(Photo via sports.sho.com)
Following his first-round submission loss to Gegard Mousasi at Saturday’s Strikeforce: Marquardt vs. Saffiedine event, Mike Kyle reportedly told Ariel Helwani that he was throwing in the towel on his MMA career: “It’s not in me anymore. That was my last one,” Kyle said. Assuming that the 32-year-old AKA product keeps his word, Kyle’s overall record ends at 19-9-1 with 2 no-contests, competing as a heavyweight and light-heavyweight over the last 12 years.
How you react to this news will probably depend on how long you’ve been following the sport. If you’re a relatively new fan, you probably think of Kyle — if you think of him at all — as one of Strikeforce’s dependable space-fillers, who was always there when a guy like Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva or Fabricio Werdum needed an opponent. Kyle’s single greatest accomplishment over the last three years was his upset knockout of Rafael “Feijao” Cavlacante in June 2009; their rematch last year ended in a 33-second submission loss for Kyle, but the result was overturned due to the Brazilian slugger failing a drug test.
But if you’ve been an MMA fan for a long time, you might still think of Mike Kyle as a scumbag, a shameful black mark on an already nasty business. Here’s how we summarized Kyle’s greatest hits in our “10 Most Despicable People in MMA” list from April 2008, where we stuck Kyle at #3, between Nazi fighter Melvin Costa (#4) and UFC president Dana White (#2):
Bit Wes Sims‘s chest during their fight at UFC 47. Repeatedly kneed Justin Eilers in the balls during their fight at UFC 49. Poked Tsuyoshi Kosaka in the eye during a Pancrase match in October 2005. Poked Krzysztof Soszynski in the eye during a Strikeforce match in March 2006. Two months later, he illegally soccer kicked Brian Olsen during a WEC match, knocking him out, then punched him several times while he was unconscious, despite the ref’s efforts to pull Kyle off…
The awful incident — which also earned a spot on our Black Eyes: MMA’s 13 Most Shameful Moments of All Time list — can be seen here. In an interview with ADCC News the following week, Olsen discussed the extent of his injuries (“I have fractured the zygomatic and maxillary bones on the left side of my face. I also broke my nose and ruptured a sinus cavity in my nose…I will have plates and screws in my face permanently”), and called for Mike Kyle to be banned from the sport:
“You are only creating problems by booking Mike Kyle. He has solidified his position as the dirtiest fighter in the world. Who is to say he would not do this again?…After my surgery, I will consider any legal action possible that I can pursue against Kyle and anyone associated with him being a fighter.”
The California State Athletic Commission suspended Mike Kyle indefinitely, and he wouldn’t compete until two years later, when he was armbarred by Wayne Cole in 45 seconds at Strikeforce: Shamrock vs. Le. In a way, it was the best possible result. Nobody wanted to see Kyle triumph in his comeback fight. He needed to do his penance.
But the narrative changed after that night. Kyle won eight out of his next ten fights and did his best to come across as a reformed human being. Following his win over Abongo Humphrey in July 2010, Strikeforce broadcaster Mauro Ranallo announced that the victory signaled “the resurrection of a career once thought ruined.” Sure, Kyle caught a no-contest in February 2010 for maybe-accidentally knocking out Travis Wiuff after the bell, and yeah, there was that time that he started head-butting Bigfoot in the chest for no apparent reason, but for the most part Mike Kyle remained on his best behavior during the second half of his career. Who knows what kind of self-control that required?
Officially, Mike Kyle leaves the sport on a one-fight losing streak, but the loss to Mousasi was symbolic: He’d already been blown out by Strikeforce’s top heavyweights, and if he couldn’t handle a Gegard Mousasi who was coming back from a year-long injury layoff, his future at light-heavyweight was limited as well. Kyle knew that. Like he said, it wasn’t in him anymore.
In the end, what’s most disappointing about Kyle’s career is that it had the potential to be an incredible redemption story, but his inconsistent performances prevented him from achieving his happy ending. If Kyle had won Strikeforce’s light-heavyweight belt, even once, we might remember him more for that, instead of for the night he destroyed Brian Olsen’s face with a frenzy of illegal blows, and had to be restrained by a mob of referees and officials. Was it a temporary (and forgivable) moment of adrenaline-fueled insanity, or a glimpse of his sociopathic character? Either way, it permanently established Mike Kyle’s reputation, and he’ll have to live with that forever.