At nearly 52 years old, when most guys on the wrong end of middle age are playing golf or cribbage, Ron Van Clief decided to sign with the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Upon viewing UFC 3 on Pay-Per-View, Ron knew he had to be part of it and stated, “What real martial artist would not enter the octagon?” He contacted Art Davies and Campbell McLaren, where he was given the go ahead to fight at UFC 4.
Keep in mind Ron was not your ordinary 51-year-old, he had studied martial arts for several years and competed all over the world. He also earned several black belts in various styles of martial arts. Prior to Ron’s martial arts training, he was a United States Marine and is decorated with the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and Rifle “Sharpshooter” badge, so it’s clear Ron was not your average Joe.
During the 70’s, Ron was casted in movies such as “The Black Dragon,” “Bamboo Trap,” and “Way of the Black Dragon,” to name but a few. He was hired as the fight choreographer for the 1980’s film “The Last Dragon,” which, at the time was one of my favorites. Ron also served as a member of the screen actors guild for over 30 years and still has a following of fans that know him strictly for his acting career.
Back to UFC 4. Ron had two months to train for the event. He put on 20 pounds of muscle by hitting bags and wrestling with 230-pound Leon Stevenson. However, one week before UFC 4, Ron broke his ankle via suplex when his ankle hit the wooden frame around the mat. This was not going to stop Ron from competing. He pushed on as only a warrior would do and showed up to fight.
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Ron was paired against Brazilian and UFC 1 & 2 champion Royce Gracie. At nearly four minutes into the fight, Ron found himself caught in a rear naked choke and had to tap out. When I asked Ron if their was anything he could have done to change the outcome of the fight he said, “Absolutely nothing.” At 51 years of age, Ron was and is still the oldest fighter to ever compete in the UFC and I can’t see that record being broken anytime soon, if ever.
I was fortunate enough to purchase a couple items from Ron’s personal collection. One being a vintage UFC lettermen’s coat from when he served as the Commissioner of the UFC and the other a UFC sweatshirt he wore during his UFC 4 training camp. To me, items such as these are important to preserve.
These are the types of items that will fill the voids in a museum that is inevitable to arrive. Each fighter, no matter how old or how many times they competed, is important. They are all a part of this journey that led to what MMA is today. Every fighter had a role in its creation and I find it important to inform young fans and remind old fans of their legacy.
Ron, now 77, still competes in BJJ tournaments in Hawaii and Las Vegas. His plan is to compete until he’s 80 years young. When asked what the secret to keeping himself in such great shape, he said, “No secret, never stop training and don’t quit!!”
It sure seems to be working for Ron.
Ed Theisen is a preserver of MMA and combat sports memorabilia. It is his goal, along with partner Charlie Smith, to open up the very first combat sports museum.