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Expiration Dates

Yesterday two fighters of note made public the decisions regarding their futures within the cage – one announcing that there’s still fight left in him despite his recent string of losses, the other declaring no mas.  Legendary Russian fighter Fedor Emelianenko was the former, and his intentions were made known via M-1 Global press release; the latter was TUF 3 veteran Matt Hamill, who hung up the figurative gloves on his own website.  It is a fool’s errand to try to second guess a fighter when he’s assigned himself an imaginary expiration date.  After all, only he truly knows the toll the sport takes on him.  We can, however, speculate wildly at the decisions!

Fighting success can be such a maddening game of degrees.  For instance, suppose a particular hard-hitting Russian heavyweight spends the vast majority of his career an amazing fighter crushing lesser excellent fighters (“amazing” being a grade below “excellent” in this example).  However, as time passes, those amazing-level abilities deteriorate so he too is now just excellent.  Should the Russian call it quits because he can now only defeat most – not all – men? 

Sure, a three-loss streak is ominous, but it’s easy to get submitted by a world-class jiu-jitsu master (Fabricio Werdum) and pummeled by a giant (Antonio Silva).  And Dan Henderson is… Dan Henderson.  Who believes losing to him merits retirement?  The truth is, Fedor is older and maybe slower and less capable of the miraculous, but a tumble from the heights of his particular past greatness likely still leaves him very able to kick some ass – a theory both he and his camp clearly believe.  Argue all you want about whether his expiration date as a competitor has come to pass, but if Fedor can still pull off wins (which, admittedly, remains to be seen), then he has every right to keep at it. 

(Of course, if he gets felled by even scrubs, that’s another story.)

On the other side of the coin is Hamill, who seemingly out of the blue stated that he’s done.  Said the wrestler who’s defeated the likes of Tito Ortiz, Keith Jardine and Mark Munoz:

There hasn’t been even one training camp where I’ve been able to train without training around an injury. I have not been kind to my body and it has nothing left after 28 years of non stop competition. It’s time to finally give it a rest.

I can’t continue to fight without having the hunger and desire to do so. I can’t let my performances reflect on my coaches who are the best in the world and the reason I’ve made it this far.

It’s hard to argue with that.  What’s surprising – and, in light of the numerous fighters who stayed past their expiration dates (i.e., Chuck Liddell, Jens Pulver, et al.), confusing – is that Hamill’s only losses have been to Michael Bisping, Rich Franklin, Quinton Jackson and Alexander Gustafsson, a quartet that includes three top-ranked guys.  But again, if Hamill says his time in the cage is over, then it’s over.  From our vantage point, we cannot see the date printed on his label telling him his time is up, nor are we privy to the trials and tribulations of his training camps and the aches and pains felt in his everyday life.

If there’s anything to speculate with Hamill, it’s if his retirement from the cage will truly stick.  In this regard, a second guess might be in order, and the soothsayer’s tea leaves say… he’ll be back.  While he appeared lackluster at best in his last two outings, there was nothing there to indicate that he couldn’t bounce back with some extended time off.  For Hamill, what we may be witnessing is a case of the fighter examining the smudged numbers on his expiration date, and getting it wrong.  Ultimately, only time will tell.

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