This year we’ve seen magic performed in the cage – Anderson Silva’s front kick knockout comes to mind, as does Lyoto Machida’s same move against Randy Couture, plus anything Jon Jones has done. But we’ve also seen things far from magical, things that we’d never see but for the effects of age on an athlete’s body and the inevitable degradation time has on a fighter’s skills. As such, we’ve witnessed a few fighters, wise to what’s happened to them and their once-great ability, contemplate retirement and hang up the gloves. Chris Lytle did it (in grand fashion, as he’d just won in the Octagon). Matt Hamill called it quits, too. And last year the semi- self-imposed axe fell on Chuck Liddell, who rode off into the sunset astride a steed made of repetitive head trauma and stripper pelts. Yet… maybe there are a few more who should consider a similar move. Yes, a select few whose modern day performances pale in comparison to the feats of their past, and whose futures likely hold nothing but concussions, fractures and apologies to their fans. Thus, a list – the Great “Must Retire” List of 2011.
(To allay the inherent douche-ness of this topic, I shall begin each entry with a brief description of what made these fighters so great – and yes, they were great. The greatest, even. It’s safe to say that I was, and always will be, their number one fan.)
-Tito Ortiz – He was our “Huntington Beach Bad Boy”, for the longest time he was our light-heavyweight champ, and he was the face of Zuffa’s UFC. Takedowns and ground and pound against the fence? Ortiz was king, bar none. But now his speed and knack for snagging single- and double-legs has failed him, and though he’s honed his striking to the best it’s ever been (see: Ryan Bader), lately it hasn’t been enough to compensate. In his last two outings Ortiz has been left wincing and clutching a ribcage that can no longer withstand the punishment. And it shouldn’t have to.
-Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira – One of the greatest heavyweights the world has ever seen, and a true legend in the sport – that’s “Big Nog”, who’s about as beloved as he was once feared. But alas, his resilience, which set him apart from the rest, has turned into a propensity for taking far too much damage. You see, knocking out the Brendan Schaubs of the world is one thing, but having your arm snapped like a twig by Frank Mir, or getting smashed by Cain Velasquez, well, that’s another animal entirely. And it’s an animal that usually means the rest of your days on Earth won’t be as pleasant as they would be if your body hadn’t taken that kind of demolition.
-Forrest Griffin – If not for Griffin wailing away at Stephan Bonnar, the sport would likely not be where it is today. That, coupled with the fact that the seminal TUF winner’s hard work eventually garnered him a UFC championship belt, means the man is destined for legend status as well. But over the last few years we’ve seen him squeak by Rich Franklin and the aforementioned Ortiz, and get utterly blasted out of the water by Rashad Evans, Anderson Silva and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. And it didn’t even look like Griffin cared when Shogun blitzed him. Has he lost his fire? Does he no longer possess the ability, or will, to put in the hard work he was once known for? That’s tough to say. What isn’t tough to say, though, is that unless Griffin really wants to train and fight, he shouldn’t be doing it. Watching him get manhandled is no fun.
-Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto – For years, Kid was the best little guy Japan had to offer, and he was ultra-exciting to watch. Now, not so much. In five fights since 2009, the explosive wrestler and power-hitter has only won once, and he’s yet to taste victory in the Octagon. Is it because he lacks the speed and agility that once made him great? You betcha, and that sort of thing ain’t coming back. Kid, please, hang those gloves up.
-Matt Hughes – One of the greatest welterweights to ever walk the planet, Hughes was the apex predator in a jungle full of extremely dangerous wild animals. But his last winning performance was when he put Ricardo Almeida to sleep back in August of 2010, and since then he’s been knocked out by BJ Penn and Josh Koscheck. Just like with Ortiz, Hughes’ dominant wrestling traits have been replaced by a much-improved ability to strike. But unlike with Ortiz, Hughes can’t seem to take a punch like he used to – and based on the former 170-pound champ’s sullen words and demeanor after each subsequent loss, he appears to know this as well as we do.
-Joe Stevenson – He was some kind of King of the Cage/West Coast badass, and that plus his grappling saw him through to a winning performance on TUF 2 and an eventual shot at the UFC’s lightweight belt. Unfortunately, something happened on the road to glory, and Stevenson could no longer do what it took to earn a win. With his last four performances in the Octagon ending with the other guys’ hands getting raised, Stevenson was rightfully cut from the organization. What went wrong? Dunno. But if it has anything to do with competitive fire, then maybe Stevenson isn’t cut out for getting in the cage anymore. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that… as long as he doesn’t fruitlessly try to come back.
-Kazushi Sakuraba – PRIDE superstar Sakuraba was the antithesis to everything jiu-jitsu, as evidenced by his time spent defeating nearly every Gracie put in front of him. But it is definitely time for the Japanese warrior to bid the fight world “sayonara”. Never mind that he hasn’t won a bout since 2009, or that his reflexes are shot. No, what cinches his need for retirement is that scary-good kickboxer Marius Zaromskis almost completely tore off the poor man’s ear. I don’t know about you, but that’s where I draw the line.