It’s not hard to understand why some professional athletes have a hard time going out with grace. They’re lifelong competitors who have never said the word “quit” before. That, and the money is pretty hard to walk away from once you reach a certain level.
Even so, mixed martial arts has seen more than its fair share of competitors who hung on too long. Here are some of the most prominent names who may have been better off to walk away rather than get back in the ring:
- James “The Sandman” Irvin. In early 2012, “The Sandman” had dropped six of his last seven fights including three straight, which is widely used as the benchmark for “it’s time to quit.” Irvin held on, though, continuing to compete in fringe MMA promotions in Europe.
- Ken Shamrock. The crossover UFC-WWE superstar held on through most of the 2000s, even in the face of clearly declining skills. He finally retired from MMA in 2010 as he approached his 47th birthday. A knockout at the hands of Mike Bourke was the crushing blow to his career.
- Gary Goodridge. Goodridge fought into his 40s, which may well be part of the reason he now suffers from chronic brain inflammation, memory problems and mood disorders.
- Wanderlei Silva. One of the UFC’s most recognizable names, Silva is well-known from engaging his opponents in back-and-forth all-out brawls. UFC president Dana White pleaded with him to retire in 2011, but Silva insisted on hanging on.
- Chuck Liddell. Liddell could have gone out on top of his game, after an epic 2007 fight against Wanderlei Silva that remains one of the greatest matches in UFC history. However, Liddell continued to soldier on — and continually found himself on the wrong end of knockouts.
- Tank Abbott. The fact that Abbott, like Goodridge, continued to fight into his 40s is warning sign number one that it may have been time to walk away. Warning sign number two was the dreadful 2-8 record he put up in his final 10 matches. Abbott ignored both, but did retire a winner after knocking out Mike Bourke in his final appearance.