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Best Before: Quitting is not an option

Nobody does quitting like professional athletes. First there’s a stretch of wildly inconsistent performances, followed by an official retirement in a spectacle of touching ceremonies, heartfelt speeches and highlight-reels. Then they sniff out a bigger contract, come back the following year and do it again. Even when the career finally ends, there is still the rounds of cheating accusations—from steroids, to corked bats, to illegal handwraps—that block the road to the record books. Whatever the circumstances, a career in physical competition almost never ends on a high note.

However, most star athletes are remembered warmly by fans. All the awful statistics and scandalous headlines (usually collected during the last few years) are forgotten in favour of an identified “prime”. Furthermore, slipping talent is more subtle in team sports because the overall success of a franchise is more important than a specific player; that allows for a more gradual realization that the best days are past—though it will still come painfully late.

However, in fighting, entire storied careers can be buried underneath a couple humiliating defeats—Michael Bisping will never live down that knockout by Dan Henderson. Furthermore, faltering performances are not obscured throughout a long season amidst teammates. Rather, the reduced speed, sloppy timing and softening chin are clearly displayed through full HD widescreen and slow-motion replays.

Fighter’s careers rarely wind down with dignity; instead they are viciously beaten out of contention by young-up-and-comers. Former stars like Jens Pulver, Ken Shamrock and Kevin Randleman are struggling to stay relevant while being brutalized by the next generation. Some fighters even opt for a huge drop in competition in order to rack up some wins. Such as former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia (26-6 MMA), who has been proving his legendary status by facing such challenges as Ray Mercer (0-0 MMA, with one exhibition loss to Kimbo Slice) and Marius Pudzianowski (2-0 MMA).

The UFC 115 main event featured two fighters who are passionately ignoring signs that it is time to gracefully retire. Chuck Liddell and Rich Franklin had great title reigns but are simply being outclassed in the autumn of their careers. Neither man has a chance of regaining the championship. And as the losses pile up, not only is their physical health at risk, but so is their legacy as fighters.

MMA has grown dramatically over the last five years. One the best results of that growth has been a tremendous increase in overall talent throughout the sport. As a result, being a champion means much more now than it did during the prime of Franklin and Liddell. Therefore, when former champs get destroyed by the next wave of talent, it begs the question of whether that prime was helped along by a lack of real competition.

Take the present UFC light-heavyweight class as an example: there are seven active former champions (Rich Franklin, Lyoto Machida, Quinton Jackson, Rashad Evans, Randy Couture, Forrest Griffin and Tito Ortiz ) competing to get a shot at the newly crowned Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Compare that to the division during Liddell’s reign, where he and Randy Couture were the only real forces, as most of the current big names were still emerging or fighting in Pride FC.

Truthfully, the fizzling of former MMA stars probably has more to do with age and physical deterioration than truly being outclassed. But because it’s impossible to say exactly what would have happened if things had been different in their prime, they’ll never be able to shake the notion of being champ before the divisions were truly stacked. And the longer they spend getting knocked around by new blood, the more fuel it gives to such doubts.

It is hard to say exactly why athletes refuse to retire. Part of the problem may be pure ego, but mental conditioning may also deserve blame. Competing at the highest level means pushing through injuries, rough training camps, struggles with confidence and personal tragedy—see Vitor Belfort fighting Randy Couture while his sister was being held by kidnappers. After years of telling yourself that quitting is not an option, it’s pretty hard to bow out. That’s the nature of MMA though; success requires being tough, stubborn and a little crazy. And those traits do not usually lead to dignified endings.

16 COMMENTS
  • kentuckyfightfan says:

    So Liddell and Franklin need to retire? I’ll give you Liddell with his string of KO’s recently. But Franklin? C’mon! Who has beaten him? Only the top of the division has beaten him. And from what I’ve seen, Franklin is one of only two men to even give Anderson Silva much of a challenge. The other being Dan Henderson. So you want to write him off why? Age? Excuse me, but how old is Randy Couture? Granted he is a little bit of a freak of nature. But to write Franklin off and say he needs to retire is a premature statement. I don’t see anyone asking for Wanderlie’s retirement… And Franklin beat him and should have got the decision against Henderson. Will he ever win a championship again, probably not. But to write him off is a statement made by someone who must have their head in the sand.

  • Lethal Liquid says:

    Its ego. To be honest who can blame them. If you’re on the level of Chuck Liddell you the most recognizable figure in MMA its hard to admit when you’re done. Especially if Chuck feels he still had something left in the tank. Unfortunately in the fight game it means getting shit kicked out of you. Now for other athletes its a matter of bad financial choices. There are so many tales of athletes squandering their fortunes. Its as old as sports. I believe Ken Shamrock falls in this category. We’ve seen Ken get beat on by tomato can after tomato can. If he hangs on any longer he’s gonna be called Tomato Ken

  • Dufresne says:

    I’ll give you ego in the case of Chuck and Tito, but for most fighters passed their prime the reason they hang on is money. Until very recently sponsorships were slim pickings and fighting didn’t pay well. Heck, unless you’re a big name in a big orginization, it still doesn’t.

