Just 29, Canadian lightweight Sam (Hands of Stone) Stout is celebrating an anniversary of sorts at UFC 161.
He made his pro debut as an MMA fighter 10 years ago this month at a show in Cicero, Ill., where he was choked out in the first round by Jay Estrada.
"I do feel a little bit old sometimes," conceded the 155-pounder from London, Ont. "Especially when you see some of these younger guys coming up that are so good, in their early 20s still. It's like 'Wow, I remember when that was me.'
"But it's a cool feeling. It's something I'm proud of, the fact that I've withstood the test of time."
Stout (20-8-1) has lasted more than seven years in the UFC, making his debut at UFC 58 back in March 2006.
The only other Canadian fighters active in the UFC who started earlier are welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre (UFC 46), bantamweight Ivan (The Pride of El Salvador) Menjivar (UFC 48) and middleweight-turned-welterweight Patrick (The Predator) Cote (UFC 50).
Stout's Octagon record is 8-7 heading into Saturday's fight with James Krause (19-4) as the UFC visits the Manitoba capital for the first time. Krause, a late injury replacement for Isaac Vallie-Flagg, is making his UFC debut after going 0-2 in the WEC.
Stout has alternated wins and losses his last five fights but has kept his place in the organization because he always comes ready to bang. He has won six bonuses, one for knockout of the night and five for fight of the night.
The bonus cheques have helped him pay for his Dad's driveway, buy his car outright, put a down payment on a house and open a gym.
Stout, a former kick-boxer, has looked to evolve in recent years. He took Spencer (The King) Fisher down four times in winning their rubber match last June.
The overall takedown count is 27-6 against Stout in his UFC career, but only 5-5 in his last four fights.
"I used to be able to rely on my striking and I still do to an extent," said Stout. "But everyone's striking is getting to such a high level that if I don't work on my wrestling and my jiu-jitsu and throw it into the game plan, then I'm at a real disadvantage."
Stout credits Rowan Cunningham, the head grappling coach, and others at the Adrenaline Training Center — which Stout co-owns — for helping expand his game.
He has also upped his cardio training after feeling he flagged somewhat in his split decision win over Caros Fodor at UFC 157 in February.
The fighter had to expand his training options after the 2011 death of Shawn Tompkins, his longtime coach, friend and brother-in-law.
When Stout fought with Tompkins in his corner, it was as if the two shared a brain. Tomkins would yell out instructions and, no matter the crowd noise, Stout would immediately respond.
Stout has tried a few coaching options since and speaks fondly of his time with Mark DellaGrotte in Boston (before his fight with John Makdessi at UFC 154). But these days, he prefers to sleep in his own bed and train at his own gym, although he has also worked out at Para Bellum MMA in Oakville, Ont.
He admits it is a hard way to make a living, but says the positives outweigh the negatives.
"There are times definitely where you wake up and you're sore and every part of your body aches and you've still go to go to the gym and people are punching you in the face," he said. "There are times when it's not that fun, I'll be honest. And there are times where you think you hate it.
"But when you take a step back and put it all in perspective and look at your life overall, it's a pretty good gig. I work out for a living. I get to fight in front of a million people, which can be a little stressful but when it's all said and done, it's a pretty exciting thing that not a lot of people will ever get to do.
"The kids at the gym look up to you. There's a lot of perks that are involved with being a professional fighter that I try not to take for granted."