There is nothing worse than a fighter still competing past his prime. The allure of capturing past glory, or the misguided need to test oneself against the new crop of athletic talent, are blinding forces that can keep fighting old heads from seeing the truth; that their better days are gone and they’re simply putting themselves in danger.
This is especially true in MMA, where both your ground and stand-up games have to be on point.
This past weekend, Bellator made it’s pay-per-view debut, and headlining the action were a pair of fights that displayed this point perfectly. Chael Sonnen took on Wanderlei Silva in the main event and Fedor Emeilianenko stepped into his Bellator debut against Matt Mitrione.
Both Silva and Fedor are legends of Pride FC, the now defunct Japanese MMA promotion that was trailblazing for the sport. From Pride came eventual MMA household names like Dan Henderson, Sakuraba, Rampage Jackson and more. In 2007, the organization was purchased by the old ownership of the Ultimate Fighting Championships and a number of active fighters were brought into the UFC stable.
One that chose not to was Fedor Emeilianenko, who has always liked to be listed as a co-promoter for any bout he fights. However, Dana White and the UFC brand do not favor this and he was never able to secure the fighter for the UFC.
Bellators current CEO, Scott Coker, has always had a great relationship with the Russian champion and he was able to secure the marquee value of Bellators first fight at Madison Square Garden, and on PPV, with a huge name like Fedor. What he and matchmaker Rich Chou didn’t expect was Fedor not being the athlete he used to be.
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After a weird initial double knockdown in the early stages of the first round, Mitrione was the first to get up and finished Fedor via strikes while he was still stunned on his back. The move cemented Mitriones dominance since leaving the UFC in free agency and exposed the world to the reality that their formerly dominant fighting heroes are relics.
Wanderlei Silva survived the wrestling heavy offense of Chael Sonnen, but eventually lost via unanimous decision.
Sonnen, who talks almost as good as Conor McGregor, won the bout, but the uninspired offensive blitzkrieg offered by Silva showed glimpses of the old raging beast of a fighter, but those glimpses never fully materialized into a substantial facsimile of what he once was. After numerous plastic surgeries and injuries, Silva should stop fighting and focus on his coaching duties at his Wand FC gym in Las Vegas.
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The UFC was in Oklahoma City last weekend and amid the hype-fueled engagement between a controversially victorious Kevin Lee over Michael Chiesa, B.J. Penn was also on the card. Penn is a multi-weight class UFC champion that made his professional debut in the UFC. As one of the most respect Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioners and brawlers, Penn has a legacy that is hard to tarnish.
However, now with five consistent losses, including his latest to German fighter Dennis Silver last weekend, Penn is chipping away at his former highlight reel of glories.
Many fault the UFC for its quick turnover of prioritized stars and ever-changing roster, but it is clear that they understand the true shelf life of its fighters. Though only a handful are taken care of long term with full time jobs with swank titles like former champions Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell, the rest fight either for money or glory.
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With brain injuries being a focus in football, athletes in all combat sports should know when to give it up. Bellator took some heat when they staged Kevin Kimbo Slice Ferguson vs. Dada 5000 at Bellator 149 in February 2016. The two fighters were exhausted throughout the bout collapsing multiple times until Dada 5000 couldn’t get up in the third round making Slice the winner.
The results were overturned to a No Contest following the bout when it was discovered that Ferguson had failed his pre-fight drug test. Lab results found traces of the anabolic steroid nandrolone. He was also found to have an elevated testosterone/epitestosterone (T/E) ratio. Ferguson died of heart failure in June 2016 on the eve of a planned Bellator booking for July 2016 in London, England.
Although Bellator will be the alternative for many MMA fighters on the downslide of their career who had a great run with the UFC, we must be mindful that in combat sports, age and the wars that have occurred in that lifespan determine when an athlete should stop. Failure to do so results in weird, dangerous, circus-like performances, which was how many portions of Bellators NYC debut felt.
More importantly, the life and death of these athletes is determined by their willingness to stop fighting when it is time.