End of the Line: UFC Middleweights Who Should Call It A Career

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Anderson Silva UFC
Anderson Silva speaks to the press March 30, 2016 in advance of UFC 198. // A.RICARDO / Shutterstock.com

When is it time for a world class fighter to retire? We’ll take a look in the first installment of an ongoing series, focusing on UFC athletes who might need a little Chuck Liddell-style encouragement (wait, that comparison may no longer apply) to call it a career.

The retirement question is a touchy one in mixed martial arts. Many factors need to be taken into account when attempting to answer it, and perhaps it can’t be answered as long as a fighter is cleared to compete by one of the inept athletic commissions we’ve come to admire. Punishment taken over the course of a career, financial incentives, age, title aspirations, and CTE are all things fighters should ponder as they give themselves the Joe Rogan Talk. Is a little brain damage worth another paycheck? It’s conceivable. Not smart — but conceivable.

No one can say for sure when it’s time for a mixed martial artist to hang up the gloves, but when losses start to add up inside the octagon and a UFC Championship is out of reach – it’s time to at least consider hanging up the gloves.

Some of these fighters could be paraded out for years to come as part of a young UFC lion/lioness’ next meal, or allowed to headline television cards as gatekeepers until their health diminishes to the point of early dementia. But which UFC Middleweights should leave the sport now that the time is right before they die in the cage?

Lyoto Machida (23-8)

Notable Wins: B.J. Penn, Tito Ortiz, Rashad Evans,  Shogun Rua, Randy Couture, Ryan Bader, Dan Henderson, Gegard Mousasi

Earlier this month in Brazil the 39-year-old Dragon didn’t look like the same fighter who once captured the Light Heavyweight Championship. Even though he did manage to win that weekend, snapping a three-fight losing streak in the process, Machida really struggled against Eryk Anders.

The once untouchable Lyoto Machida got busted up at UFC Fight Night 125, and took more damage than Anders even though the Brazilian out-struck the former Alabama State linebacker 66 to 46. When all was said and done, Machida walked away with a split decision, but a win here didn’t do anything to put him back in the hunt for the 185lb strap he once competed for.

Machida’s last four fights have resulted in three losses and a close split decision win that would have been lost if it were contested under ‘Pride Rules.’ What good is a win if you lost in the eyes of the casuals? Anybody else remember when Conor McGregor lost his 170lb title to Nate Diaz? I don’t remember it, either, but it’s as ‘Fake News’ real as it gets — Mandela effect be damned.

I’m not going to suggest that Lyoto would have an easier time competing for a title in Bellator, but perhaps it would be best for Machida to seek a Tito Ortiz-like retirement run outside of the UFC sooner rather than later.

Michael ‘The Count’ Bisping (30-9)

Notable Wins: Chris Leben, Jason Miller, Brian Stann, Cung Le, Alan Belcher, Anderson Silva, Luke Rockhold, Dan Henderson

Bisping’s known the writing has been on the wall for some time now, though he’s holding out hope that he can return to the Octagon for one final victory in Manchester before he calls it a career.

After getting submitted by Luke Rockhold back in November 2014, ‘The Count’ went on one of the most improbable runs in combat sports history and avenged his loss to Rockhold at UFC 199 – becoming the Middleweight King himself in the process.

King Bisping only defended his belt once, avenging his UFC 100 knockout loss to Dan Henderson in Manchester back at UFC 204 before losing the belt 13 months later. That loss came to a returning Georges St-Pierre at UFC 217 in Madison Square Garden last November. The scene looked set for The Count to end a miraculous UFC career by losing to arguably the greatest fighter of all-time in the most profitable fight of his career, but he wanted a retirement fight in London.

Bisping then took a fight against Kelvin Gastelum in Shanghai, China on short notice after ‘The Golden Snitch’ Jeff Novitzky nailed Anderson Silva for the second time after ‘The Spider’ failed yet another drug test. Unfortunately for Bisping, he lost that fight via knockout in the first round, and for the first time in his career dropped two straight fights. Worse still, he ultimately lost the opportunity to retire at UFC Fight Night 127 in England as he had originally planned.

