MMA: Top 5 Fighters Who Retired Too Late
The MMA game giveth, and the MMA game taketh away. This cruel and cold lesson has been learned by far too many in this sport.
There comes a time in any athlete's career where he realizes it's time to hang it up. In team sports, that time is usually preceded by a lack of athleticism, maybe an injury or two.
Unfortunately, in MMA that time tends to be preceded by some vicious knockout or bone-crushing submission loss. Far too many of MMA's legends from "the old guard" have gone down in devastating fashion.
Some of the athletes were at the point where they had to fight to live rather than live to fight. Others simply couldn't accept that time had passed them by. Regardless of how they went out, it was clear that the end came way too late.
The ranking for this list is based on how high the fighters reached in their careers combined with how hard they fell. Also included was the manner in which they left the sport.
Best of the Rest
Jens Pulver: The former UFC lightweight champ recently announced his retirement, but it definitely came a few years too late. Even Pulver admits that he was in the game too long. He has been through an incredible amount of personal trouble, so for him to have the kind of career he did is an accomplishment in itself. Pulver ended his MMA career on a 2-3 run.
Mark Kerr: The Smashing Machine was the original physical freak before Brock Lesnar put on four-ounce gloves. He's also one of the sad tales of MMA history that few fans will know of thanks to him competing in the early UFC days. Anyone who has seen his documentary knows how personal issues caused havoc in Kerr's professional life. If he would have stepped away from the game before his final streak of losses, fans might remember him more fondly. Kerr ended his career with five straight losses.
Mark Hominick: Hominick was one the rising stars in the final days of the WEC promotion. He eventually secured a UFC featherweight title shot opposite Jose Aldo at UFC 129. Despite the loss, Hominick gained quite a bit of fan support for putting up a great fight against a seemingly unstoppable fighter. The death of longtime friend and mentor Shawn Tompkins seemed to weigh upon Hominick during the end of his UFC career. He would finish on a four-fight losing streak.
Matt Hughes: The personification of wrestling in MMA, Hughes became the second greatest welterweight of all time by utilizing his one-dimensional style that involved putting foes on the ground and keeping them there. Hughes enjoyed a renaissance of sorts by winning three fights in a row after a 1-3 run between 2006 and 2008. But Father Time would catch up to him in a bad way as he was knocked out in consecutive losses to BJ Penn and Josh Koscheck to close out his MMA career.
5. Mark Coleman
Mark Coleman is without a doubt one of the true legends of the sport and deserves his spot in the UFC Hall of Fame. There's a reason he's referred to as The Godfather of Ground and Pound.
Coleman had his first MMA bout at UFC 10 and would go on a tear the likes of which had never been seen. When fans talk about not wanting to meet certain fighters in a dark alley, Coleman was definitely one of them in the UFC's early days. He was among the first wave of fighters to showcase how successful wrestlers could be in MMA.
But after the initial success, Coleman couldn't sustain it throughout his career. He would lose four straight fights between 1997 and 1999. Then he showed the resiliency of a champion by winning six straight including the 2000 Openweight Pride Grand Prix.
The end of Coleman's Pride run was a mixed bag of results as he went 3-4 in his last seven fights under the Pride banner. He would return to the UFC and even dropped down a weight class to the 205-pound division.
Coleman's MMA career ended with a knockout loss to Randy Couture in a battle of veterans at UFC 109. He struggled to keep up with the evolving sport of MMA during his final years, but at least he was able to hang up the gloves before losing multiple fights by knockout or submission.
4. Fedor Emelianenko
Fedor Emelianenko actually ended his MMA career on a three-fight winning streak. So why is he on this list?
It's because he had built up an aura of invincibility that very few have been able to match. Guys like Jon Jones, Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre are the only other men I can think of who seemed impossible to beat at one time or another.
The Last Emperor enjoyed that unstoppable status due to his accomplishments in Pride. During a time when it was widely believed Pride had the better heavyweight division, Emelianenko conquered all that stood before him.
His list of victims reads like a who's-who of MMA.
He would find initial success during his Strikeforce run after nearly decapitating Brett Rodgers. He would then face Fabricio Werdum and lose via first-round submission. It was perhaps the biggest upset in MMA history.
But perhaps it was just a fluke? Eh, not so much.
