Fighting is hard work. No one knows this better than a professional fighter and many would argue that no one who isn't a professional fighter can ever really understand what goes in to making a career out of MMA. Sometimes though, however brief, fighters offer some real insight into their lives as athletes. That certainly seems to be where Mac Danzig is coming from when he announced his retirement in his personal blog on March 4th.
Danzig will retire at the end of a 13-year, 34-fight career. He was the Ultimate Fighter Season 6 champion, and fought for the WEC, KOTC, Pride, and eventually the UFC. His UFC career, while inconsistent, was highly competitive over his six years and 13 fights with the promotion. He holds wins over Mark Bocek, Joe Stevenson, and Efrain Escudero, among others and fought competitively with Jim Miller, Clay Guida, and Takanori Gomi. But the simple numbers and fights aren't the only legacy Danzig is looking to leave as he steps away, he's asking that his career serve as a lesson to other up and coming fighters.
I intend the following letter to be not some self-indulgent "public press release" or anything as pretentious as that. On the contrary, it is simply a statement for my very small, yet loyal fan base (for whom I am very appreciative) to get caught up on what I am doing professionally and publicly as I continue to journey down the road of life... Most people with an interest in my career have come to understand that I am a bit of a recluse and that I keep my life and decisions fairly private. However, there are quite a few people who have supported me in spirit for many years now, and they deserve a heads-up.
After 13 years of competing in MMA, and 7 years of competing in the world's premiere high-level organizations, I have finally decided to retire from professional fighting. This decision has been a long time coming, spawned by a myriad of reasons (I'll touch on just a few here), and should come as no real surprise to most of you who have followed my career closely.
Working for the UFC over the past 7 years has been a spectacular privilege, for which I am truly grateful. During dark times, even when some fans began to write me off, Joe Silva looked at my record for what it really was, not simply a numbers game, and continued to give me the opportunity to fight on the world stage for the best organization out there. This has been an awesome lesson in perseverance for me.
It has been a long, amazing, arduous, thrilling, painful, depressing, spectacular, self-realizing, worthwhile struggle of a journey, for which I have no regrets. I have accomplished a lot in the sport, especially thanks to the many opportunities the UFC has given me. The competition level that I reached is far beyond what I ever imagined being able to do when I first set out to be a fighter in the year 2000. That being said, in hindsight, my enthusiasm and motivation for competition definitely reached it's peak around 2008 (after 7 years prior of toiling in the minor professional leagues) and it's been an uphill battle ever since.
I really have been struggling the past few years with contemplating retirement. And with it in the back of my mind, my performance has suffered. Only those closest to me know about this. A true fighter never wants to give it up. The will to compete dies hard. I have had to teach myself that intelligently stepping away does not equal "giving up".
When you slow down in most other sports, whether due to injury or lack of passion, usually you can still preserve your personal dignity and your physical brain, and keep working hard until you truly know it's time to leave, but that's not always the case in MMA.
Physically speaking, I have felt great from the neck-down throughout most all of my career, (with the exception of a few injuries here and there) so it was very hard to consider leaving when I knew my body would continue to perform amazing feats of endurance and skill, should I ask it to. Really, the only physical cue for me to step back from competition came last year, when I began to suffer repeated concussions in training, leading up to what would end up being my first ever actual knockout loss, in July. After that, my ability to take hard strikes in training without losing consciousness began to deteriorate rapidly. After 14 years of training and taking shots like a champ, my brain was finally telling me to chill out. I was never the type of fighter to "train stupid", but sparring was always something I partook in at full throttle. I truly feel that the damage was done in the gym over the past decade, and hundreds of hard sparring sessions have accumulated, leading me to the situation I find myself in now. Certainly, some of my performances throughout the years in which I had fallen short can be directly attributed to the idea that I "left it all in the gym." I would like to serve as an example for the up and coming fighters of the world and hopefully encourage smarter training practices that include less sustained trauma in training camp, leading to a longer, healthier career and better performances in the ring.
As a parent, I must take into consideration how important my sustained brain function is and how tragic it would be to have Parkinsons, Alzheimer's, dementia, etc. Nobody ever forced me, I chose to be a fighter and I have no regrets about what has already transpired thus far, but I must make the right decision for the future. This was never a concern for me until I became a father. And fighting, to me, had never seemed even the slightest bit dangerous until the past year. That is a good sign for me to bow out. As a hardcore fan, I have seen far too many people in the sports of MMA and boxing let themselves stay in far too long. Legacies get tarnished and the body pays for it as well. Part of me wants to fight forever, but I feel I am making the right decision.
I could complain and go on and on about how tough it is to be a fighter, how time-consuming and self-focused it is, and how nobody understands what it's like, (which may be true) but I chose this path in a free world and what I have received from this trip has been incredibly rewarding, far beyond any pain.
Now, moving forward is never an easy transition for a professional athlete. You put all your eggs in one basket, and even if you have an academic degree to fall back on (which I don't) there is no job security in this economic climate. Regardless of the rough road through the wilderness ahead, I feel have a lot to offer in many different fields. I have not decided exactly what I'm going to do professionally full-time, but I am planning to stay involved with the sport, continuing to work with the UFC (if possible), training students 1-on-1, coaching fighters and giving seminars. While I continue this line of work, I am still making time to pursue my passions in other arts, as a nature photographer/tour-guide, freelance cinematographer, writer and public speaker... Animal rights, human rights and diet/health are still very much in my blood and I will continue to promote them with good conscious into the future.
This has ended up being far more long-winded than I had originally planned, so I'll cut it short now. I just want to end by saying that I truly appreciate the support I have gotten from the fans. I have been lucky enough to leave my mark, compete for millions and inspire many people during my fighting career, and that positive energy has always reflected back and resonated throughout me. Thank you for being a part of this. The continuation starts now. :)
Danzig echoes other, outside concerns that fighters are putting themselves at the greatest risk, not in the cage, but in training. Where continuous, long term wear, tear, and trauma can lead to more permanent injury or disability. It sounds like he's making the decision best for himself and his heath by stepping away from competitive MMA and I can only hope that he finds success in his life outside of fighting.