Age isn't even a number to Bobby Voelker.
The 38-year-old MMA veteran isn't tired of questions of how he continues to plow through fights when many of his early opponents have returned to their "regular" lives.
The questions of his age do not fuel him. He knows they are coming yet does not "kill the messenger." There are no bulletin boards littered with portions of articles that focus on the number of years he has spent fighting in both packed arenas and sparsely filled community centers.
Age isn't a factor whatsoever.
"It doesn't bother me at all as long as I'm still performing," said Voelker, the UFC veteran and Kansas City legend set to face Zak Bucia this weekend at Shamrock FC 289 in the city he has dominated for more than a decade. The winner will receive a three-fight Bellator contract.
Since a stint with UFC that included bouts in UFC 158 and UFC 168 as well as a fight against former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler, Voelker has won five straight to return to the cusp of the limelight.
Voelker told KnuckleJunkies.com he had been told by UFC officials to "go home and get four wins and maybe we'll take you back." While he has chosen a different path, the stakes remain highest this weekend.
But saddled with age is experience. And Voelker has plenty of it; enough to obtain a comfortable perspective while maintaining a sense of urgency. He has said experience has taught him to focus less on the next step and more on the current one.
"It's whatever you make of it," Voekler said. "I don't deal with stress or pressure. I don't let my mind go that route. The contract? It's great. I definitely want to move on. It's a goal. It's a huge goal. But first things first. I've got Zac in front of me. I've got to take care of that Saturday night."
Bucia is the top-ranked welterweight in Kansas and Missouri, according to Tapology, while Voelker is ranked second. Bucia moved up a weight class and specifically asked to fight Voelker.
"I'll be watching out for that big left hand, that big kick he has," Voelker said of Bucia, who presents another lefty for the veteran. "Two or three of my last five have been southpaws," he added. I've been training with more southpaws."
The adjustment is working. During his five-fight win streak, Voelker has won four by TKO, including two in the first round. Among his victories are wins against Justin Guthrie and Kyle Kurtz, both among the elite in a crowded welterweight class.
Voelker has a distinct size advantage against Bucia, as each fighter is at opposite extremes of the welterweight weight guideline. Voelker is also two inches taller at 6 feet, but believes he has other tangibles that also give him an edge.
"My size, my strength," he said. "My composure. The experience I have is a huge stgrength for me. I know how to break them down. It may be the first round or it may be the third round. But I can break them down."
His goal against Bucia is the same as the goal he has carried into 42 professional fights: Get a knockout win. If it doesn't happen, he is prepared to adjust.
"I feel great mentally (and) physically," Voelker said. "I wanted to fight a week ago. I'm getting ready for the game plan and what happens outside the game plan, getting it back to the game plan."
Since his pro debut on Feb. 11, 2006, Voelker has tallied 18 of his 28 wins by TKO and another four by submission. Only four of his wins have been by decision. However, eight of his 12 losses have been by decision and he has fought into or through the third round 13 times - which means early submission attempts might be risky against him.
Voelker is six years older than the 32-year-old Bucia. The younger foe is nothing new, though, as all but one of Voelker's last dozen opponents have been younger. The five fighters he has overcome to reach this fight are a combined 21 years younger than he is, and that includes a win against 42-year-old Cedric Marks.
His handling of constant attention given to his longevity may be the nutshell content of how Voelker has maintained the mental edge required for a run in MMA just once, let alone multiple runs over more than a decade after starting at the age of 26.
The departure from UFC did not lead to a reboot for Voelker. Rather, he views it as a bump in the road and changed little as he has embarked on another sprint to the top.
"I still train pretty much the same way for the most part," he said. "It wasn't the physical part of it as much as the mental part. I have the same goals I've always had from the beginning, train and fight.
"I feel like I still haven't hit my peak. When I do, we'll see what happens. We all retire. It may be in a year or it may be in 10 years. Who knows?"
While there is no desire to slow down, Voelker is comfortable reflecting on the lessons learned from the thousands of miles traveled over his career. Asked what he would tell the 26-year-old Bobby Voelker making his pro debut near Valentine's Day in 2006, he said: "I'd just tell him to treat your body right; treat your mind right. It will help you last over the years."
Watch Shamrock FC 289 this Saturday on internet PPV at shamrockfc.com/store
Photo courtesy of Jerry Chavez Photography