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How two 90-year-olds became rabid MMA fans

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports
Sam Chinkes and Sidney Graber
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Sam Chinkes, left, and Sidney Graber are planning to attend a World Series of Fighting card Saturday in Las Vegas. (Yahoo Sports)

LAS VEGAS – There are no seats on the ground level of the coffee shop on this bright, beautiful Saturday morning so, without hesitation, Sam Chinkes bounds up the steps, two at a time, to find a seat on the second floor.

He hasn't even sat down when he beams, as he often seems to do, and asks, "What do you think of that kid, Jon Jones? Something, isn't he?"

Jones, the UFC light heavyweight champion, is indeed something, and Chinkes is right on the money with his opinion about the sport's pound-for-pound best fighter.

Chinkes is a serious mixed martial arts fan and plans to attend the World Series of Fighting card on Saturday with his buddy, Sidney Graber. He describes himself as "a very big MMA fan," but the WSOF card at the Hard Rock will be his first live event.

Chinkes and Graber, though, aren't your average fans of MMA, a sport in which the target demographic is 18-to-34-year-old males. The men are no less passionate about MMA than the target crowd, but they're a wee bit outside of the demo.

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Sam Chinkes, left, and Sidney Graber used to be big boxing fans. (Yahoo Sports)

They're each 90 years old, one-time boxing fans who turned to MMA when they became disillusioned by what they viewed was happening to boxing.

"There's a lot more happening, a lot more action [in an MMA fight] than in boxing," Chinkes said. "And they give you more evenly matched fights in [MMA] than they do in boxing."

Chinkes came first to MMA. A former advertising executive who grew up rooting for the many Jewish boxing stars in New York in the 1930s and 1940s, he found MMA almost by accident while channel surfing.

It was about 2008, he said, and he was sitting in his chair, looking for something worthwhile to watch. Nothing could keep his interest.

"I don't like those daytime dramas, because they're written to go on forever," Chinkes said. "I like to watch courtroom dramas. I like all that criminal stuff, I guess, because I'm from New York. … But this one day, I was trying to find something to watch and there was nothing. Just nothing. It was all terrible. And finally, I came across this fight and wouldn't you know it, I loved it."

He'd found a UFC fight card, and was intrigued by the pace at which the bouts were fought, as well as by the seemingly nonstop action. He long had been a boxing fan, and recalled in his youth sitting in front of the radio listening to Max Baer fights, but he was blown away by MMA.

The athleticism and the conditioning of the MMA fighters really impressed him.

"Boxing has three-minute rounds, and this has five-minute rounds and they're still able to fight hard for all five minutes," he said. "That was amazing to me."

Before long, he was hooked. He developed into such a full-fledged fan that his wife of 63 years began to roll her eyes when she walked past and noticed him watching MMA again.

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'There's a lot more happening, a lot more action [in an MMA fight] than in boxing,' Sam Chinkes says.

He'd have a fight on and she'd see it and say to him, "Are you watching that again?"

Chinkes laughed at the thought.

"I always say, 'Of course I'm watching because it's the best thing on TV,'" he said. "And it is."

Graber agrees. He, too, had been a long-time boxing fan, and said his favorite fight was the 1982 heavyweight title match between then-champion Larry Holmes and "Gentleman" Gerry Cooney.

That was a fight charged with racial tension and all sorts of drama.

"It was a microcosm of America," Graber said of the match.

But as time went on, he found himself less and less interested in boxing. The fights, he said, became less exciting and the matchmaking didn't make sense to him.

Boxing, he said, was becoming nothing more than "two millionaires beating each other up."

Little by little, he found himself drifting away from boxing. He turned to pro wrestling and enjoyed watching the WWE during the Hulk Hogan Era in the 1980s.

But he always loved a good fight and when he saw an MMA fight for the first time a few years ago, he was hooked.

"Boxing just became uninteresting to me after a while, and I feel bad to say that, but it's the truth," he said. "I feel MMA is much more exciting. I guess you could say I'd outgrown boxing."

In his late 80s, he learned to love MMA. He's bad with names, he says, and doesn't recall a lot of the fighters' names, but he said watching an MMA card routinely gets him fired up.

Both Graber and Chinkes are fit, trim and nimble, both mentally and physically. Ten years ago, at 80 years old, Graber hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, a remarkable feat of which he's understandably proud.

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'I guess you could say I'd outgrown boxing,' Sidney Graber says.

He said he's open to new ideas and wasn't turned off by watching MMA. Some who aren't familiar with it don't care for the ground game and a few others outside of the 18-to-34 demographic think it's too violent, but Graber had no such reservations.

Graber said he routinely cheers and yells at his television when he's watching MMA.

"It brings out the worst in me," he said, grinning impishly. "… When we were kids, my father took my brother and I to boxing cards all the time. You didn't have all the entertainment you do now, and we went to see the fights a lot. … To me, MMA puts on a great show and it's much more of a show than [boxing] ever was. It's great entertainment and they're great athletes and the fights are a lot of fun."

They're both looking forward to watching the WSOF show in The Joint at the Hard Rock, where the main event is a welterweight title fight between Steve Carl and Rousimar Palhares.

The music will be blaring, and the Hard Rock can be loud, but these guys are more like 19 than 90. They won't be turned off by it at all. Rather, they'll revel in the party atmosphere.

"The music, the entertainment, the show, that's all a part of it and I love it," Chinkes said.

Much could be made about their age, and how unusual it is for someone 90 years old to be into MMA. Graber just shrugged.

"If it is interesting and it is good to watch, why not watch?" Graber said. "This is good stuff. Age isn't an issue. No matter how old you are, if you like great athletes and entertainment, you can appreciate [MMA]."

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