Into the Sunset: Retirement done right

Some fighters have to be dragged kicking and screaming into retirement. Despite the injuries, knockouts and one-sided beatings, they just can’t let go and leave the sport they love. But there are some fighters that go out in style. These are the ones that left on a high…

 

Back in the big time

A legend gets the moment his career deserves

People said Tito Ortiz should retire for years. Some said he should throw in the towel after Lyoto Machida ran rings around him. Others said he should have left his gloves in the ring after his futile effort against Matt Hamill. Most of the rest of us agreed it was the right time to walk away after a 1-7-1 run that was plagued with serious injury. But everyone was wrong. ‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ kept plugging away until Bellator gave him the platform his achievements as an MMA pioneer and icon deserved. The promotion gave him the biggest stage it could manage, but it was Ortiz that made the occasion great, rolling back the years for one final victory against Chael Sonnen that allowed him to do that famous gravedigger routine one last time and leave the cage with his head held high.

 

Unfinished business

An icon fights again – and wins

OK, so Bas Rutten didn’t quite go out on his terms because he conceded he had to walk away. No sooner had he won the UFC Heavyweight Championship, he had to relinquish his belt because of the toll injuries had taken on his body. Nevertheless, he still retired without any man taking his belt away from him in the Octagon and on the back of a huge undefeated streak. But ‘El Guapo’ couldn’t end things like that. Seven years later, he embarked on the kind of crusade that so often ends in catastrophe: a comeback fight. Despite the 41-year-old injuring his knee, ribs and groin during training – and therefore not throwing a kick for six weeks – he still ran through Ruben Villareal, defeating him by first-round TKO. Though his body told him once again that he’d have to hang up his gloves, but for good this time, he left the cage unbeaten in his last 22 fights, which is a feat unmatched in MMA.

 

Showstopper

It doesn’t get any better than this

Genki Sudo was always one to make a grand entrance. Coincidentally, that’s what made his exit from mixed martial arts so great. You will never see any better in combat sports. Flanked by a small army of tribal warriors, the masked ‘Neo Samurai’ descended from the top of the stage on a throne, resplendent in a robe and headdress. When he joined his supporting cast on the ramp, he breakdanced his way to the ring as part of a choreographed routine that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Broadway. Of course, all that would have looked pretty silly if the Japanese icon faltered in the fight. But there was no need to fear on that front. Damacio Page – who is better suited to competing three divisions south of Sudo’s 155lb – was submitted in short order, leaving the victorious 28-year-old to announce his departure from the sport to the sound of anguished gasps from a devastated audience, before pursuing careers as an author, actor, singer and manager of a wrestling team.

 

Tearjerker

Leaving a legacy

You’ll find few fighters who left the game with the same amount of goodwill from fans and their peers as Nick Newell. The ‘Notorious’ lightweight had a remarkable career. The fact he was born with a congenital amputation of his left arm was no barrier to accomplishing more than the vast majority of mixed martial arts professionals. What did stop him was the same thing that has blighted the careers of countless other athletes – injury. Aged just 29, Newell bowed out in the cage after claiming his 13th victory in 14 fights from a back-and-forth fight with Tom Marcellino at WSOF 24. He couldn’t control his emotions as the entire audience rose to its feet to salute a real hero and real role model. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

 

I did it my way

Bowing out with a career-best effort

Though he was never a man that bothered the upper echelons of the welterweight division, the entertainment Chris Lytle provided in his 12-year career meant there were few fighters more deserving of a perfect final fight. First, he was given the main even. Next up, he was matched with an opponent who shared his desire to stand and trade. Dan Hardy was sick of all these wrestling types at 170lb too, so they made a gentleman’s agreement to keep things on the feet and slug it out. That enabled one of the best performances of Lytle’s career. He made no bones about the fact this was his last fight – win or lose – so he’d let it all hang out. He won the striking exchanges for nearly three rounds and when ‘The Outlaw’ had the audacity to break their pact and dive for a takedown, he was choked out in an instant. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better, his family joined him in the cage as he got his hand raised, his bank account inflated thanks to two $65,000 checks for ‘Fight of the Night’ and ‘Submission of the Night’, and he was presented with a brand new Harley-Davidson to ride off into the sunset on. He took the blows and did it his way.

 

Three that hung on too long

Chuck Liddell

Dana White had to beg ‘The Iceman’ to call it quits after a worrying number of knockouts in his final UFC efforts.

Kazushi Sakuraba

He kept coming out for a beating at the behest of promoters trying to squeeze a few more bucks out of a shopworn legend.

BJ Penn

Five failed attempts at a comeback should have told ‘The Prodigy’ he just wasn’t cut out to compete at the highest level anymore.