At 39, Michael Bisping has nothing left to prove and has accumulated enough damage in his career to justify retirement after nearly 40 professional bouts.

When it’s all said and done, Count Bisping won TUF Season 3 under coach Tito Ortiz, defeated Anderson Silva, avenged his loss to Luke Rockhold to become the UFC Middleweight Champion and win Upset of the Year (2016), got a huge payday against GSP in MSG, avoided the Cuban Missile Crisis that is Yoel Romero and got a lot of publicity in doing so, defended the UFC Middleweight title against Dan Henderson on a Pay-Per-View in Manchester, England, and made the moderators of /r/MMA look like clowns.

He should fight one more time on home soil once he regenerates past 65%, and end his career on a win in England. (Shout out to my man Kamaru Usman with 30% health).

Vitor ‘The Phenom’ Belfort (26-13-1)

Notable Wins: Wanderlei Silva, Heath Herring, Randy Couture, Rich Franklin, Anthony Johnson, Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold, Dan Henderson (x2)

Victor Gracie Belfort has been fighting in the UFC since 1997, the year he became the UFC 12 Heavyweight Tournament Champion. Hell, that famous scene where Vitor destroys Wanderlei Silva didn’t even happen until his SIXTH fight inside the octagon, that’s how long he’s been at it. He’s had three separate runs in the UFC, and he’s a former UFC Light Heavyweight champion that injured Jon Jones permanently.

It looked as though ‘The Phenom’ would end his career on a win against Nate Marquardt at UFC 212 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but he apparently had one fight left on his contract, which he was willing to fight out against Uriah Hall — before Hall nearly died making weight for the bout scheduled January 14.

Now Belfort is expected to face Lyoto Machida at UFC 224 in Brazil, which makes for an excellent ‘loser leaves town match.

Ahem.

Speaking of which, matches with more stipulations would be interesting in MMA. Not Vince Russo-like stipulations, but something more akin to ‘loser leaves town’ matches, fights with a lengthy contract on the line, hair vs. hair matches, or the like — that oompf would be nice once in a while and would potentially serve as a headline act on a Champion-less card.

Just a thought — now back to Yoel’s Playground.

‘Suga’ Rashad Evans (19-7-1)

Notable wins: Stephan Bonnar, Michael Bisping, Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin, Rampage Jackson, Tito Ortiz, Phil Davis, Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen

I have written extensively about Rashad Evans in the past, but as a former champion on the decline, it’s time for him to retire. The whole CTE saga aside, his fighting skills just aren’t there anymore to compete with the top 30 at middleweight. It can’t quite be said for certain that Rashad wouldn’t be able to compete with the top 30 at light heavyweight, because Shogun is ranked in the top 5, but he shouldn’t. He would get B.J. Penn’d against the top 4.

My Inner D.C. says, and I quote: “No disrespect to Smilin’ Sam, but, YOU LOST TO SAM ALVEY.”

Four straight losses should be enough for Rashad to call it a career before he really does become the CTE poster boy for MMA.

Evans will turn 39 in September.

Anderson ‘The Spider’ Silva 34-8-(1)

Notable Wins: Carlos Newton, Chris Leben, Rich Franklin (x2), Dan Henderson, Demian Maia, Chael Sonnen (x2), Stephan Bonnar, Derek Brunson, Yushin Okami, Forrest Griffin

“The UFC organization was notified today (Nov. 10, 2017) that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has informed Anderson Silva of a potential Anti-Doping Policy violation stemming from an out-of-competition sample collected on October 26, 2017. As a result, Silva has been provisionally suspended by USADA. Due to the proximity of Silva’s upcoming scheduled bout at UFC Fight Night, Shanghai, China on November 25, 2017 against Kelvin Gastelum, Silva has been removed from the card and UFC is currently seeking a replacement.”