  • know_ledge1983 says:

    The person that wrote this article has no idea what they are talking about when it comes to Rich Franklin!!!! You really need to do your research on rich. He has only fought the most elite fighters and he only dicisive losses being to anderson silva and vitor belfort..come on man

  • Curly Biddles says:

    In my opinion there are only two reasons not to retire for any successful or legendary fighter.

    -Money

    -Hunger for competition

    I also agree with the first post. Rich Franklin is still in his PRIME.

  • LiverPunch says:

    It is up to them when they retire but we should not have to put up with their endless grasping at what was by putting them on main cards. What Chuck is 1-5 from 6. He now fits into the class of can. As harsh as that sounds, but ko, dec, ko, ko, ko losses is not good.

  • MCM says:

    I agree with most everyone else that Chuck is past the point of being a world beater, but adding Franklin in there is just while saying fighters like Tito and Rampage are still in title contention is just ignorant. How about Big Nog, Wandy, Hughes, Sherk, Arlovski all former champs that are passed their prime but still competing.
    And as much as I think Chuck needs to retire, he put on a great fight against Rich. If only there was a way to strengthen his chin.

  • danw84 says:

    Ko to Rampage who became champion, decision to Jardine (ok that’s weak), ko to Rashad who became champion, ko to Shogun who became champion, and ko to Rich a former champion.

    Yeah Chuck is no good, look at the nobodies he loses to.

    I hate watching him get knocked stupid, but you simply CAN NOT say Chuck didn’t look great out there on Saturday right up until he got overly aggressive and hit right where he needed to be by a very injured Franklin.

    He’s an adult. If he wants to fight, and if a doctor says it’s safe to do so, I don’t see why he can’t make his own choices.

  • Rece Rock says:

    “…see Vitor Belfort fighting Randy Couture while his sister was being held by kidnappers.”

    Jesus … That’s maddness.

  • king mah mah says:

    Everyone is saying that Rich has only lost to the top guys in their division. But what about Liddell?

    Is Rashad not in the top? Is Rampage not close to the top? Is Shogun not on the top of the lhw division as we speak?

    Ok ok, yeah he lost a split dicision to Jardine. But to make an argument that Rich has only lost to top guys and Liddell hasn’t is just absurd!

  • king mah mah says:

    @danw84- just read your post. Didn’t mean to almost copy you!

    But we’re right! That’s for sure!

  • LiverPunch says:

    I’m not saying chuck can’t fight anymore. I’m just saying it looks like he can’t fight and win against class fighters.
    Get as sentimental as you want and say “well he lost to good fighters”. To which I say Jardine? first and then I would say, it is also the way he lost, 1st round KO x 4 (I think Rashad was 1st rd?) in his last 6. Name another half decent fighter that has anywhere near that record and I will say that you may have a point. The only other fighter with anywhere near as bad of a record that is in the UFC is Jardine and he beat chuck.
    He is finished as a top fighter, full stop. If he wants to continue it is up to him but he will never string more than 1 win in a row against class opponents and will suffer more 1st rd stoppages to anybody top tier. He will never reach the highs of his past but I’m afraid he WILL reach new lows.

  • Lethal Liquid says:

    A friend pointed this out to me. Chuck holds the record for consecutive ko victories. If he continues then he may set the record for consecutive ko losses. With Chuck’s chin could you imagine if Tito would have tapped that glass? Glad Tito pulled out we would never hear the end of it

  • Rece Rock says:

    I hope everyone can pay homage to the veterns who paved the way and whom helped build this sport that we all love…it’s not easy for atheletes to bow out gracefully in any sport, we can choose to mock there efforts to continue or we can accept that these once great athletes are doing it there way and respect the fact that it’s there career & life… I know in some cases it’s a different story (ex: k.shamrock) but as much foolishness and controvercy as some of these guys drum up, when I see there picture or an article on them I just remember the superstar version of them and try not to judge them because I didnt live there life & I don’t walk in there shoes – if they want to tarnish there legacy or image hey it’s there’s to do so…

  • Anoiselikethunder says:

    In the article you were making the point that the level of competition is much stronger now then it was a couple of years ago.

    No doubt the competition is stronger now, but I do not think that they’re weren’t any quality fighters a few years back and to say that is probably just retarded.

    In fact, look at the cats who were doing well in the big MMA promotions back when Chuck was Champ. Guys like: Rich Franklin (still top level), Randy Coture, GSP (nearly untouchable), BJ Penn, Shogun, Fedor, Rampage, Cro Cop, The Nogueras, Hendersen, Nick Diaz, Wanderlei, Belfort, Oveream, Ortiz, Hughes.

    Almost all of these guys are all still relevant names in MMA today.

    I mean come on dude. The sport is always evolving. Striking is still improving, and so is grappling. Chuck is 40 years old, and he’s been a ton of wars. He never really tried to evolve his game and stayed pretty predictable. Got his bell rung a number of times, in against some guys with big power. His chin’s become weaker and his timings slower.

    That doesn’t mean that the reason he’s lost 5/6 is that he never faced quality competition.

  • Uncle Ruckus says:

    They actually did a research where they found out that when fights fight just before the fight the body releases Adrenaline and Endorphines which gives the fighters one big ‘high’.Fighter thrive on that feeling and it explains why they keep coming back.

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