Carlos Condit and the Rarity of Leaving with Grace

 

 

Saturday’s main event fight between Carlos “The Natural Born Killer” Condit and Demian Maia was an interesting match-up between top contenders in the UFC’s welterweight division.  The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu specialist Maia won by rear naked choke in less than two minutes of the first round.  There’s no shame in that for Condit.  Maia is one of the best BJJ practitioners in the UFC, and in this sport anyone can get caught at any time.  Even coming off a loss, Condit is still among the elite in the division.  But that’s not why I am writing this.

    Instead, it was the post-fight press conference that moved me to voice my opinion.  Coming off the loss, most of what Condit talked about was whether or not he is planning to retire.  Here are a few of his statements:

  • “I’ll probably talk to the people around me, talk to my wife, and kind of make the decision after we’ve had some discussion and done a little bit of assessing of where I’m going and what’s on the horizon.”

  • “I don’t know, man.  I don’t know if I have any business fighting at this level any more.  I’ve been at this for a really long time, and the pressure of kind of being one of the top guys for almost a decade.”

  • “I’ve loved being involved in the sport at the time that I have, and got to do what I love for a living for a long period of time.  But, I don’t know, man.  I don’t know if I belong here anymore.  We’ll see.”

  • “You know, honestly, it’s definitely been in the back of my mind for a while now.  Yeah, it’s been a long career, and yeah, I think that there comes a point in every fighter’s career that they have to kind of question how long they’re going to continue to do that.”

  • “I don’t know if that’s going to be the swan song for me.  Hopefully not.  I would hate to go out on a loss like this.”

  • “I don’t know what’s in the cards.  I’m leaning towards probably yeah, possibly being done.”

  • “You know, honestly, I’ve had a tough career with a lot of fights, and I’ve taken a lot of punishment.  I don’t know if I can continue to take shots.”

    It would seem that this isn’t merely the result of a fighter temporarily feeling down after a difficult loss.  No, Carlos Condit has clearly been thinking of his exit strategy from the sport. Many might see it as odd that a thirty-two year-old fighter still among the top welterweights in the world would be so serious about walking away.  But as the old saying goes, it’s not the years, it’s the miles.

    With forty professional MMA bouts, Carlos Condit has a lot of miles.  He’s been among the best in the sport for so long that it just feels like he must be older than thirty-two.  He turned pro in 2002 at the age of eighteen, and worked his way up to the WEC in 2007, quickly becoming their welterweight champ and defending the belt three times before the UFC absorbed the cream of the WEC roster in 2008.  Since then he has had thirteen UFC fights, most against top competition, and won the interim welterweight title against Nick Diaz in 2012.  He has fought the best, and defeated most of them.  With the exception of clearing that final obstacle and winning the UFC undisputed welterweight title, he has nothing left to prove.  

    Sure, Condit is still a credible contender for that title.  A few impressive wins would put him right back in line for another title shot in a year or so.  This is the same man who fought Robbie Lawler for the belt less than nine months ago.  It was a brutal fight and a controversial split decision loss for The Natural Born Killer.  So, it’s certainly conceivable that Condit has enough left to make another run at the title that has eluded him.  But would it be worth the price?

    Only Carlos Condit knows the toll that his battles in the cage have taken on his body.  All we know is that he successfully returned after blowing out his knee against current champ Tyron Woodley two years ago.  His statements about having “taken a lot of punishment” and not knowing “if I can continue to take shots” definitely give me the impression that he has serious concerns about his future health if he were to continue fighting.  I’ve always held the opinion that once a fighter starts having those worries, it’s time to think very seriously about retiring.  

    Condit seems very lucid and articulate, so personally I doubt that he’s showing any signs of serious brain injury at this point.  But he is an intelligent man in a dangerous profession, and my guess is that signs such as nagging injuries, or a weaker chin than he once had, have spurred him to start thinking about his future.  At the post fight press conference, he mentioned being rocked by Maia while in half-guard.  If his ability to take a punch is declining, it would make perfect sense for him to retire and avoid a string of damaging knockouts.  We’ve too often seen fighters with once-great ability to absorb punishment stay in the sport too long and suddenly lose their chins.  Chuck Liddell springs to mind.  My opinion is that it is much better to know when the clock is running out and leave before you start accumulating serious damage.  Whenever a fighter starts talking of hanging up the gloves, I think of Gary “Big Daddy” Goodridge, the UFC, Pride, and kickboxing fighter who stayed for way too long and now suffers from the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).  

    Beyond worries about physical injuries, as a fan I prefer to see great fighters ride off into the sunset before they experience the inevitable decline and tarnish their legacies.  We have all seen former UFC stars fighting well past their primes in lesser promotions in order to collect a paycheck.  Even legends are not immune.  Although not reduced to fighting on the regional circuit, does anyone think that the B.J. Penn who fought Frankie Edgar in 2014 was the same fighter he was a few years earlier?  It seems to be a curse that many fighters always feel they have a few more good fights in them.  Now two years after his last fight, B.J. is looking to make another comeback.  At the age of forty-one, even the once untouchable Anderson Silva is 0-4 with one no contest in his last five fights.

    Lastly, there is the matter of the mental toll fighting takes.  Confidence is very important.  Once too much doubt creeps in, or a fighter feels burned out and is just going through the motions, performance is likely to suffer.  Georges St- Pierre seemed like his heart wasn’t really in it for his last few fights, and had the good sense to walk away from the sport while still a champion.  St-Pierre vacated the belt he had held for so long because he was burned out and felt the need to get his head together, and I applaud that decision. Mixed martial arts is an unforgiving occupation, and continuing to fight without the right mental attitude is courting disaster.  Now there are rumors of GSP returning after three years away.  At thirty-five years old, maybe he has the fire and skills to return to his old form.  But maybe he doesn’t.  Oh, I’ll watch the fights if they happen, and be happy if St-Pierre wins.  I’ve long been a GSP fan, but I’m conflicted about his possible return.  A big part of me wants him to stay retired and not risk tarnishing his legendary career.

    As for Carlos Condit, he has some thinking to do.  He has to make the best decision for him.  Whether it’s retiring or continuing to fight for a while longer only he can say.  But with the red flags of his statements at Saturday’s press conference, I have an inkling of how he might decide.  Getting punched for a living doesn’t make for a long career, and the wise fighter retires before it’s too late.  I just wish there were more wise fighters.

 

 

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