As more and more legends age out of MMA, Vitor Belfort and Michael Bisping being the most recent, we reflect on letting go — and the suggestion of a Legends League.
The MMA world is a world in transition at the moment. Though plenty of fighters have retired, the past several years have seen a real changing of the guard. Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, Forrest Griffin, Rich Franklin, and a host of other legendary names have retired. Some have come back. Some haven’t. Yet as Vitor Belfort and Michael Bisping now exit the sport (and become locks for the UFC Hall of Fame), there’s another question to mull over.
Why do we have such a hard time letting go?
Of course, it’s never fun to see your favorite athletes retire. As much as you want to cherish their memory and celebrate their accomplishments, you want to see them out there, performing. Yet logic dictates that we all decline with age. Do we really want to see Hendo shuffle around the octagon one more time?
Well, maybe. Because unlike other sports, older fighters can find success, in certain circumstances. George Foreman proved that long ago. Randy Couture and the aforementioned Hendo defied age for years.
Look, Michael Bisping, whatever you think of his attitude, deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. It’s where he should be, that and behind the desk and FOX, and perhaps later ESPN. Yet in a heartbeat, against the right opponent, many of us would jump at the chance to watch him again. Perhaps with an opponent with his fingers taped shut, to keep him away from that eye.
In any case, while other sports get retirement ceremonies and jerseys raised to the rafters, MMA gets no such farewell moment. Gloves dropped in the cage and a few words on the mic, see you later. And as some of the real characters exit the sport, it feels like there isn’t enough flair coming back the other way. Pioneers of MMA had character. They had to! Who in their right mind would want to fight in a cage, back before MMA was accepted as a sport, back before the unified rules?
Many newer fighters are athletes, first and foremost. There’s nothing wrong with that — athleticism in the sport has come a long way, as it should. Yet we’ll always be nostalgic for the Don Frye’s of the world. Because a generic interview from the 20th debuting UFC fighter in the month isn’t always riveting. It’s the MMA equivalent of a hockey player saying he’s going to skate every shift and give 110% out there.
Fighters like Bisping and Belfort? Love them or hate them, they entertained.
Are there any fighters you want to see have one last go? Has Bisping earned his spot? Sound off in the comments and check the latest episode of The Drive In podcast as we explore the topic further!