Trading Shots: What does it take to make an MMA retirement stick?
Article Published by: mmajunkie.com
Can you announce your retirement from MMA immediately after a loss and make it stick? Is rethinking retirement bound to be a constant part of the deal? How do we know when someone is really, truly done for good? Retired UFC and WEC fighter Danny Downes joins MMAjunkie columnist Ben Fowlkes to discuss in this week’s Trading Shots.
Fowlkes: UFC on FOX 31 was still going on when I was alerted to some happenings on the old social media, Danny. It seems Bobby Green, who had lost a unanimous decision in a competitive fight with Drakkar Klose, was on Instagram announcing his retirement.
“It is an interesting world we live in,” Green said in a video post. “I felt I won but when we got these judges, you know. I think I’m done. I think I’m done. I’m going to retire. I’m going to focus on my kids, focus on their upbringing. We give a lot of time away for this sport from my family. I’m done. Thank you all for supporting me. I retire. I don’t have to deal with the (expletive) judges or deal with some of the lifestyle that comes with this. Thank you all for your support. I will be deleting all my social media, and I’m done. But thank you so much. I hope I inspired someone to do something. It’s an honor and a blessing to have done this. Love you.”
My first thought was, nope, that’s not going to stick. And maybe that’s unfair of me, but come on, how often have we seen fighters call it quits while the frustration and disappointment is still fresh (the main card had barely started!) only to change their minds later? It just doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to retire. Time goes by, the hurt fades, and the retirement idea is forgotten.
Then I started to wonder, how are fighters supposed to know when it’s time and when it’s for real? If losing a close fight is a bad reason, what does a good reason look like? How did you know it was time?
Downes: It depends. Every fighter reacts to a loss differently. Some take it as a career referendum. Others don’t think much of it and just worry about cashing the next check. Something tells me Bob Sapp hasn’t been too emotionally distraught over any of his losses.
With Green, I think age plays into it. He’s 32 years old, and he’s probably wondering, “How much longer can I do this?” If he were 22, he’d still be mad at the judges but would figure he had enough time to work his way back up.
Family plays a big part, too. He mentions spending more time raising his kids. When you’re a swinging bachelor or bachelorette, the fighter lifestyle doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. As you get older, though, you realize how selfish it can be.
How many more Thanksgivings are you willing cut weight through? How many more Little League games will you miss to go to sparring practice? When you win your fight and get that high, it all seems worth it. When you lose, you have a lot more regrets.
A lot of fighters also think life will be much easier once they’re done fighting. I was that way. I figured I’d retire, get myself a “normal” job and watch my bank account fill. Then, when you fill out your first resume you realize that five-year gap after you graduated college looks a little weird. Sure, it makes you stand out when you have UFC on your resume, but all your attempts to spin “cage fighter” as “small business entrepreneur” fall flat.
I imagine even the great Ben Fowlkes sometimes gets frustrated with his writing career and yearns to actually do something productive. Maybe you’re bored having to argue with a former fighter every Sunday. Maybe you want to do something with your hands like artisan woodworking or make your own charcuterie. Would those be bad reasons? Sometimes you just need a change. Why should fighting be any different?
Fowlkes: Nope, can’t say I ever yearn to do anything productive. I certainly never wish for a “real job.” I regard it as my greatest career success that I’ve mostly managed to avoid those in my adult life.
I totally get why fighters might think life after retirement will be easier. Whether that’s because they build it up in their heads or because the actual life they’re living as fighters just seems so hard, it makes perfect sense. Which I guess makes me wonder about the fighters who retire and then come back.
It’s a common enough thing in this world that it’s become a sort of inside joke. Oh, you’re done with MMA forever? Cool. See you in eight months. Plenty of the all-time greats have struggled to stay retired. Sometimes it’s money that brings them back. Sometimes it’s boredom. Other times, maybe it’s just a nagging sense of something left undone.
I’ve often wondered, how and when do we know when a retirement has officially stuck? Does it require a certain passage of time? Is it when they move on and start other careers? Or is being a pro fighter like being an addict, where it can always reach up and take hold of you at any time, no matter how long you’ve gone without it?
Do you feel like you can say you’re fully, completely retired, Danny? Did you feel that way immediately? Do you ever have to talk yourself out of a comeback?
Downes: I don’t know if we ever really know when a retirement has stuck. We thought Chuck Liddell was pretty well retired and then he hobbled back into the cage a few weeks ago. I think the addict comparison is apt in some ways. You can be “sober” for years, but something happens, and you find yourself right back in it.
I decided to retire in early 2013, but it’s been a continual process. The first few months were the toughest. I’d still go to the gym to train and stay in shape, but it wasn’t the same. Within a couple months, I could tell the vibe around the fight team towards me was different. I wasn’t one of “them” anymore. It’s not like it was a conscious decision on their part, but when you aren’t in there sweating and grinding with the team, you’re just another casual.
It was difficult because apart from my wife (then fiancé), the gym people were the only people I really knew. Being a professional fighter was my identity. Every casual acquaintance I had or second cousin I met knew me as “the fighter guy.” To this day, people still introduce me to others as the guy who used to fight in the UFC. It’s hard for the ego to take that.
A couple years ago, I had a fight relapse. I was getting back in the gym and sparring with a fight team out here in San Diego. I started to think maybe I should get back into it. Maybe just a local show. Make a couple bucks and have some fun again. Even with all the cage rust, I was doing pretty well for myself.
Then one day at sparring I caught a solid overhand right at the end of a round. I thought to myself, “What the hell am I doing? This is (freaking) stupid.” I didn’t have the patience to get hit anymore. Part of it is the fear or long-term neurological problems, but part of it is that I’m just sick of getting punched in the face.
You can look at the money, the (relative) fame or a whole host of other things. Sometimes, though, you have to ask yourself if you’re willing to make all the physical, mental, and emotional sacrifices to get beat up for a living. Last night, Bobby Green said no. I don’t know if he’ll change his mind. I know I won’t.
About Jaime Bonetti Zeller
Jaime Bonetti Zeller is an investment professional and entrepreneur with businesses in multiple industries. He is president of Servicios Consulares Eurodom, the local partner in the Caribbean region for VFS Global, a leader global outsourcing and technology services specialist for diplomatic missions and governments worldwide. Jaime Bonetti Zeller also started the company Sofratesa de Panama inc., an organization in the engineering services industry located in Panama City.