(One of these men is on this list. The other one continues to jerk us around. / Photo via Getty)
By Mark Dorsey
Following Anderson Silva’s devastating leg-break against Chris Weidman at UFC 168, many observers hoped that one of the greatest fighters of all time would decide to retire in order to spend time with his family and count all of the “Anderson Silva money” he’s earned from fighting. Hell, even Silva’s son was hoping he would hang his gloves up. But following successful surgery, Silva has expressed his desire to return to the cage. Hopefully this is not the case. Silva has nothing left to accomplish in the sport, and at 38 years old, he would be facing a steep uphill battle to recover and earn back his belt.
Choosing to walk away from a long, fruitful MMA career is not an easy decision. Most fighters continue to compete long after they should have walked away. Nevertheless, every once in a while, an astute fighter realizes that their best days are behind them, and they decide to leave the sport for greener pastures. The following list is a tribute to five fighters who decided to leave MMA at the right time.
Georges St-Pierre recently decided to leave the sport of MMA for an undetermined amount of time. The reason why GSP’s decision to vacate his welterweight title is so incredible is because it’s so rare to see athletes leave at the top of their game. We’re used to dominant athletes staying too long, unable to give up the roar of the crowd and the lure of the paycheck. The list of accomplishments on GSP’s resume is long, varied and practically unparalleled in the sport of MMA. His in-cage achievements make him a legitimate candidate for the greatest of all time, with only fighters like Anderson Silva and Fedor Emeliananko even worthy of being mentioned in the same breath.
During his career, GSP won the belt off the previous “most dominant Welterweight on the planet” and then went on to face every single 170-pound challenger to his belt. To borrow a phrase from Joe Rogan, St-Pierre faced a “murderer’s row” of contenders including Matt Hughes, Josh Koscheck, BJ Penn, Thiago Alves, Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz, and Johny Hendricks. And it’s not as though he left the sport with a slew of guys who hadn’t yet had the chance to try and beat him. He gave all comers their opportunity and beat them all. Whether you like it or not, he even won his final match. He may have been clearly beaten up, but he won 3 of the 5 rounds and, according to the 10-point must system, that makes him the winner.
The reason why vacating the title is the right move for GSP is because he left the sport on his own terms. The multiple-time Canadian Athlete of the Year has done nearly everything any mainstream athlete ever could to maximize his earnings outside of the court of play. He has appeared on reality TV — as a coach on TUF — has already appeared in two films, and will portray the villain in the new Captain America movie. He also has huge endorsements, is a best-selling author, a fitness guru, and a certified ladies man. That, my friends, is why GSP is not only one of the greatest fighters ever…he is also one of the smartest.
(Lytle slugs it out with fellow recent-retiree Paul Taylor. / Photo via MMAWeekly)
Throughout his long career, Chris “Lights Out” Lytle was a technically proficient fighter but he employed a fan-friendly style of brawling that pleased both fans and the UFC brass alike. Lytle ended his career in the UFC having won five of his last six fights, so when he announced his retirement in 2011 — prior to his main-event fight against Dan Hardy at UFC on Versus 5 — many fans were shocked. That night, Lytle submitted Hardy, something that even then-champion GSP couldn’t do. The performance earned him Fight of the Night and Submission of the night bonuses and he celebrated the moment by bringing his kids into the Octagon. It was an emotional ending to an incredible 54-fight career that saw him earn 10 “Of the Night” bonuses, including an unofficial 11th one for his submission over Matt Brown (the actual bonus went to the Brock Lesnar).
Lytle fought for many of the top MMA promotions around the world including Cage Rage, Pancrase, IFL, WEC, and UFC. Incredibly he was never submitted or knocked out in his entire 54-fight career. When Lytle was cast on The Ultimate Fighter 4: The Comeback season, he was already well-known to hardcore fans, but it was the reality show that introduced him to mainstream fans and earned him a reputation as a gritty fighter and all-around good guy. In the final, Lytle lost a decision to Matt Serra, but it was close and one judge even gave him the fight 30-27. Even though he lost that fight, he did manage to beat Serra in a rematch.
Part of Lytle’s blue-collar appeal can be attributed to the fact that while training and fighting he also worked full-time as a firefighter at the Indianapolis Fire Department. He was also highly involved in the local community, running for the Indiana State Senate in 2012 and establishing a charity for at-risk youth. In late 2013, Lytle indicated that he could be lured back to the UFC — with his wife’s approval no less — for a big paycheck so that his family could finally “get that lake house.” Still training and sparring, Lytle said he’d be willing to come back for a short notice fight against a Nick Diaz-type fighter, as long as it didn’t require a long, arduous and time-consuming training camp. Whether or not a comeback ever happens, Lytle had a storybook ending to his illustrious MMA career. His decision to retire wasn’t about chronic injuries or declining ability; it was about other obligations and wanting to spend more time with his family. It’s a lesson that up-and-coming fighters should take note of.
Brian “All-American” Stann may have ended his career going 1-3, but this isn’t a list about fighters who ended on a winning streak; it’s about fighters who realized they had nothing left to prove and left the sport for longer-lasting pursuits, which is exactly why Stann deserves to be on this list. Besides, it’s not as though Stann’s final losses were against scrubs; they were against some of the best middleweights to ever enter the Octagon, including Wanderlei Silva, Chael Sonnen, and Michael Bisping.
Stann was the type of fighter who struggled against top-10 fighters but easily disposed of the mid-tier fighters. Personable and a favorite of the UFC brass, he certainly could have competed in the UFC for a long time as a gatekeeper for the middleweight division. But Stann was too smart to fall into that life. He has more going on outside of the fight game than most fighters, and he chose to capitalize on his non-fighting skills rather than being resigned to “perennial contender” status. As far as a life outside of fighting, Stann is best known as being a Silver Star U.S. Marine who served in Iraq. Currently, he runs a non-profit, called Hire Heroes, for U.S. military veterans to find work, and acts as a commentator for both the UFC on Fox and Atlantic Coast Conference football games. He has also authored a book about his life in and out of the cage.
Stann is now retired, focusing on broadcasting, his charitable endeavors and family. When he announced his departure from MMA, Stann stated it was because he has three young daughters and he didn’t want to risk brain injury after years of football, MMA and explosions in combat. He left the game with some hardware — he won the WEC Light Heavyweight Championship — and his final bout against Wanderlei Silva was one of the most thrilling UFC fights of all time. Silva called their two-round war, at the UFC’s return to Japan in March 2013, one of the best fights of his career, which is incredible considering the wars that Silva has been in. Stann may not have ended his career on a win but that fight cemented his legacy as a warrior who will be fondly remembered by fight fans.
On the next page: The first “Face of WMMA,” the “Engineer of Pain,” and five honorable mentions…