Saturday, October 31, 2020

Recent Retirements Show MMA Fighters Can Walk Away

Within the last few weeks, five long-time MMA fighters have decided to call it quits from the sport that made them famous. These five fighters are former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans, former UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping, former UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks, former UFC and Bellator welterweight contender Josh Koscheck, and long-time UFC featherweight Felipe Arantes. All five of them have officially retired from the sport they called home for the last decade or two, and all of five of them made the smart decision to step away before incurring too much damage.

I’m going to go through all five of the fighters in question and talk about why they decided to retire.

For Evans, the decision to retire came on the heels of a five-fight losing streak that ended his future Hall of Fame career. Evans, who is 38, suffered a brutal knockout loss to Anthony Smith at UFC 225 a few weeks ago in front of his friends and family in Chicago. There was an argument that Evans should have stepped away after Glover Teixeira rang his bell in 2016, but he decided to stick around a few extra years. Split decision losses to Dan Kelly and Sam Alvey must have showed Evans that he could still hang in there, but losing to Smith in the fashion he did was enough for Evans. After a 14-year MMA career including 13 years of fighting elite fighters in the Octagon, Evans’ body and brain had taken enough damage, and after suffering his third career knockout loss to Smith, he knew it was time to go. Thankfully for Evans, he made a ton of money in his career and has a job as an analyst so the decision to step away was made a bit easier. Either way, it was the right call.

Similar to Evans is Bisping. Like Evans, Bisping had a 14-year career in MMA, and 12 years in the UFC alone. Bisping retired with the most wins in UFC history with 20, and the most fights in UFC history with 29. Very few men have spent more time in the Octagon than Bisping, who retired at 39. Like Evans, Bisping is another future Hall of Famer, and like Evans, he has a job as an analyst. He also made a ton of money in the sport, so he didn’t need to fight anymore. After suffering brutal defeats in a short period of time last year to Georges St-Pierre and Kelvin Gastelum, Bisping was already contemplating retirement but he was still hoping to fight one more time in his native London. Unfortunately for Bisping, he suffered a devastating eye injury in the Gastelum fight, and that was in addition to the one he suffered earlier in his career against Vitor Belfort. With so much to fall back on, Bisping decided he had enough of taking damage, and smartly decided to hang them up.

I was surprised when Hendricks retired, because I still felt like he may have had a little more in the tank considering he’s 34. But he decided to call it quits 11 years after starting in MMA. Hendricks had a nice run where he was considered by many to be the finest welterweight fighter on the planet, but after losing five of his last six fights, including brutal knockouts to Paulo Costa, Tim Boetsch and Stephen Thompson, Hendricks decided he had enough of the sport. Sick weight cuts that drained his body helped contribute to the end of Hendricks’ career, as did all the damage he took in his wars with GSP, Matt Brown and Robbie Lawler. Speculation is that the introduction of USADA didn’t do any favors for Hendricks either. Either way, he decided to step away at a fairly young age for a fighter. Hendricks had a high peak but not necessarily the length of time at the top to make the Hall of Fame, in case you were wondering about his potential chances to make it in.

Koscheck probably hung around too long, considering he hasn’t fought since early last year. But at age 40 he decided he didn’t need MMA any longer, and officially announced his retirement this week. Koscheck ended his career with six-straight losses including a particularly bad defeat against unknown Mauricio Alonso in his Bellator debut. Koscheck was finished in the last five fights of his career, including brutal knockouts to Hendricks and Lawler and vicious submission defeats to Erick Silva and Jake Ellenberger. Like Evans and Bisping, Koscheck began his MMA career in 2004 and he competed in the UFC for 13 years. He had a solid career — not Hall of Fame worthy, but Hall of Very Good, for sure — and he likely stayed around a few years too long, but it’s good he at least made this decision before he was 40, because no one needed to see Koscheck get destroyed again. And clearly after making this decision to hang them up, Koscheck recognized that as well.

The lowest-profile fighter who retired recently is Arantes, but that doesn’t mean he’s not worth mentioning. Arantes is only 30 so he’s very young compared to the rest of the fighters in this article, but he has competed in MMA for a decade and he has been in the UFC since 2013, competing 12 times for an overall record of 5-6-1 in the Octagon. After losing three-straight fights, including an absolutely devastating knockout against Song Yadong in his last fight, Arantes decided to step away from the sport before he took more damage. In the future, I believe you will see more fighters stepping away at the age of 30 if the haven’t “made it” in the sport. While Arantes probably could have stuck around the UFC or Bellator as a journeyman, he made the smart decision to walk away before he took more damage in the cage that would affect his life going forward.

I think the latest string of fighters shows that this generation of MMA fighters are starting to learn from the class of fighters that came before them and are deciding to walk away while they still have their wits about them. These fighters do not want to be like Chuck Liddell, Ken Shamrock, and Royce Gracie, the stars before them, who stuck around the sport too long and suffered for it. Instead, fighters now are recognizing when they have nothing left to give the game. It’s not easy to step away from something that you know and love, but when the damage starts to accumulate, then it’s time to go and you have to give the utmost respect for the five men in this article for giving their all to the sport and knowing when to walk away before it’s too late.

Which MMA retirement hits close to home for you?

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