Some young fighters retiring early

Sunday, March 10, 2013

MMA Fighting’s Mike Chiapetta takes a hard look at our hard sport, that is finding a number of fighters retiring in their 20s.

Tom DeBlass, was 30 when he decided he’d had enough, after less than three years of competing as a pro.

“It’s too much time away from the family,” said DeBass. “It’s too much time away from my academy. I had to pick up and leave everything that was important to me. I had to spend money to travel. In looking at the pros and cons, I didn’t feel it was worth it anymore.”

Of all the retirements in 2012, none was more surprising than that of reigning Bellator heavyweight champion Cole Konrad, 28. He had just gotten married and hoped to start a family, and Bellator’s heavyweight division wasn’t deep enough to rapidly generate contenders for him to fight. From the start of 2011 until the date of his retirement in September 2012, he competed only twice.

“When I was weighing the opportunity I was given (as an agricultural commodities trader) vs. fighting, I had to face the reality that fighting is a pretty dead-end job,” Konrad 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?”

30-year-old Kyle Kingsbury came on the major MMA scene in 2008 as part of TUF season 8. Almost five years later, Kingsbury is still on his original UFC contract. In his last fight, he made $12,000. To ease the financial burden, he’s had to work full-time jobs during each of his last two camps.

To make matter worse, in his last fight against Jimi Manuwa, his orbital bone was fractured in two places.

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,” Kingsbury 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.”

As Nick Denis, 29, looked deeper into studies on concussive and sub-concussive trauma, he began to truly understand the potential dangers he was facing. In his mind, as long as he continued to fight, he was trading his own long-term health for a paycheck and some temporary glory.

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.

Family was among the reasons most cited by those who walked away from the sport young. For others, it was the unrelenting pace of training multiple disciplines day after day, even through injuries. For yet more, it was fear about future unknowns, whether regarding health or finances or self-identity.

At some point, for all of them, what fighting brought to the table was no longer enough. And even at a young age, they walked away from something they once loved.

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