Mike Chiappetta has an important piece up at MMA Fighting dealing with the wave of young fighters who have recently chosen to walk away from the sport of mixed martial arts. Chiappetta looks at a number of fighters, many of them once mainstays of the UFC and Bellator rosters, who have chosen to walk away from the sport seemingly at their athletic peaks including Mark Hominick, Nick Thompson, Nick Denis, Cole Konrad, Kyle Kingsbury, Jason "Mayhem" Miller, Jonathan Brookins and Tom DeBlass.
Cole Konrad, former Bellator Heavyweight champion had one the most interesting reasons for leaving the sport, he got a better offer to work as an agricultural commodities trainer. The graduate degree-holding Konrad explained his decision:
"When I was weighing the opportunity I was given vs. fighting, I had to face the reality that fighting is a pretty dead-end job," he said. "Am I going to be 35 or 40 and still fighting? Then where do I go when I'm done, when I've never had a real job? Was I going to make as much money where I would be able to retire at that age? It's possible. But the reality is, given my physique, I didn't see that happening. However you want to look at it, that definitely plays a part. You have to look the part, act the part, be the part to cash big checks. I was pretty successful fighting, but in other aspects I wasn't exactly what was being sought for a high-profile fighter."
Nick Denis, another highly educated fighter, had an even more though provoking reason for leaving the game behind: fear of brain damage. Here's what he had to say:
Denis has now almost completely divorced himself from the sport. He says that while he tries not to think about any future brain issues, there are little moments, like forgetting the name of a famous actor, for instance, that make him wonder how much damage was already done. He's also haunted by the thoughts of the damage he might have caused his opponents and sparring partners.
Denis said at one time he was obsessed with the sport, but the love affair has burned out. Asked when was the last time he watched a fight, he pauses for several seconds. Ultimately, he can't remember. "Part of me doesn't want to support it," he says. But he also believes that people have the right to do what they want with their own bodies. They just need to understand the risks.
Chiappetta also spoke to Kyle Kingsbury who had similiar concerns:
It wasn't just the losing. In the gym, Kingsbury had been alarmed by what he'd seen from teammates and others in the fight game. He'd heard some slurring words. There were others who drooled sometimes without realizing it. With his proclivity for wars, was that where he was headed?
"I've had my face broken twice in my last four fights," he said. "This last fight it was broken in two different places. Taken all that into consideration, I'd be a fool to believe it won't have long-term affects on my body and my brain."
While I don't think Chiappetta has identified a true trend that will seriously impact the sport, the loss of top athletes like Konrad at the prime of their athletic years should be of concern to anyone who supports MMA.