Fight careers don’t always go the way the warriors forging them want. There are rare exceptions who go out on their own terms as immortal champions.
But in many cases, our heroes can’t resist the allure of the spotlight. They carry on far too long, almost always to their detriment.
Those big nights provide a buzz like no other, and not just for the athlete either. It doesn’t matter what stage of their life a fighter is at – if they’ve got a big match, their fans are guaranteed to buy a ticket. They want one more massive night where they can see their favourite land one final big knockout.
But it doesn’t always work out like that. We’re counting down five of the most disappointing ends to fight careers in combat sports history.
5) Ronda Rousey
The Olympic bronze medalist redefined what it was to be a female martial artist.
Following a championship reign at Strikeforce, the American moved to the sport’s premier promotion and began tearing people apart. Literally.
Her notorious armbar was terrifying. She seemed to be able to catch everybody with it. And if they refused to tap, she would gladly snap their bones in half.
Rousey’s dominance was remarkable. Her devastating style made her a superstar. She was filming movies, appearing on talk shows, and the world of MMA seemed to think that she was invincible. That was until she fought Holly Holm, of course.
Her opponent wasn’t given a prayer. She was going to be another one of the legend’s victims. But the former boxing world champion didn’t read the script. A total of 56,214 fans packed into the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia, expecting to see greatness. And they did – just not from the person they thought.
The ‘Preachers Daughter’ produced one of the biggest upsets of all time as she completely dismantled the champion before finishing her with a brutal head kick.
What happened next?
The Rousey era was over. She completely disappeared. There was radio silence from her camp until she agreed to fight the woman who’d taken over the division, Amanda Nunes.
However, in a shocking turn of events, she refused to do any media, which brought her mentality into question. But many fans hoped that this was just her way of rediscovering herself. They were wrong.
Her Brazilian counterpart, Amanda Nunes, walked straight through her in less than a minute. That was the end of Rousey. She refused to talk about the sport ever again.
4) James Toney
The 2021 Hall of Fame inductee is one of the greatest fighters of all time. His beautiful head movement and ability to use the ropes to his advantage set him apart from every other fighter in his division.
His 92-fight career was nothing short of astounding. He was willing to take on any man on the planet. During his peak, this was an excellent quality. He gave fans an array of terrific contests whilst becoming a three-weight world champion in the process.
But sadly, Father Time catches up with everybody, and Toney didn’t realise that his glory days were over. By 2010, he was way past his best, and instead of considering retirement, he decided to take up another sport.
His only venture into the Octagon ended in disaster. He was choked out at UFC 118 in less than a round by Randy Coutoure. It was then that his career began to spiral into the abyss.
He was no longer an elite-level fighter but an over the hill gatekeeper that prospects desperately wanted to get on their resume. Losses to world level contenders Denis Lebedev and Lucas Browne were forgivable. But a defeat in Prizefighter to journeyman Jason Gavern signalled that ‘Lights Out’ was well and truly past his sell-by date.
In 2017, at 47 years of age, Toney stepped into the ring for the final time. He beat Mike Sheppard in the sixth round and retired following the bout.
To the delight of the fans, he went out on a victory.
3) Chuck Liddell
At the peak of his powers, ‘The Ice Man’ was a complete wrecking machine. There didn’t seem to be a man alive who could cope with his unbelievable punching power. In addition, his ability to take shots was unrivalled. He appeared to be able to walk through anything. But towards the end of his career, this was no longer the case.
In 2007, his inhuman chin began to malfunction. The Californian lost his world title via a devastating knockout at the hands of ‘Rampage’ Jackson, and he never truly recovered.
The judges decided the results of his next two contests, but after that, Liddell became a mear shadow of his former self. He lost via three stunning finishes on back to back occasions. He wasn’t the fighter he used to be. Deep down, the legend knew this, and he decided to retire.
However, in 2018, at 49 years of age, he decided to make a controversial comeback. He agreed to a deal with legendary boxer Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions to fight his biggest rival, Tito Ortiz, for the third time.
There was absolutely no need for the contest. He’d already beaten ‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ twice. But nobody could waver his desire to fight.
When the pair finally met for the trilogy bout, Liddell was there in mind, but not in body. He looked old and stiff as the man he dominated in his prime laid him out with ease.
The end of Liddell’s time as a competitor was saddening for MMA enthusiasts, as he should never have been allowed to compete. The contest highlighted the lack of compassion that promoters often have for the athletes they work with.
2) Muhammad Ali
The Kentucky man is the greatest ever to lace up the gloves, and without him, the sport wouldn’t be in the place it is today.
Over the years fight, fans have enjoyed the careers of Floyd Mayweather and Tyson Fury because they trash-talked. But Ali was the original master of the mic.
His ability to sell a contest was revolutionary at the time. The world wasn’t prepared for his larger-than-life personality. That quality, combined with his freakish athletic ability and desire to stand up for what he believed in, made him into the great that boxing enthusiasts know and love.
However, despite his incredible contests with Joe Frazier and George Foreman, the end of his time as a professional boxer didn’t go according to plan.
In 1980, he was picked apart by Larry Holmes for ten rounds until his corner decided to pull him out. In his next fight, against Trevor Berbick, Ali looked substantially overweight, which showed in the bout.
He started well but ultimately tired, and a man who potentially couldn’t have laid a glove on him in his prime outpointed him with ease. Following the contest, Ali retired. His dazzling skills just weren’t there anymore. But despite the sad ending, the book of Ali is still a fantastic story to read, with each chapter featuring an incredible moment that will forever go down in history.
1) Mike Tyson
‘Iron Mike’ is undoubtedly the most terrifying human being to have ever set foot in a boxing ring. His frightening aura, combined with his freakish punching power, captivated fans around the globe.
At just 20-years-old, the New Yorker became the youngest world heavyweight champion in the sport’s history. It seemed that he was destined for one of the most incredible fight careers of all time. But in 1990, he was wiped out by 40/1 underdog, James ‘Buster’ Douglas, in what is still considered the greatest upset in sporting history.
However, Tyson overcame the adversity, and by 1996 he was the king of the heavyweight division again. But following his second defeat to Evander Holyfield, during which the infamous ‘ear bite‘ occurred, the controversial heavyweight spiralled out of control.
How did his story end?
Tyson fell into the abyss, but following a six-fight winning streak, he was ready to challenge for world honours once more. However, Lennox Lewis was far too good for him. The American simply couldn’t deal with anything that Brit had to offer, and he ended up losing via an eighth-round stoppage.
18 years had passed since Tyson had first made his mark on the sport. He was desperate to claw his way back to the top, and he attempted that against Danny Williams, but he was shockingly stopped inside of just four rounds.
In his final contest, ‘Iron Mike’ took on Kevin McBride in what was expected to be an easy night’s work. But it didn’t turn out that way. Within seven rounds, Tyson was on his back, looking up at the crowd. The referee had no choice but to stop the contest.
The legend started his career by knocking out other people, but, ultimately he finished it with the same thing happening to him.
The endings to these fight careers didn’t end perfectly, but does it matter?
We care about these athletes in fight sports like they’re our own family. We go through the highs and lows with them, and when they get punched, we get punched.
Ricky Hatton always used to apologise to his fans following his defeats. He felt he’d let them down. But he hadn’t done anything of the sort. We adore our favourite athletes no matter what, and even if their careers don’t finish in an ideal way, that love remains.
Ultimately the end can only be disappointing if the ride was so good to start with.
Featured Image Credit: Getty