It used to be in combat sports that for certain lighter weight classes, 30 was a career death sentence. That’s not necessarily the case these days, with 32-year-old featherweight Blake Bilder proud to carry the flag for the 30-something set into his UFC debut against Shane Young this weekend.
“I get it because injuries can happen and then that can set you back,” he said about previous stereotypes. “But I feel young. My body feels young, my mind feels young, and I feel young in spirit, so I just feel good. I don't do drugs, I don't drink, so I'm in good condition.”
More importantly, his body is keeping up with the mental game honed through years of trial and error in the fight business.
“I've had my bad experiences with weight cutting earlier, but I’ve got that down, and just the wisdom that comes with age and the time doing it and being in the game has paid dividends,” Bilder said. “So I’m on point right now, I'm feeling good, my training sessions have been at a hundred percent, so I'm ready for whatever.”
Even being the “bad guy” when he fights New Zealand’s Young down under in Perth, Australia?
“Oh yeah, absolutely,” Bilder laughs, sounding almost giddy at the prospect of getting booed. Yeah, he’s not overwhelmed by the moment, something evident in the biggest fight of his career last August against Alex Morgan. A win on Dana White’s Contender Series was his ticket to the UFC, and he was raring to go.
“After we won the (CFFC) belt over in the east coast, I knew I was going to get a call to the UFC soon,” Bilder said. “And (manager) Jason (House) just kept getting me offers and offers, but I was a little bit overweight for a couple of them, so I couldn't hop on the opportunity. But then we got the offer for the Contender Series. I had a month and a half, two months to get ready, so I was like, perfect.”
All it took was a little over three minutes for Bilder to submit Morgan and get his contract. He was now a UFC fighter and he’s been loving it ever since.
“I'm still getting used to it, but I'll walk around the normal gym, the 24-hour Fitness that I go to now, and I've been getting recognized, which is pretty cool,” he said. “And seeing news articles on you, and now a lot of people randomly hit me up. They're like, ‘Oh, hey, I saw you over here,’ or ‘I watched your last fight,’. and getting that kind of recognition is super cool because I always felt like I was going to be in a position like I am in now, and it feels cool and it feels familiar because I expected it. But it's just amazing. It's a blessing. I've worked really, really hard to get to where I'm at and had to overcome a lot of adversity, so I'm just thankful.”
All the good vibes won’t stop Costa Mesa’s Bilder from trying to punch Young in the face this weekend, though, and with Young coming off nearly two years on the sidelines, the sooner the unbeaten “El Animal” can put some doubt in his opponent’s head, the better.
“It's always important to go out there and just show 'em right off the bat that, ‘Hey, we're not here to here to play around.’ It's like, well, you've been inactive, and I've been doing my job, which is to take heads clean off, submit these guys, and get people out of there as quick as possible. So, a lot of downtime for any fighter is not a good sign. It's tough to get back in there when you haven’t been in there and when you haven't been hit and rocked. And until you feel the heat from the lamps and the heat on your face, it's different.”
Does that mean it’s time for Bilder to bring the old man strength out?
“Oh yeah,” he laughs. “He's definitely going to feel the old man strength.”
UFC 284: Makhachev vs Volkanovski took place live from RAC Arena in Perth, Western Australia on February 11, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive all the action on UFC Fight Pass!