The word “retirement” is enough to send most members of the workforce into a daydream slumber. People conjure up visions of slam-dunking a fat 401(k) check in front of the bank teller, buying a plane ticket to Vegas, and officially kicking off their golden years. But when that same word starts being thrown around with professional combat sports athletes, no idea could seem more daunting. As the reality of late 30’s and early 40’s start to set in, the cost of staying in the game only goes up from there. For all the dreams, loss and legacy when is the right time to retire from combat sports?
A Young Man’s Game
Professional mixed martial artists and combat sports athletes start their journey very young, getting involved in boxing, wrestling, or a variety of disciplines. Saying goodbye to professional competition is saying goodbye to the dreams you had as a youth when all you ever wanted to be was Muhammad Ali, Georges St. Pierre or Rickson Gracie. Maintaining that initial inspiration is what gets athletes to the dance to the first place, carries them through the trials of their career, and it’s still very much alive in MMA fighters in the twilight years of their career. If it wasn’t, fighters wouldn’t go through the countless hours of rehabilitation, surgical corrections, and the extensive list of tasks to stay in the game as long as possible.
What’s Left Behind
For many athletes, fighting and competitive combat sports are the only thing they’ve ever known. In some cases, the fortunes of being a fighting superstar are what took them out of an impoverished life. Many had little to no choice or opportunities elsewhere and put all of their chips onto one shot at competing successfully at the top professional level. All of the hours spent in the gym, all of the quality time you missed with friends and family, all the juicy cheeseburgers you passed on to make weight has amounted to everything you accomplished.
What does it feel like to have the referee raise your hand as the new champion? That’s an experience that very few ever get to know. After all the years of training and hard work, you got to the top spot you’ve always wanted. But just like you worked so hard to take the title away from another competitor, other athletes are looking to take it away from you just the same. The reality is that you only get a certain amount of fights depending on your biology, health and personal decision when it comes to the big question.
Hanging Up The Gloves
The right time to retire is when the sport becomes a serious detriment to your quality of life. That sounds like a preposterous idea in the business of beating people up for a living, but its a statement that bares a lot of truth. The amount of injuries that come along with combat sports can be mended, but not totally revived to the same functional level when you’ve sustained too much damage. You’ve only got one brain and one body in life, and combat sports require a huge tax on both for your career. Just how much you want to give to the sport has to be taken into account when determining what your next chapter in life means to you.