What happens when you pay a fighter to retire? What happens when you stop?

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Buried in a 58-page pitch to potential investors was a plan for the UFC’s future that former fighters like Chuck Liddell might have been very interested to read. That plan included ways to increase profits through various “cost-saving opportunities,” such as tightening up certain “compensation practices.”

One such practice? The use of “long-lived consultants.”

That was in the summer of 2016, right around the time the UFC was sold to WME-IMG following weeks of denials, both to the public and internally to employees, about rumors of a sale.

Former UFC light-heavyweight champion Liddell had been retired for roughly six years by that point, all of which he’d spent on the UFC payroll. That seemed to be a big part of the reason he retired when he did. Following Liddell’s third straight knockout loss, UFC President Dana White urged his longtime friend to hang up the gloves, and he succeeded with help from the promise of a perpetual paycheck for a do-nothing gig as a UFC “executive.”

It was the first time the UFC had paid one of its stars to perform the service of not fighting, but it wouldn’t be the last. Former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes would also wind up retiring to take a similar gig (“one of those Chuck Liddell jobs,” he said once years earlier, while discussing the prospect of retirement and rubbing his hands together at the thought) in 2013.

Former “TUF” winner and light-heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin also got a similar role, as did former interim heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.

For the moment, at least, Griffin and Nogueira still have their jobs; Liddell and Hughes don’t. Perhaps not coincidentally, Griffin and Nogueira are both known for actually doing stuff relating to their jobs, while both Liddell and Hughes seemed intent on driving home the point that they were collecting checks for what they had done, and not what they were doing.

Still, for a time this system worked. It offered a solution to a problem. Pro fighters are notorious for not knowing when to quit. While promoters can refuse to give them any more fights, they can’t stop a competitor from stepping up with an offer to fill the void. If you care enough about an aging fighter’s health or legacy – or you just want to keep him out of the hands of another promoter – paying him to do nothing is an effective strategy.

Trouble is, it’s also expensive. The old Zuffa might have been willing to eat that cost, but the new regime was less enthusiastic. So what’s a guy like Liddell supposed to do now?

He seems to be asking himself the same question. On a recent episode of “The MMA Hour,” Liddell admitted he’d been caught by surprise when the UFC job that was supposed to be his for life suddenly evaporated.

“Life changes,” Liddell said. “And I think at first I took it a little hard, but now I look at it as a blessing in disguise. It’s got me re-motivated to go out and find what I really want to do.”

That’s where it gets tricky. The whole reason the UFC was paying Liddell was because it worried that what he might really want to do is fight some more.

Now Liddell is 47. His last win was nearly 10 years ago, but that’s not a significant barrier to entry in today’s MMA landscape. Over in Bellator, the home of MMA’s senior tour, company president Scott Coker says Liddell would need “a battery of tests” before he could fight. Then again, when you’ve already promoted a fight between Dada 5000 and Kimbo Slice, you might have to forgive people for assuming that your medical standards aren’t that high.

If Liddell did come out of retirement for Bellator, there’s Chael Sonnen, beckoning him to join in a prolonged debate to be followed by a show of geriatric athletics for the enrichment of all parties involved. There, too, is old friend Tito Ortiz, who Liddell probably still punches in his sleep on particularly restful nights.

And you could see why Liddell would be tempted to join them, couldn’t you? Especially if he feels like the UFC paid for what was left of his prime and then dumped him once it needed to cut costs.

You have to wonder how the UFC president would feel then, watching his old buddy back in the cage, but this time under another banner. It’s exactly the scenario White was trying to prevent, but in the end he might only succeed in delaying it.

Plus, no matter what you think of the practice of paying fighters to quit, the experiment seems to have a limited future. Who would trade whatever’s left of their career for a cushy UFC gig now, especially since there seems to be no better than a 50-50 chance of holding onto the job?

