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How long does UFC 223's Evan Dunham intend to fight? Long enough to eliminate 'what-ifs'

LAS VEGAS – When Evan Dunham returns to the octagon for UFC 223 next month, it’ll be the 26th official MMA bout of a professional career dating back more than a decade.

Still, at 36, Dunham doesn’t feel like he’s slowing down. His recent record will attest to that, too: Coming off a draw with Beneil Dariush, Dunham hasn’t lost in five fights. That’s his longest UFC streak since 2010, when Sean Sherk snapped a four-fight winning streak after bringing Dunham his first octagon setback.

The secret to Dunham’s longevity? Well, there are a few factors.

A “less is more” approach has meant more intelligent training. He’s learned how to better control his fights, as well. Due diligence and staying in shape outside of camp helped, not to mention the UFC’s Performance Institute that Dunham constantly praises.

But while those things have kept Dunham’s body ready to go, there’s something else that’s helped his mind and heart stay in the game: running his own gym in Las Vegas.

“I think it’s helped me, because I’m not so single-minded anymore,” Dunham told MMAjunkie on Monday during a media day in Las Vegas. “Everything is not about fighting, everything is not about what’s going to happen in the next fight. It’s a lot of moving pieces, between my daughters and the gym. It doesn’t give me too much time to obsess over one thing. And when I’m not obsessing over one thing, I think I’m able to be a little more natural in all of them without forcing anything.

“The guys and gals I have at the gym are great. Every time I walk in there, it’s like walking in friends and family. It’s a really good time. It’s brought the love back for the sport back for me. I know that gets lost sometimes for guys that have been in the game for a while. They get a little burned out. But I don’t feel that way at all right now, especially because of the gym.”

Dunham (18-6-1 MMA, 11-6-1 UFC), who’s now set to meet fellow lightweight Olivier Aubin-Mercier (10-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC) on April 7, has proof that his busier schedule hasn’t hurt him in the cage: Since opening the gym, he hasn’t suffered a single setback.

And yes, he is counting the Dariush majority draw.

“I don’t see it as the ending of a winning streak, because I didn’t lose,” Dunham said. “A draw – I didn’t know how to quite deal with it when it first happened because never had a draw before in 30-some fights. After it happened, I was a little bit bummed out.

“But, in retrospect, I’m OK with it. It was a good performance. (I) got cracked early, was able to come back quite a bit. I thought I won the fight, but I’m sure he feels that way, too. So I don’t see it as a loss. I see it as a win.”

When he meets Aubin-Mercier in the FS1-televised preliminary card encounter at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., Dunham will come into the cage with more than twice the amount of pro fights than his seven-years-younger opponent. That’s still less of an age gap than he had against recent opponents Dariush and Rick Glenn, both 28.

OK, so maybe now Dunham is on the more experienced side of the roster. But, looking to squeeze in one or two more fights still this year, Dunham is not about to put an expiration date on his fighting days.

“My biggest fear is looking back and saying, ‘What if?’” Dunham said. “I don’t ever want to say what if. If I cut it too short, I don’t want to be that old guy sitting on the couch, explaining to my grandkids, ‘You know, I could have done this if I would have …’

“No ‘what-ifs.’ I’m going to hammer it out until I know there’s nothing left. When there’s nothing left I’ll know, and then I’ll be OK walking away. And I’m not putting any time on that.”

To hear more from Dunham, check out the video above.

And for more on UFC 223, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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