Just like millions of Americans his age, Skip Hall is preparing to retire.
Unlike the millions of Americans his age, what he's leaving behind isn't an executive role or a factory job, or any kind of 9-to-5. What he's leaving behind is a sport so physically demanding that most men half his age are already mulling retirement from active competition. Having graced the earth for 63 years, this soft-spoken grandfather is believed to be the world's oldest professional mixed martial artist.
Hall has fought over a dozen pro matches, and on March 22, in Irondale, Alabama at an event called Dixie Throwdown V, he'll tape up his fists, strap on his gloves and walk out to the arena to fight one last time. And then, win or lose, he'll take one final bow, hug his wife Sally, and quietly close the book on a career spent in the trenches, for the love of competition.
Hall can't be blamed for getting a late start in MMA, which didn't really exist in its current incarnation until 1993. By then, he was already training in jiu-jitsu after a lifetime of boxing and other martial arts. But the move to full-contact MMA came almost as an afterthought.
His son was training in tae kwon do, and suggested to Hall's wife that Skip should take up the sport. Sally off-handedly agreed, not believing that anyone would actually want to sign him to a fight.
"At the time, we had a school and were teaching cross-training," he says. "And is there a better way to find out if the stuff you teach works than by doing it yourself? A lot of martial arts disciplines are in a very clinical environment, and you never get to use them."
The former IBM executive never really set about to re-invent himself as a mixed martial artist. In truth, it was simply about the challenge.
Athleticism was the easy part. When he was nine years old, he would have to walk through the worst part of Birmingham, and quickly realized he needed to be able to defend himself. He started training and turned himself into a golden gloves boxer. He was a Special Forces soldier who served tours in Vietnam, Korea and the Philippines. Along the way, he learned tae kwon do and hapkido. He got into kickboxing, then won awards in powerlifting.
Athleticism was the easy part. But the drive, that's what separated him from those around him.
How many men in the U.S. have the kind of drive that makes you refuse to back out of a fight despite a broken foot – at age 60? How many men in the world?
"He said, 'I will not let my opponent down, I will not let the promoter down, and I will not let the fans down," recalls his wife of 26 years, Sally Hall. "He decided that he would fight the best he could knowing he might well lose."
Whether or not Skip came out victorious in that match doesn't much matter. This was always about the purity of the competition. Realistically, Skip knew he'd never be fighting for huge money or in front of a UFC crowd. Not that he didn't know what that would be like. Hall was a UFC ringside judge in the early days in the sport, before Zuffa bought the company and helped change its reputation from blood sport to pop culture phenomenon.
Hall was around the UFC before Tito Ortiz was "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy"; he pre-dates Chuck Liddell's first octagon fight; he was around before time limits and weight classes were instituted. Hall was there before the term "mixed martial arts" was ever coined.
"I used it in my school a long time before it became commonplace," he says.
Given his lifetime of physical fitness and discipline, you wonder then how good Hall could have been if this sport had been around when he was a young man. He doesn't spend much time thinking about it, saying simply that he wished he'd had the opportunity.
The aches and pains that come with getting older are finally catching up to him, but not before one last fight. Kelly Rundle will get the honors of opposing Hall in his swan song. There is no animosity between the two; in fact, like many fighters set to square off, they're quite friendly away from the ring.
"I've always said it's kind of a strange thing, but some of my best friends around the world are people that have hit me in the face," Hall says with a laugh.
Take Dan Severn, for example. A few months shy of 50, the UFC Hall of Famer is believed to be the second-oldest active MMA fighter on the planet. The two fought before, with Severn winning. These days, the two are friends, and the man that once beat him has also been an invited overnight guest in the Hall household.
"He's a great man and such a good role model," says Severn."Just get out there and be active. Some people whine and moan about getting older, but he stays active. People tell me all the time that I'm an inspiration to them. I'm sure it's the same for Skip."
Video: MMA from NBC Sports
Cavalcante didn't want fight to stop
After losing his fight with Justin Gaethje due to a deep cut above his left eye, Gesias Cavalcante talks about the decision to stop the fight. Cavalcante says he was ready to continue the fight before the doctors made the call.
• Click here to email MMA Fight Weekly