With fan favorite mixed martial arts legends like Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell and Mirko Cro Cop recently hanging up the gloves, there is definitely a changing of the guard happening with MMA in 2011. Many people are also saying that the time is right for Wanderlei Silva to follow suit.
It is the brutal question in any aging and declining professional athlete's mind: When is the right time to retire from the game you love with no regrets?
Nick Diaz's destruction of BJ Penn this weekend has prompted the 32-year-old Penn to look in the mirror and ponder that very decision. Penn hinted at his retirement in the cage immediately following his loss but common belief and hope is that Penn steps back and takes his time with the finality of that decision.
Here are Penn and five fighters who retired too soon.
Genki Sudo was a mixed martial arts fan favorite and Japanese superstar during his fighting career. He was famous for his unorthodox, unpredictable and successful fighting style, as well as his outrageously entertaining cage entrances.
Sudo held a 15-4 record in his career that included a 2-1 record in the UFC. In his last fight on New Years Eve of 2006 under the Hero's promotion, he submitted American Damacio Page and then shocked fans by announcing his retirement at 28-years-old
Ricardo Almeida is a perfect example of a fighter who retired too soon because of the young age, odd timing and unfulfilled promise in his career.
Almeida retired for the first time in his career in 2004 at 28-years-old on the heels of a six-fight win streak and a win over Ryo Chonan. He reasoned that he wanted to focus on running his Jiu-Jitsu school in New Jersey. It was a surprising end to a career on the rise, but it only turned out to be a four-year hiatus from competition as Almeida returned to the UFC cage with a win in 2008.
Almeida retired for good earlier this year at 34-years-old after a loss to Mike Pyle at UFC 128 in March.
Is it possible to say that a 48-year-old grizzled veteran of the game coming off a brutal knockout loss has retired to soon? I say that is the case with Randy "The Natural" Couture.
With Captain America, he is old enough and accomplished enough that the time was right to retire earlier this year. I just think that Couture deserves to go out in a triumph much like Chris Lytle did after his win over Dan Hardy in August.
Seeing Couture go out flat on his back laying beside his tooth was not a fitting end, and surely a decent but not Top 5 foe can be found to deliver a fight he can graciously go out on.
Mixed martial arts legend Bas Rutten officially retired from he sport in 2006 at 41-years-old, but in my mind, the legend's real retirement came in May of 1999.
Rutten defeated Kevin Randelman for the UFC heavyweigh title in 1999 at 33-years-old and then did not compete for the next seven years. Many great matchups were missed during the UFC's rise to prominence in the early to mid 2000's and Rutten would have been right in the mix at heavyweight or lightheavyweight and left many intriguing fights on the table.
Rutten suffered various serious injuries during his training in his career including blowing out his knee, tearing his biceps and ultimately had to retire due to doctor's order.
Despite what a dejected BJ Penn said and implied following his loss to Nick Diaz this past weekend, I don't believe that this is the last we will see of the future hall of fame fighter.
Penn definitely is warranted in making the decision to retire, as the 32-year-old has accomplished the highest of heights in this sport and his career, and there are not many unique challenges for "The Prodigy" to take on and tackle.
He is a very entertaining and skilled fighter—especially at 155 pounds—and he is still not far removed from the best of the best fighters in the world. It would be a shame for Penn to go out on Saturday night following a valiant effort against a top contender in a weight class that isn't naturally his own.
If this is it for Penn, he is tops on my list of fighters who retired from the game way too soon.
Honorable Mention: Matt Hamill, Carlos Newton
Dwight Wakabayashi is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report MMA and correspondent for MMACanada.net.