Emelianenko faced Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva in his next outing and was soundly beaten. The Last Emperor then lost to Dan Henderson in the first round, and it was believed that Emelianenko would retire.
But the Russian kept going at it and would surprisingly rattle off three straight victories. Emelianenko might have ended his MMA career with his hand raised, but it was a hard fall from being the invincible, untouchable fighter that he once was.
3. Frank and Ken Shamrock
OK, so readers get a bonus two-for-one in this case. Both the Shamrock brothers had issues letting go of the fight game but for two different reasons.
Frank Shamrock enjoyed success at a time when very few eyeballs were paying attention to the sport of MMA. This was back in the day of fans having to trade VHS tapes or search the Internet for fight highlights.
His fight with Tito Ortiz in 1999 is one of the true forgotten classics in MMA.
Frank would leave the UFC due to disagreements with the new management but would return to MMA to help build up rival promotion Strikeforce. Having roots in San Jose—the home of Strikeforce—Shamrock headlined a number of cards that helped build the Strikeforce brand into what it would become.
He would go on a 1-3 run to close out his career, and while he didn't go out in the same brutal way that some of the other members on this list did, it was clear that the sport had passed Frank by.
Frank's brother Ken had an even harder fall.
Ken had become one of the first big stars during the initial UFC events but would leave the promotion for professional wrestling. At a time when money was scarce and he could make a considerable amount not to get punched in the face, who could blame him?
Ken would return to the UFC and engage in one of the UFC's first true rivalries with Tito Ortiz. The two men had a genuine dislike for each other, but Ken was never able to find success against his rival.
Ken was out of the UFC by 2006 after four straight losses in the Octagon. Here, his sad road to retirement hit some all-time lows. In his last four fights, he went 2-2, but the two losses were horrific to watch.
2. BJ Penn
BJ Penn didn't enjoy the widespread fame that some on this list enjoyed, but he'll still go down as one of the most dominant champions in lightweight history, if not the most dominant.
Penn bounced around promotions during his prime years due to the UFC scrapping its lightweight division but would eventually return on a full-time basis at UFC 58. But it would be at UFC 46 where Penn enjoyed perhaps his greatest moment.
Facing the seemingly unstoppable Matt Hughes in the welterweight division, many predicted a beatdown was in order. The fight did end quickly, but it would be Penn who had his hand raised at the end of the day. It was a huge upset.
Penn would settle back down at 155 pounds following a coaching stint on The Ultimate Fighter and secure his legacy as the most dominant lightweight fighter with multiple impressive performances.
The Hawaiian's run at the top would end in surprising fashion at the hands of Frankie Edgar at UFC 112. The two would rematch at UFC 118 with the result being even clearer than the first.
Penn would pick up one more highlight-reel win against his rival Hughes at UFC 123, but it would be downhill from there. Penn surprised fans with his performance against Jon Fitch, but he went on to lose three straight fights afterward.
It was particularly evident that Penn's time had passed in the Rory MacDonald fight in 2012 and his third fight with Edgar in 2014. There was hope that Penn would be able to find some renewed success after dropping to featherweight, but Edgar overwhelmed him.
The fight was rough to watch, but we should be glad Penn realized enough was enough.
1. Chuck Liddell
Chuck Liddell was arguably the sport's biggest star. At a time when the UFC was barely getting by, he was the one attraction everyone tuned in to watch.
Liddell was the first coach on The Ultimate Fighter opposite Randy Couture while the two were in the midst of their great rivalry. He had another rivalry with Tito Ortiz that became the biggest draw the company had at the time.
The Iceman once enjoyed a seven-fight winning streak that included seven KO/TKO finishes. But Liddell's "take a punch to give a punch" style eventually caught up to him.
At UFC 71, in a huge matchup with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Liddell would be knocked out in less than two minutes. He then dropped a split decision to Keith Jardine in his next outing.
Liddell was able to pick up a win in an MMA dream match with Wanderlei Silva, but it would be the last time The Iceman was victorious. He would go on to lose three straight, with all three ending via brutal knockout.
Liddell went from being the top dog to becoming a steppingstone for guys on their way to the top. It was tough to watch. Without a doubt, he's the top fighter to retire too late due to the vicious knockouts and the several losses to close out his UFC career.