“USADA, the independent administrator of the UFC Anti-Doping Policy, will handle the results management and appropriate adjudication of this case involving Silva. Under the UFC Anti-Doping Policy, there is a full and fair legal process that is afforded to all athletes before any sanctions are imposed. Additional information will be provided at the appropriate time as the process moves forward.”

What a legacy.

Johny ‘Big Rigg’ Hendricks (18-8)

Notable Wins: Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck, Martin Kampmann, Robbie Lawler, Matt Brown, Hector Lombard.  We can even acknowledge the GSP fight, though Hendricks lost.

It’s almost unbelievable that Hendricks is even listed here, on the growing list of aging middleweights. The welterweight knockout/wrestling machine that took Georges St-Pierre to the limit in November 2013 would only win three of his next nine fights.

Hendricks did manage to win the UFC Welterweight Title against Robbie Lawler at UFC 171, but lost just nine months later in a rematch via split decision at UFC 181. Then, he came out and beat Matt Brown via unanimous decision – all before July 1, 2015.

That’s when the UFC and USADA partnership went into effect.

Since then he’s lost to Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson, Kelvin Gastelum, Neil Magny, Tim Boetsch, and most recently was defeated by Paulo Costa via TKO at UFC 217 in November to complete his UFC deal. The only bright spot in that stretch was his middleweight debut, in which he defeated Hector Lombard… the only thing is, that debut was forced because Hendricks had missed weight in his previous two attempts at welterweight, and then he even missed weight in the subsequent fight.

That should be it for Johny, though he might find success elsewhere against lesser competition.

I guess we can ‘never say never’ after Andrei Arlovski’s return to the UFC after losing four straight outside of the organization, but Hendricks needs to do something differently if he wants to continue his mixed martial arts career. He looks slow, doesn’t seem to have that knockout power, or the will to compete anymore.

Perhaps Bellator would be a good fit, but if he’s going to take the Roy Nelson approach at middleweight, then it would be best to just hang up the gloves now.

Hector Lombard (34-8-1, 2 no contests)

Notable Wins: Alexander Shlemenko, Rousimar Palhares, Nate Marquardt, Jake Shields

Before Lombard entered the UFC, he looked unstoppable, accumulating a 31-2-1 record before signing with the organization in 2012. Lombard was the first Bellator Middleweight Champion, the Bellator Season 1 Middleweight Tournament Winner, and holds the fasted recorded knockout in Bellator history at just six seconds. Lombard was also world champion in several smaller organizations at middleweight and light heavyweight, as well as an accomplished judoka.

Then a split decision loss to Tim Boetsch at UFC 149 made him seem all too human. In his next few fights he would pick up big wins over Rousimar Palhares, Nate Marquardt, and Jake Shields, but he lost to Yushin Okami after he beat the Palhares, and now he’s lost his last four straight to Neil Magny, Dan Henderson, Johny Hendricks, and Anthony Smith. Two of those have come by knockout, and Dan Henderson murdered him with elbows at UFC 199 in one of the most vicious stoppages in UFC history.

He outworked Anthony Smith in their fight, but that doesn’t matter when you’re on the receiving end of a knockout.

Hector is expected to face C.B. Dolloway at UFC 222, but a loss there most definitely spells the end of his time in the octagon.

Demian Maia (25-8) 

Notable Wins: Chael Sonnen, Dong Hyun Kim, Jon Fitch, Neil Magny, Gunnar Nelson, Matt Brown, Carlos Condit, Jorge Masvidal

Consider this one a bonus; despite Demian Maia fighting at welterweight most recently, he made his name as a middleweight.

Maia has beaten some of the best names in the sport at both 185 and 170 pounds and will likely beat anyone ranked below him that’s not a complete stud in either of those divisions. That being said, his road back to the title is a long one. Last time, it took him seven wins against big-name welterweights to earn a shot at Tyron Woodley’s championship.

At 40 years old and one loss removed from his failed title shot, it seems as though Maia at the twilight of his career. It would be ideal if he could end his UFC run on a big win in Brazil. Before he hits the inevitable decline.

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