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This past Saturday, Alexander Gustafsson became the latest high-profile fighter to call it quits on his career. Or at least, so he said. Gustafsson was submitted by Anthony Smith in the UFC Stockholm main event in front of his home fans, then left his gloves in the cage and said the show was over for him. (Nick Hein retired, too, after the event, in a much more subdued announcement.)
But we’re about to see Urijah Faber return after announcing a retirement, and it seems like pretty much every fighter who calls it a career eventually decides to come back. So should we take these retirement announcements seriously, since most of them don’t seem to stick? MMA Junkie’s Mike Bohn, Matt Erickson and Steven Marrocco sound off in this edition of “Triple Take.”
Mike Bohn: A structureless sport breeds structureless retirements
While I’m inclined to believe Gustafsson’s retirement will be one of the few that sticks, the fact that can’t be said with absolute certainty is a testament to the unpredictable nature of fighter retirements. That will continue to be the reality until an evolution in the sport occurs.
Unlike the NBA, NFL and other major pro sports leagues, MMA has no system to support its retired athletes. There’s no structure. Once a slide happens, promoters and fans will wash their hands of a fighter just as quickly as they embraced them on the way up, and fighters can only count on themselves to make post-fighting life work.
Gustafsson, for example, said he has “a gym and have a couple of other projects going on.” Sounds promising enough, but this is someone who had eight UFC main event fights and three championship opportunities. He’s also been the face of MMA in Sweden for the past decade, which is a torch that very few in the sport get to bare for their country. Gustafsson, for his part, had a career the vast majority could only dream of, and if he played it right he should be coming out in a relatively good spot.
But the uncertainty of that is what leaves the door open for a return. Unless there’s a firm exit plan for when it’s all over – and no association or union currently exists to assist with that – the option of jumping back in for a competitive or financial fix always lingers. Other sports have forums to aid athletes in retirement life, but fighters better hope they’ve got enough savings to carry them through life or until the next plan can be sorted.
Every retirement in MMA is so different that it’s impossible to give a blanket assessment of what they mean. Variables such as level of success, longevity, damage, financial security and more all play a role in how long a fighter competes, and all fighters have their own motivations for stepping in that cage.
All we can hope is that they’ve made the right decisions along the way so that they aren’t fighting for the wrong reasons.
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