA gloves in favor of stepping into the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC) ring, where athletes compete in bare-knuckle boxing contests, reviving a sport that was first popular in the U.S. in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Alexander jokes that it wasn't so much of a transition to a new sport as it was a return to one he had taken part in quite a few times before turning to MMA.
"I did not make the move because I've always bare-knuckled," Alexander joked. "I've always bare-knuckled. They just got it sanctioned now."
This past September, Alexander debuted for the upstart promotion and needed just 34 seconds to secure a knockout over two-time UFC veteran Wes Combs. With 34 professional MMA fights to his name, Alexander said he enjoyed the experience of competing for BKFC.
"I like the way they have everything set up from the time you come out," Alexander said. "The ring, itself, is a full circle, and the way they've got it set up to where you draw the line in the middle of the ring, and you've got one guy on the other side and the other guy and you have the ref in the middle, and when they say 'Go!' it's time to go.
"There's no lollygagging. There's no running around. There's no trying to hold off. When it's time to go, it's time to go, so that aspect I like about the bare-knuckle, especially with this organization."
Now 50, Alexander returns to action Friday night in the co-main event of a BKFC Fight Night event in his hometown of Omaha, Neb. He faces Jason Fish at Liberty First Credit Union Arena, in a cruiserweight bout that streams live on the Bare Knuckle TV app.
Fish (5-4 MMA, 2-1 BKFC is currently ranked No. 5 in the promotion's official rankings. Alexander (17-16-1 MMA, 1-0 BKFC) said he's excited for the challenge and understands the likelihood of another 34-second victory isn't high.
"The guy I'm coming up against, he's a very strong guy, really fast guy," Alexander said. "But, you know, I really don't pay attention to what they're doing. I think that a lot of times we get so caught up in what they're doing, you should be worried about what you're doing."
Alexander believes it's that exact philosophy that has allowed him to continue well beyond his contemporaries – or really just about anyone that has ever made a living as a professional fighter, where athletes rarely stay active into their mid or late 40s. Throughout his 21-year career, Alexander said he's prided himself on caring for his physical well-being and was able to avoid any serious injuries along the way.
"I trained and I took care of my body, and I just didn't get hurt," Alexander said. "So right now I'm able to compete still at a high level, and why not? You know, why not do it?
"If I'm training with people and I'm still getting with them as we're sparring, then I should get paid for this, and until I'm no longer able to maintain at a high level, you know, I'll hang it up then. But right now, I'm still at a pretty high level."
When he's not competing, Alexander still keeps himself busy with projects outside of the ring, working on a new radio show in the Omaha area entitled "Culture Shock Radio," teaching youth about the culture of hip hop through the Houston Alexander Foundation, and helping people of all ages learn to care for themselves through proper physical training.
He hopes that his continued efforts in competition can serve as an inspiration to others.
"Take care of your body," Alexander said. "Just overall health, man. If you're taking care of yourself, your body, just like a well-tuned car, will go on forever – until Father Time knocks at the door."
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