Two legends of MMA are nearing the end of their run and it seems as though that they are wearing out the tread on their status as legends in the sport. Sure, history tends to be kind the farther from the present we get and when we look back 20 years from now on the careers of Anderson Silva and BJ Penn we will remember their prime, not this version of themselves.
This past Saturday B.J. Penn and Anderson Silva lost at UFC 237. For both, the defeats reflect the downside of their careers and brings up the question of whether each should retire.
Penn lost to Clay Guida in a bout which saw the always active ‘Carpenter’ outwork a slow and plodding former champion. The loss had Penn fall to 1–11–1 since 2010 and a current 7 fight losing streak. The losing streak has shown that his best is far behind him. Even his grappling game, a superior strength, was shown to have eroded as Ryan Hall rolled up a knee bar on the former BJJ World Champ and tapped him with ease at UFC 232. If not for being BJ Penn, he would have been let go by the UFC.
For Silva, once the ‘must see’ fighter for the promotion, he once again fell to an up-and-coming fighter, Jared Cannonier. If not for an improbable win against Derek Brunson at UFC 208, Silva probably would not have scored a win since his last fight on a Brazil PPV in December 2012.
Yet, Silva posted a message via social media that he will continue to fight. A portion of his message to fans read:
An old lion surrounded by hungry hienas (sic), crazy to devour him and he still fights to the death without ever feeling sorry for himself.
This passage seems the most prescient of the message and the ‘fighting to the death’ most alarming. But Silva has not looked bad in the ring as compared to Penn. Yet, Silva’s loss to Cannonier which may have seen another leg injury in the Octagon, is a sign of his body betraying his mind.
Penn’s relation to reality may be more delusional. Protected from the media during fight week from needing to answer questions regarding his alleged domestic violence and threatening a farmer with a machete, Penn claimed that he was going to make another run at a UFC title. Far from the ‘Prodigy’ that was a two-division champion and an elite-tier MMA star during the start of the Fertitta-run, Penn’s continued stay in the UFC seems to be more of a favor from the promotion that utilized his stardom and now his paychecks may be more of his pension plan.
It’s clear that both these fighters still believe that they will fight on. They have been so good at this sport for so long and dedicated so much time and effort to their craft, that it’s not hard to believe that they wouldn’t know what to do without it.
Penn and Silva, like Georges St-Pierre who retired earlier this year are dedicated martial arts. Unlike other ‘fighters’ in this sport, these three men dedicated a large portion of their lives to martial arts. And, it wouldn’t be surprising if all three were to keep practicing even after active competition. But, when should active competition end for Penn and Silva?
Even if they were to announce their retirements, it would be little assurance that they wouldn’t return. Look at Tito Ortiz. Even after a brief ‘renaissance run’ in the UFC with a submission of eventually double champ Ryan Bader, he went on to Bellator for a stint and then reappeared in November to put down another elder statesmen of MMA Chuck Liddell. He now will be in Combates Americas threatening to fight again.
Certainly, if the UFC were to persuade Penn and Silva to stop fighting for the promotion, its easy to believe that Scott Coker or Combates Americas would scoop them up to aid in building their brand.
There are those that have decided on retiring from MMA early to focus on other goals in their lives. Rose Namajunas said as much after losing via an ugly slam that looked as though she had broken her neck for sure. Threats to health like that are sure to make one realize the fragility of health and Namajunas seems holistic in her view of life that she will not have an issue when retiring. With that being said, it’s my own opinion that Namajunas will be back in the Octagon. Although she is willing to leave on her own terms, she will want at least one more attempt at regaining her title.
To the chagrin of many MMA hardcores, Ronda Rousey returned to UFC TV to talk about life after the UFC. Her last Octagon appearance — a brutal bashing by Amanda Nunes that left her upright but unconscious — confirmed to Rousey that she was done with the sport. A second career in the WWE should be deemed successful even if she is moving on from that part of her life as well.
This past weekend’s fights should have confirmed to the MMA fan that BJ Penn and Anderson Silva have nothing more to gain, and more importantly, nothing more to show for the UFC and MMA audience.
But for each, strength of mindset, perservence and likely stubbornness means that they are not listening to any of it and as Silva claimed will ‘fight to the death’ and not fell sorry for themselves.
This, even though, we might feel sorry for them.