(Okay, okay, okay, *you* can do whatever you want, Aleks. Just stop looking at us like that.)
Earlier today, it was announced that former PRIDE star and perpetual blue-balled can crusher, Aleksander Emelianenko, had signed a multi-fight deal with the Russian organization ProFC. Which would be fine, had Emelianenko not announced his retirement from the sport three months earlier after being shitcanned by M-1 Global. Many of you are probably wondering why we are wasting our time poking fun at a long-since relevant Emelianenko brother when we could be, I dunno, predicting who is most likely to test positive for quaaludes at UFC 159, but Aleks’ recent revelation highlights a growing problem amongst MMA fighters: understanding what the term “retirement” is supposed to mean.
Look, we get it. Everyone from Michael Jordan to Muhammad Ali have announced their retirement from their respective sports in the past, only to recant shortly thereafter. It’s understandable to a degree, especially in the fight game. A guy suffers a couple tough losses, begins to fear for his own health, and decides that it is in his best interest — as well as his family’s — to call it a career before he suffers an injury he cannot come back from. Then, after adjusting to the stale, mundane existence that constitutes the lives of most non-fighters, he begins to convince himself that he’s always had “it,” but has just been held back by issues in his training camp, at home, in their own mind etc. — issues which are now completely behind him. If only it were that simple.
But in the past year or so, we’ve seen Matt Hamill, BJ Penn, Nick Diaz (twice, sort of), and both Emelianenko brothers to name a few pull this kind of move, only to tease at coming out of retirement or just plain unretire before most of the MMA world ever realized they were gone. The problem is not that these fighters are merely invalidating our much loved “And Now He’s Retired” articles, or that they are cheapening the term “retirement” in doing so. The problem is that, when these fighters decide to return to world of professional fighting, they often do so at the cost of not only their own health, but to that of the “legacy” they left behind. And aside from being disheartening from a fan’s perspective, it is also quite infuriating, like if Bruce Wayne/Batman was declared dead by Gotham, only to pop up in some Italian cafe a week later without anyone noticing or being able to make the Goddamn connection. Seriously, fuck The Dark Knight Rises.
For examples of this (not TDKR being an overrated, plothole-filled mess; you can find those examples here), look no further than Hamill, who hung up his gloves following a pair of hard losses to Quinton Jackson and Alexander Gustafsson in 2011. While we were sad to see him go, most of us probably didn’t lose any sleep debating whether or not Hamill might have called it quits a little early. Barring some insane turnaround, it appeared as if Hamill (along with most of us), realized that he had gone as far as he could go in MMA and had nothing left to prove.
But out of nowhere, Hamill announced last August that he would be returning to the UFC at UFC 152, where he would be taking on
Roger Hollett Vladimir Matyushenko Bellator veteran Roger Hollett. Hamill hit all the familiar notes, stating that his hasty retirement was the result of various lingering injuries and that we would see a whole new version of “The Hammer” come September 22nd. Only when September 22nd came, we were treated to an even more sluggish, seemingly apathetic version of Hamill than we had ever seen before. One that completely gassed inside of two rounds. One that was only able to claim victory due to the fact that his opponent was fighting on short notice and had even less gas in his tank. If Hamill was trying to prove that he could still throw down at the highest level, well, we’re not exactly sure he succeeded.
And while Jamie Varner has enjoyed moderate success since returning to the sport, his story is essentially the exception that proves the rule. Don’t even get us started on Penn…
Look, we’re not asking fighters to stay retired if they truly believe they can still hang with the best, for where would guys like Mark Hunt, Matt Brown, or Demian Maia be with that kind of defeatist mentality? All we’re asking is that they stop going out of their way to announce their retirement from the sport when all they really want is an extended vacation. It’s like when the lamestream media spent half a year covering a Kardashian wedding that fell apart in less time than a game of Jenga in a crack den (I’m also upset that Kim totally re-gifted that bread machine I gave her, but that’s another story entirely…).
In short, retirement is something that is not meant to be decided in the immediate wake of a loss, or over a few too many drinks with friends. In MMA, retirement signifies a fighter’s coming to grasp with the fact that they are only putting themselves in more danger by continuing on. It’s supposed to be a permanent decision — an admission of defeat, if you will — that should not be inherently intertwined with that of failure, but that should require more thought than it has in the world of MMA as of late. Call it a hiatus, call it a vacation, call it whatever you want, just stop pulling the bait-n-switch on us fans with this “retirement” nonsense.
In short, when you do decide to finally hang ‘em up, MMA fighters of past, present, and future who might be reading this, just remember that the decision is meant to be final.