Timely retirement should be the norm, not an aberration
For the second time in his career, Ricardo Almeida has decided to hang up his gloves. This is different from the four-year hiatus Almeida enjoyed from 2004 to 2008; this one is permanent.
Almeida announced his decision Wednesday, ten days after suffering a close loss to Mike Pyle at UFC 128 and having thought long and hard about his future. The former middleweight King of Pancrase acknowledged that he wasn’t able to focus all of his attention on fighting, with family obligations and concerns and the growth of his jiu jitsu academy always on his mind. As such, he’s stepping away to focus on those things, and he should be commended for making the difficult choice.
It’s one that every fighter must face at some point. No one can fight forever, at least not at an elite level. In this sport, the fall from contention can be fast and hard; one fight you’re in the mix, the next, you’re on your way out. Recognizing the signs is a difficult challenge and knowing when to pull the plug is even harder.
While Almeida’s decision to walk away has more to do with focusing on opportunities outside of the cage than his performance inside the Octagon, having lost two of three since dropping to welterweight should also bea sobering realization of where he stands in the division. The climb to become a contender became more arduous with the loss to Pyle, and it simply wasn’t a dream Almeida wanted to hold onto any longer.
I’m not here to tell fighters when to retire or that their skills have eroded to the point where they’re no longer competitive at the elite level. These guys are doing things I couldn’t fathom doing, train harder in an eight-to-twelve week camp than I have in my 32 years combined and will make whatever decisions they see fit.
That being said, more fighters should follow Almeida’s lead.
Admittedly, his is a unique case. Not everyone has a burgeoning school and growing crop of students to shift their focus to, not to mention the time and attention Almeida wants to give to his family.
But at some point, every fighter has to look themselves in the mirror and question whether they can still compete at the highest level and if the fire still burns to step into the cage. It will be the hardest question many of these athletes have ever had to answer, and it’s hard to do it without hedging.
How do you tell yourself you’re not able to compete with the best anymore?
How can you get up to train every day if you don’t believe you’re capable of beating anyone and everyone on any given day?
For some fighters, this is the only “job” they’ve ever had. The thought of moving on to something else doesn’t register. Somewhere along the line, however, it has to.
Making the decision to walk away was clearly very difficult for Chuck Liddell. Losing four of five and being knocked out in three of those bouts wasn’t deterrent enough to keep “The Iceman” from wanting to climb into the cage once more last summer.
He worked harder than he had in years to get into optimum shape and looked strong in the early going against Rich Franklin. But there is no program for strengthening your chin, and when Franklin connected with Liddell’s jaw, the lights went out on both the bout and the former light heavyweight champion’s career.
Sadly, it was an outcome many people saw coming and hoped to avoid; not because they didn’t want to see another hash added to Liddell’s loss column, but because they all saw what the fighter could not. The time to walk away had come, only the willingness to accept it wasn’t there yet.
I would bet that it wouldn’t take much coercion to get Liddell to step out from behind his desk as Vice President of Business Development with the UFC and into the Octagon one more time for old time’s sake. And as entertaining as it may be, it would be the wrong decision for Liddell.
On its own, Almeida’s retirement announcement is minor news that brings the career of a solid competitor to a close. Framed by the difficultly others have in making the same choice, it’s an announcement that many fighters could learn from.
The time to walk away comes for everyone. Some are just better at recognizing it than others.