There will always be a large number of fighters who refuse to hang up the gloves in any kind of reasonable time frame – did you know that Mark Coleman finally retired last week at 48 after learning he needed a full hip replacement? But we’re starting to see something interesting going on now: young fighters in the prime years of their competitive careers walking away from the sport. What makes them decide to give up their dreams? MMA Fighting’s Mike Chia Pet looks into why and talks to former Bellator heavyweight champ Cole Conrad, who famously gave up his belt and retired to get into trading milk:
“When I was weighing the opportunity I was given vs. fighting, I had to face the reality that fighting is a pretty dead-end job,” he said. “Am I going to be 35 or 40 and still fighting? Then where do I go when I’m done, when I’ve never had a real job? Was I going to make as much money where I would be able to retire at that age? It’s possible. But the reality is, given my physique, I didn’t see that happening. However you want to look at it, that definitely plays a part. You have to look the part, act the part, be the part to cash big checks. I was pretty successful fighting, but in other aspects I wasn’t exactly what was being sought for a high-profile fighter.”
And then there’s Kyle Kingsbury, who has been taking epic whuppings at 12k a pop. He hasn’t officially retired yet but is in the middle of setting up his plan B to become a firefighter:
It wasn’t just the losing. In the gym, Kingsbury had been alarmed by what he’d seen from teammates and others in the fight game. He’d heard some slurring words. There were others who drooled sometimes without realizing it. With his proclivity for wars, was that where he was headed?
“I’ve had my face broken twice in my last four fights,” he said. “This last fight it was broken in two different places. Taken all that into consideration, I’d be a fool to believe it won’t have long-term affects on my body and my brain.”
There’s a bunch of quotes from a bunch of different guys detailing their reasons for leaving the sport in their 30s rather than 40s and 50s. You can sum up most of their answers with ‘diminishing returns.’ Back in the day a lot of guys ran academies and then tested their skills out in the UFC. Now they test their skills out in the UFC and then go run academies. Make a decent name and reputation for yourself in the UFC, and you can milk that (literally like Cole Konrad) for the rest of you’re life if you’re a smart and social individual. Maybe not so much if you’re one of the broken drooling former fighters, but that’s why you gotta salute the guys who know when to fold ‘em.