Will 2023 become the year of Melvin Manhoef?

After losing from Yoel Romero during Bellator 285 on the 23rd of September, a tearful Melvin Manhoef immediately decided to end his career spanning nearly three decades, which saw him compete in most of the world's largest MMA and kickboxing promotions. Since the he has decided to reverse that decision and come back out of retirement.
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Published on Jan 1, 2023, 4:33:59 PM

We start off the new year with a special on Melvin Manhoef, who ended last year on a bad note, though has the opportunity to truly come back this year from a losing streak and redeem himself.

After losing from Yoel Romero during Bellator 285 on the 23rd of September, a tearful Manhoef immediately decided to end his career spanning nearly three decades, which saw him compete in most of the world's largest MMA and kickboxing promotions. Since then he has decided to reverse that decision and come back out of retirement. His comeback unfortunately got a false start. On December 28, Manhoef lost in the first round after just under two minutes due to a heel hook submission against Igor Tanabe during the Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye event in Tokyo, Japan, which was held in honor of recently deceased Antonio Inoki.

Manhoef rightfully eared his nickname "No Mercy" because of his record high ratio of wins versus knockouts (29 out of 32). He not only competed for Bellator but also for Strikeforce, Dream, Rings, It's Showtime, K-1, One FC, Cage Rage and KSW. For It's Showtime Manhoef was the middleweight champion. He was also the light heavyweight champion for Cage Rage.

Considering Manhoef's now actually on a three time consecutive losing streak, it calls into question whether or not the 46-year legendary fighter made the right move by coming back. However, it fits a recent trend that athletes seem to be able to perform at world class level for much longer than conventional wisdom holds. Generally speaking, sport athletes are expected to peak in their late twenties, and retire somewhere in their early thirties. In football, legendary players like Messi, Ronaldo and Modric have challenged this, which is no doubt the result of a rigorously disciplined life all in service of the sport.

In martial arts, Glory Collission 4 with as main event Badr Hari versus Alistair Overeem has proven that the biggest kickboxing event of the year could easily be carried by two fighters around forty years old. Well past that age, Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. proved that boxing legends in their fifties can still hold their own for eight rounds in a row, during a very exciting match in 2020 that capture the attention of millions.

a bad losing streak

So have we already seen the last of Manhoef's comeback? To answer that question we'll dive briefly into how Manhoef's past three matches actually went.

In his third to last fight during Bellator 251 on November 5th, 2020 against thirteen year younger Corey Anderson, the first round went rather badly for Manhoef. Anderson dominated that round, kept Manhoef pinned to the ground almost the entire round and was able to land nearly 40 shots, versus only one from Manhoef. All in all, all he could do was defend. The second round went even worse and ended halfway with Manhoef taking too many elbows for the referee to allow the fight to continue.

Manhoef's penultimate fight with Yoel Romero on that lead to his retirement took place at Bellator 285 almost two years later, after it has been delayed for four months. That's a long time between fights to get really worked up about it, which might help explain Manhoef's emotional reaction to his loss afterwards. In an interview with Dutch magazine Funx explaining his decision to come out of retirement, he claimed he wasn't actually planning on calling it quits.

So how did the fight against Romero go? There was a big buildup during Manhoef's energetic entrance, the mood was perfect. The tale of the tape looked ideal too, with both fighters having very similar stats, not to mention their age. Manhoef had the edge though, experience-wise, even though Romero won his previous match against Alex Polizzi a few months ago, while Manhoef hasn't been in the cage for two years.

Tale of the tape: Yoel Romero vs Melvin Manhoef at Bellator 285

The first round was definitely for Romero, who literally used a low-kick as an effective takedown maneuver. The rest of the round took place on the ground, with Manhoef defending. The second round took place entirely standing up, with both fighters exchanging hard blows. Romero's seemed to hit harder however. When the third round started, Manhoef definitely needed a KO in order to still win the fight. That's how he usually wins though, with 29 out of his 32 wins coming by way of knockout. It wasn't meant to be however. Like the match against Corey Anderson, Manhoef lost after being taken down and receiving one too many elbow to the head.

Finally, looking at Thursday's match against Tanabe, there's not much known about how it exactly went down. It's clear though the match was over after just 1 minute and 58 seconds, as Tanabe scored a heel hook submission over Manhoef. Earlier on the round, Manhoef was able to crush a takedown attempt and was raining punches down on Tanabe. Somehow, the Japanese Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion recovered from that and secured his quick victory.

Igor Tanabe defeated Melvin Manhoef during the Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye event in Tokyo, Japan

master of your own fate

In the end, whether or not Melvin Manhoef's current losing streak is a reason to really call it quits is of course up to the legend himself. One Japanse tweet has mentioned actually already announced his retirement (again), though no other sources online confirm this. There's always hoping he'll recover from this period and score a huge win soon. Three times before in his career, in 2010,2013 and 2017, he recovered strongly from a losing streak similar to now, so we shouldn't disqualify "No Mercy" just yet. Also, with many things in life, it's about the journey, not the destination.

For the Dutch speaking fans amongst us, be sure to checkout the second episode of Warrior Talk, our brand new talkshow about martial arts, hosted by three time world champion Remy Bonjasky. In this episode, Melvin Manhoef's career is discussed at length, starting from 36:04. For our English speakers, rest assured we'll do our best to bring subtitles you as soon as possible!

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