Bellator has signed Kimbo Slice, the UFC have re-signed Mirko Cro-Cop, the two promotions have traded Rampage Jackson in the twilight of his career, the WSOF has inked Matt Hamill, and Brock Lesnar may be on his way back to the octagon.

Welcome to MMA in 2015, where everything old is new again.

In a sport that is really, in its modern form, just a few decades old, the pull of nostalgia can be akin to tidal force, because the fighters of old are still, for the most part, alive, kicking, and not that far removed from their glory days, still with their hardcore fanbase intact. And as the UFC and Bellator look for ways to increase ratings, suddenly, fighters just a few years ago considered “past their prime” are looking more like “guaranteed box office draws.”

Take a look at a few recent examples that rounded out last year: Andrei Arlovski, former UFC heavyweight champion, and Tito Ortiz, former UFC light heavyweight champion. Both were in exile from the UFC, their careers, many thought, over. In Arlovski’s case, the argument was that his chin was shot. For Tito, it was being without a relevant win in years, and a long feud with the UFC and Dana White. Plus the injuries. There’s always the injuries.

These two, it was common knowledge, were done.

Then a funny thing happened: the MMA pendulum shifted, and promotions remembered that as much as they were a sport, they were also promoters, who to date had failed at the brand-first approach. So in the absence of star power (since neither UFC nor Bellator were doing a great job of building up fighters, though for different reasons), they latched on to these fighters of old. And it paid off.

Arlovski was re-signed by the UFC after going on an impressive run in the WSOF, where his only loss was to Anthony Johnson, and thanks in part to a punch after the bell that broke his jaw. Since his return to the big show, he’s 2-0, eking out a decision over Brendan Schaub and knocking out Antonio Silva in what many thought was an upset.

In 2015, Andrei Arlovski is a top ten heavyweight. How many saw that coming?

Ortiz, meanwhile, landed in Bellator, and after a false start in 2013, is suddenly on a two fight win streak, having beat then-middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko (who was fighting up in weight) and UFC Hall of Famer Stephan Bonnar. While this is a win over a vastly undersized opponent and a Bonnar well past his expiry date, it’s still more than most expected from Ortiz — and the attention the fight got was more than impressive. In fact, it gave Bellator bragging rights as it was the most-watched MMA fight on cable in 2014. They probably should have sent a thank you note to the UFC, who released Bonnar to take the fight.

In 2015, Tito Ortiz may have a shot at the Bellator light heavyweight championship. How many saw that coming?

Arlovski’s success can be seen as the more impressive from an athletic standpoint, but it’s the Ortiz-Bonnar fight that really opened eyes. With the UFC struggling badly and Bellator a distant second outside of a handful of big events, both promotions realized that names, even old names, are game changers.

And so the UFC stole away Rampage Jackson, who had already paid dividends for Bellator. Though the matter may wind up in court, Jackson is set to make his UFC return in Montreal in 2015. Why? Because while many a fan feels Rampage’s best days are behind him, casual fans know his name, and he’s still willing to entertain. His name sells tickets.

As does the name Kimbo Slice. Scott Coker no doubt had to dust off his address book to find Slice’s entry on some battered, faded page. Out of the MMA game for years and last seen running a 7-0 record in pro boxing against questionable opposition (and even then he hadn’t fought in a year), Slice no doubt jumped at the chance for some “easy” money — not that fighting in a cage is ever easy — and Coker, Spike, and Viacom understood that his return could easily match the ratings Ortiz pulled in, even with all that time away.

Which brings us to Cro-Cop. Just Friday Scott Coker mentioned being interested in Cro-Cop, the former Pride legend whose UFC run simply didn’t go according to plan. Currently 3-1 since his departure from the UFC and briefly retiring, Mirko Filipovic knocked out Satoshi Ishii on New Year’s Eve. Ishii is one of the better heavyweights outside the world’s top promotions, and Cro-Cop was defending his IGF heavyweight title in the fight — a title he won from Ishii earlier in 2014. You can argue the relevance of his other win since Roy Nelson sent him packing from UFC-land in 2011, as it was a horrible spectacle to watch, but the reality is, again: fans know Cro-Cop, he won more than he lost outside the UFC, and he’ll draw ratings and sell tickets. Plus, if nothing else, by signing him, the UFC keeps him away from Bellator.

With all this and the return of Brock Lesnar possibly on the horizon, 2015 in the world of MMA is looking a lot like 2009, when Kimbo Slice, Brock Lesnar, Mirko Cro-Cop, and Rampage Jackson could all be found fighting in the UFC, and Andrei Arlovski was fighting in Strikeforce, having left the UFC the year prior.

Add to this the return of Anderson Silva and Nick Diaz as headlining fighters, and you’re left with just two questions:

Outside of the ratings, which will probably be stellar, will any of this be worth it as far as entertaining fights? And beyond that — who’s next? Ken Shamrock after his bareknuckle boxing match? Maybe Dan Severn retired too soon.

All joking aside, MMA is a business, and giving fans one or two last chances to cheer on their old favorites isn’t a bad thing, so long as fighter safety isn’t being ignored. However, this is a stop-gap measure, a short-term solution to a long term problem: developing a new generation of stars. Since putting the brand first has failed, this may tide over the masses, but at the same time, the UFC, and Bellator (with their own fighters), need to be giving the Conor McGregor treatment to more than just Conor McGregor.

In the meantime, enjoy the nostalgia trip while it lasts.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.