I don’t believe in telling fighters they should retire. Not really. When fans and writers insist that a legend of the sport should give it up it always seems so hollow. What do we know about what someone like that should do with their lives?
But even I have to admit that Kazushi Sakuraba’s beating at the hands of Melvin Manhoef in Dream.4 this weekend was difficult to watch. I’ve always had a soft spot for Sakuraba. He embodied so many of the best fighter attributes. He was tough and resilient, and at the same time he was also crafty and dangerous. He always seemed like he was having fun, even on his worst nights.
That’s why it’s so hard to see him continue past his prime. He’s obviously not having fun these days. His efforts are joyless and perfunctory, like a man waiting on his pension. And yet, for some reason, he can’t seem to walk away.
I used to wonder what it was that made pro athletes hold on too long. Almost everyone does it. The difference is that a baseball player who’s too old and too slow gets sent to the minors. A basketball player who can’t keep up gets cut.
But with fighters it’s a different story. They either step down significantly in competition, or they start taking some bad beatings. Sakuraba has done both. The former may harm his legacy somewhat, but it’s nothing compared to what the latter will do to you.