The merciless world that is prize fighting has never been one for the weak or faint of heart. The cliché of fighting being for the roughest and toughest types in society is a bit mitigated in today’s current climate, however the prioritization of health seems to be shifting upwards even in the jungle that is mixed martial arts.
In the past week, Jordan Mein and Frankie Perez, who seemed to have all the promise in the world, retired at a very young age. Jordan Mein announced his retirement a few days ago at only 25 years of age. Mein had been fighting for a very long time and had close to 40 fights on his resume, but he was still in his athletic prime and had basically only been beaten by truly elite competition. Frankie Perez, on the other hand, only had eleven professional fights and was being touted as a prospect by a few pundits but never had a real breakout performance to let people know he had arrived. That all changed Saturday night.
Will Young Fighters Retiring Early Become a More Common Occurrence?
Perez faced rugged veteran Sam Stout and the fight looked closely matched until Perez landed a picture perfect check right hook that floored Stout and had some relentless ground & pound unloaded on him a few seconds before the referee stopped the fight. Perez was ecstatic, jumping on the cage, screaming to the camera, “I did it Mom, I did it!” Although, many long-time MMA fans were a bit saddened and concerned for Stout given his rough stretch of knockout losses recently, the talk was still about Perez. A teammate of former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, who had a solid set of skills and was on the precipice of hitting his prime just earned a huge win over a respected opponent, and then things took a strange turn.
Absolutely nobody would have been surprised if Stout were to leave his gloves in the cage and say something along the lines of “I can’t keep up with these young kids anymore, so I’m deciding to step away.” There were no hints that Stout was heading towards the retirement track, instead it was Frankie Perez who was giving the retirement speech.
The grizzled fight veteran who has a few too many miles on the odometer by the time the idea of retirement creeps into the forefront of his/her cerebral cortex is a story fight fans are way too familiar with, but the young fighter who has a vast landscape of possibility retiring is so seldom, that we’re still trying to find out the appropriate response to it when it does occur. People were confused and offended by the comments of Michael Bisping during the broadcast, where he basically questioned Perez’ manhood for “quitting.” Bisping’s comments were definitely unfortunate and uncalled for, but some part of us kind of understood where he was coming from.
Why would a young kid who just got a spectacular knockout win over a long-tenured UFC fighter just want to stop all of a sudden? Is he a coward? Was his only goal to get a notable win and split cause he didn’t want to face stiffer competition? The truth might be fairly simple and a lot less a matter of bravery or will.
The truth is there’s no telling why Perez made his decision but it should be respected, and any reasons as to why he did shouldn’t matter. Maybe it was just a goal he wanted to achieve, if it was, good for him. Too many people make lists of their goals without any real plan or nonexistent motivation. Perhaps he was in financial hardship or chose to respect wishes of loved ones around him who weren’t fond of him fighting for money. Maybe the Reebok deal is severely putting a dent in his bank account. There’s also an issue that is so aggressively conspicuous, yet some MMA folk are prone to want to keep it as quiet as possible.
Health and safety issues are nothing new to athletics, especially in combat sports but there has been a huge worry concerning head trauma in the past few years. By now, it’s no secret that fighting is not good for your brain health, and now it’s really starting to look like fighters are beginning to listen to their bodies and are becoming well aware of not only the trials and tribulations that come with the game, but the long-term effects that can arise in the future.
Once-upon-a-time lightweight contender, TJ Grant, has now been inactive for over two years stemming from concussion issues. Just to put that into perspective, the last time Grant fought, Gray Maynard was still a top five lightweight and Anderson Silva was still middleweight champion. Grant has all but been forgotten in the MMA world, he has been relatively quiet about the subject, but retirement does seem like a viable option, two years can do a lot of good athletes in. Over the past year, two Team Alpha Male trained fighters have had their complications with concussions as well, in Ultimate Fighter season 18 bantamweight winner Chris Holdsworth and former Invicta FC featherweight Veronica Rothenhausler. Holdsworth only fought once after the show’s finale, having been inactive for over a year due to post concussion syndrome. Rothenhausler was in a nascent state in her career before she called it quits for the same reason. Rothenhausler was being touted as a prospect by some folks and she was definitely a fighter with a bit of a spotlight on her due to her legitimate one punch knockout power. Now, she’s given up prize fighting all together with lingering issues stemming from getting concussed in the gym repeatedly.
Although mental health is definitely climbing higher on a fighter’s list to be wary of, the underlying issue of simply training is inherently problematic. Sure, there’s valid points to the suggestions some people have been making about cutting down on sparring and not red lining your body in training, but it’s nearly impossible to have a light or basic training regimen given what a grueling sport mixed martial arts is. The former bantamweight king Dominick Cruz was gone for three years with knee problems, comes back for sixty seconds and beats the brakes off Takeya Mizugaki, then goes dormant again with another knee injury. Cruz is expected to fight current bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw next but knowing his unfortunate history, the jokes of Cruz slipping on a banana peel even on his way to the Octagon are at an all-time high. Cruz is not even 30 years old and talks of him retiring wouldn’t be all that crazy given how delicate his body seems to be nowadays.
Late last year former WEC lightweight champion Jamie Varner decided to hang them up at the age of 30. No one seemed to have made a big deal out of his retirement due to his losing skid prior to getting submitted by Drew Dober but he was still pretty young to be retiring. Varner was visibly declining in the last year of his UFC stint and has now been an active voice in advising against perpetual heavy sparring, due to his own history. Martin Kampmann was also very outspoken against heavy sparring after he retired at 31 years old.
I personally believe that nobody should ever question why anybody would want to retire. Sure, there’s the infamous story of Anderson Silva almost calling it quits before Big Nog persuaded him to keep going, but that’s an anamoly. It takes a very special and unique individual to compete in this dangerous sport, it’s not even really a matter of intelligence or will power more so than intuition. Definitely difficult to gauge something as vague and immeasurable as intuition, but the body sometimes knows more than the mind. If fighters are now relying less on intuition and are beginning to analyze matters and critically think about the pros, cons and readjust their priorities accordingly, that’s great news.
Fighting may be one of the most difficult endeavors a human being can ever embark on because of the mental strength and acuteness required to participate in it, and if those traits can excel one in the peaks and valleys of hand to hand combat, hopefully it can be used to calculate and logically analyze the worth of a cold, taxing venture that can take years off your life but also give it perspective, unexplainable value and a sense of understanding, few people will ever encounter.