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When is the Right Time to Retire?

May 30, 2012 All MMA News, Blogs  Comments 

I always find it sad when a fighter hangs up the gloves, even when it is for the right reasons. Some of it is selfishness, wanting to see them put their skills on display, thinking of what was and lamenting what could have been. I felt this feeling hearing Jason “Mayhem” Miller calling time on his career post UFC 146. I know Jason was not the greatest fighter out there but he was entertaining. I heard in Jason’s voice a man who knows it’s the end of an era, sad and frustrated he failed to secure a UFC win. Unfortunately this may be the defining point of his career; he was unable to get a win in three attempts. I get a feeling we never quite saw the best Mayhem had to offer, for this I am saddened. I think his decision is the right one; he is an intelligent man and will find other opportunities. Mayhem will not be returning, which is wise. I cannot see him making drastic improvements. It is a new chapter for him.

I am in two minds when it comes to BJ Penn’s apparent retirement. I love watching Penn fight but not at welterweight. I have no desire watching Penn get out muscled and out stuck by larger fighters. If BJ were to return, I would only like to see him at lightweight. It is his body and his choice but I want to see him test his skills, not his size and the lightweight division is stacked, I think Penn would be a great test for those edging toward title contention. If Penn decides to stay retired, I understand his reasons too. There is nothing for BJ to prove, he has a family and already has secured a Hall of Fame Legacy.

Fighters such as Chuck Liddell needed to retire for their long term health. I put Wanderlei Silva in this category. While he won his fight against Cung Le last time around, he had some dangerous moments. Looking back prior to the Cung fight, Chris Leben separated Silva from consciousness. Fighters like Liddell and Wanderlei are beloved for what they have achieved but it is for this reason retirement was and is a good option respectively. These two men have given all their bodies have to entertain us all and for this they deserve to be admired as true warriors. There is nothing left to prove, too much to lose. Wanderlei will never hold UFC gold. This is fact. Given his lacklustre UFC run he will never get near a title shot and he knows this. Wanderlei is truly a pioneer of the sport and a gentleman. I want to see Wanderlei with his health as much as possible in years to come.

Some fighters stay far too long. Randy Couture stayed healthy by fighting to smart game plans and left while competitive. The same cannot be said for Ken Shamrock. Many years past his prime, Ken is a shell of the fighter which graced the early years of the UFC. Even in his second run in the UFC, Ken was past his use by date. Ken is a legend in MMA, whether you like the man or not. I would love to see Ken get a win against somebody and walk away. I don’t want to see him in a cage anywhere anymore, much in the same way I don’t want to watch Tito Ortiz anymore. They are not the same men whom once battled each other. I don’t feel any excitement watching these men going into battle, but pity for what is now the one sided beating they are about to endure.

I have never had to retire from anything. I don’t really know what it’s like from personal experience. I have had it described to me as losing a part of you. Retiring is walking away from something you have worked hard at because you either no longer have the passion or incapable of doing it anymore. The realisation your time has come must be a difficult one and I am sure for many the thrill of the crowd, the money and the fame feel too good to walk away from. Situations such as these end in sad tales of fighters continuing far too long. Boxing has prime examples in Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. A legacy takes so long to build and can be destroyed by the final poor years of a career.

Once the decision to retire is made, it should be final. In the case of Anderson Silva, should he beat Chael Sonnen in their upcoming rematch in a convincing fashion, I can see him potentially walking away from the sport. There is no other fight which would mean more to him personally and would be worth continuing on for. From a fan’s point of view we can think of many potential fights which intrigue us but it comes down to what motivates the athlete. With injuries starting to plague him, now would be a great time to walk out on top before long injury layoffs become the norm. To leave on top is rare.

If the decision to retire is delayed too far, we end up with the Gary Goodridge situation where permanent brain damage or perhaps crippling long term injuries affect the fighter. We all know fighters are brave and show a general disregard for the potential long term risks and this is where family, their manager, teammates and friends need to help them understand the effects on themselves and those around them. The decision of when and where to retire are personal. At some point it is inevitable though. A wise man once told me you may love your job but your job doesn’t love you back. Once the gloves are hung up for good, the crowds have gone silent and the memories begin to fade the sport moves on without you. The way you carry yourself inside and outside the cage defines who you are. It is just better to walk before you are pushed.

By Alex Durward

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