The temptation to keep fighting until you’re nothing more than a broken-down shell of your former self can be an overpowering one. Somehow, these men managed to resist it…
Though he’s better-known these days as the barely coherent host of Inside MMA and part-time children’s fitness coach, Bas Rutten’s legendary run as a professional fighter ended in 22 consecutive fights without a loss. After knocking off such MMA pioneers as Frank Shamrock (twice), Maurice Smith (twice), and Guy Mezger during his five-year stint in Pancrase, Rutten joined the UFC where he won their vacant heavyweight title in his second Octagon appearance (a split decision over Kevin Randleman at UFC 20). But while preparing for his next fight, Rutten suffered serious injuries to his knee and biceps, and was forced to retire from the sport.
Bas landed on his feet, though – his ongoing commentary gig for PRIDE as well as acting roles kept him busy until he decided he was healthy enough for one last dance around the cage, seven years later. Originally booked to fight Kimo Leopoldo at WFA: King of the Streets in July 2006, Rutten instead faced Ruben “Warpath” Villareal when Leopoldo pissed hot for Stanozolol two days before the fight. The beating was so lopsided that it eventually became featured in a CagePotato Video Tribute. With that last challenge conquered, El Guapo rode off into the sunset for good, an undefeated UFC champion who hadn’t tasted defeat in over 11 years. Party on, indeed.
Genki Sudo’s brilliance didn’t end with his unforgettable ring entrances; he was also one of the most skilled submission specialists to ever heel-hook a fat guy. The Neo-Samurai was innovative even when it came to retirement: At the height of his popularity, following a first-round triangle-choke victory over Damacio Page at Premium 2006 Dynamite!!, Sudo announced to the shocked Tokyo Dome crowd that his days as a fighter were over. At that point, he’d won eight of his last nine matches — including victories over Mike Brown, Royler Gracie, and Hiroyuki Takaya — making him one of the only MMA fighters to ever retire in his prime. Sudo now spends his time as a wrestling coach, author, and J-pop star. You know, normal retiree stuff.
Forget Fedor. Forget Randy. Forget Royce, and Chuck, and Sakuraba. Phillip Miller owns them all. The Utah-born, California-bred middleweight accomplished something that none of the aformentioned MMA legends have been able to do — he went through his entire career without a loss. Miller’s fight career lasted just three short years, but in that time he racked up 16 straight wins, including a decision over Jake Shields, a sweep of the eight-man World Vale Tudo Championship 14 tournament in March 2002, and two victories in the UFC against top British prospects James Zikic and Mark Weir. After his rear-naked-choke win over Weir at UFC 40, it seemed like Miller was on the brink of stardom. But things changed.
First, Miller abruptly left the UFC due to a money-related dispute before a scheduled fight against Phil Baroni. Then, a harrowing three-rounder against Moacir Oliveira opened his eyes to the possibility that one day he might be on the receiving end of a brutal beating. Soon, Miller stopped putting in the effort to improve as a fighter; the inspiration had left him, and he quit the sport to pursue a career in law enforcement. These days, Miller is a proud member of the Los Angeles Police Department, and still trains with up-and-coming fighters. He looks back fondly on his gladiator days, and the way they ended: “I’d never want to quit on a loss. I mean, I couldn’t. Even if I lost a fight, I would have to come back and fight again. And then one wouldn’t do it. Then I’d be stuck in the cycle again. You can’t just go out on a loss.”
(Shamrock vs. Le highlight reel, 3/29/08)
Unlike the other guys on this list, Cung Le may not have even reached his career peak by the time he left MMA for greener pastures — but he certainly went out on a high note. After compiling a 17-0 record as a Sanshou kickboxing champion, the Vietnamese-American striker transitioned to MMA in 2006, where he picked up five-straight KO/TKO victories in Strikeforce. His in-cage dominance and growing popularity earned him a shot at the organization’s middleweight boss, Frank Shamrock. Le rose to the occasion in his first MMA title fight, breaking Shamrock’s arm with kicks and making him quit after three rounds.
Suddenly, Cung was the one of MMA’s brightest rising stars. But instead of defending his new belt, he decided to move his reign of terror to Hollywood, where he quickly scored roles in films like Fighting, Pandorum, and Tekken. Le hasn’t ruled out an eventual return to the cage, but when you’re being offered three times as much money to act in a film as you’d make from a fight — and there’s a much smaller possibility of getting punched in the face — it’s kind of hard to say no. For now, Le will have to watch from his air-conditioned trailer as Jake Shields and Jason Miller attempt to murder each other for the title he left behind.
Ask a hardcore MMA fan who the most talented jiu-jitsu practitioner in the world is, and he might tell you it’s Rickson. Ask Rickson Gracie who the most talented jiu-jitsu practitioner in the world is, and he’ll definitely tell you it‘s Rickson. The enigmatic son of Helio claims a record of over four hundred straight wins in submission grappling and vale tudo matches, and at age 50, he still thinks he can beat Fedor Emelianenko and Brock Lesnar. Of course, he has good reason to think so highly of himself. Those who have trained with him speak in reverent terms of his abilities, and at least in the fights that can be verified — the ones that happened in front of paying audiences — Gracie always destroyed his opponents.
Rickson’s most visible matches came in the ‘90s, when he slashed through the 1994 and 1995 Vale Tudo Japan tournaments, then picked up a pair of armbar victories over former pro wrestler Nobuhiko Takada in PRIDE. His final match came against another Japanese wrestler, Pancrase veteran Masakatsu Funaki, at an event called “Colosseum 2000.” Funaki was easily the most formidable opponent of Gracie’s career, and a brilliant grappler in his own right, but after nearly 13 minutes of battle, Rickson locked on a rear-naked choke; Funaki went to sleep rather than tap. Despite some rumors last year that he might emerge from retirement for a superfight against Kazushi Sakuraba, Rickson has been out of the spotlight ever since, content to teach his family’s legendary martial art to future generations, while leaving his own ferocious legacy in the ring.