That leaves us right back where we started, with a stubborn problem that combat sports can’t quite solve. Old fighters, when confronted with the question of what they really want to do next, so often decide that it’s the thing they did last. If you’re looking for a different answer, it’s probably going to cost you.

For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Filed under: Bellator, Featured, News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie

Today in MMA History: Anderson Silva, and the worst night of Forrest Griffin's career

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Filed under: Featured, News, UFC, Videos

By the time Aug. 8, 2009, rolled around, fans already knew Anderson Silva was a great fighter.

How could they not? He’d taken the UFC middleweight title from Rich Franklin some three years earlier, then won seven more fights after that, breaking the previous UFC record for most consecutive victories with a graceful destructiveness.

Still, “The Spider” was at a crossroads. He’d cleaned out his division so thoroughly that he’d begun to look bored with his own dominance. A title defense against Patrick Cote in Chicago the year before ended with a TKO due to Cote’s knee injury, but not before Silva confused fans with his refusal to attack. A decision victory over Thales Leites the following April was similarly uninspiring, and suddenly a crisis seemed to be forming.

Why did the world’s best fighter insist on winning without fighting? What could be done to shake him out of an almost aggressive complacency?

With UFC 101, the company’s first event in Philadelphia, planned for late summer 2009, the UFC turned to a familiar solution. What if Silva once again went up in weight, as he had done against James Irvin in a counter-programming effort meant to sink the first Affliction pay-per-view a year earlier? And what if this time he faced a popular former light heavyweight champion?

Enter Forrest Griffin, the overachieving 205-pounder who had gone from total obscurity to reality TV show fame to a brief stint as a titleholder all in the span of a few years. Griffin had taken the UFC light heavyweight title from Quinton Jackson with a narrow decision victory in July 2008, only to turn around and lose the belt to Rashad Evans via TKO in his first title defense later that year.

Griffin, too, was at a crossroads. His “TUF” victory had made him an instant celebrity, and his title win had validated his quick rise. His reign as champion was short even for the tumultuous light heavyweight division, but he was too big a name to go back to fighting the also-rans of the weight class while building himself back up.

Anderson Silva and Forrest Griffin

Initially, Griffin was connected to a fight with Thiago Silva, who’d recently suffered the first loss of his career at the hands of the rising Lyoto Machida. When the UFC asked him to fight a far superior Silva instead, Griffin once joked that it was the result of “a clerical error.”

It made sense for the UFC. Fans weren’t exactly howling for the chance to see another Silva staring contest with the belt on the line. The Philly fans had a reputation for being ruthless to the extent that Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission executive director Greg Sirb publicly warned fighters at the pre-fight press conference that the crowd would reward them with boos if they brought anything other than their “A-game.”

That comment may not have been specifically aimed at Silva, but it couldn’t have been far from people’s minds.

This was the first time since coming to the UFC that Silva had been anything other than the headliner (Silva-Griffin was the night’s co-main event, leading into the lightweight title clash between champion B.J. Penn and challenger Kenny Florian). Griffin was known for being a workhorse who often beat athletically superior fighters by pushing the pace and wading through the necessary punishment. He seemed big enough to test Silva’s power, and stubborn enough to come forward even when it was bad idea.

But Griffin knew why the UFC had selected him. At a book signing event two months before the fight, Griffin recounted the phone call he’d had with UFC President Dana White when the possibility was proposed to him. The offer was “not really a question” so much as a demand, according to Griffin, but he cautioned White that he wouldn’t go recklessly chasing Silva, no matter what kind of excitement the UFC might be hoping for with the pairing.

Anderson Silva and Forrest Griffin

“I said, ‘You know I’m not going to just rush in there. I saw what happened to Chris Leben when he did that. I’m going to fight a smart fight.’”

Regardless, Griffin joked, he knew the UFC wanted “a big, slow guy to follow Anderson around and make him look real good,” and he fit the bill.

“But seriously, for a hundred Gs, what are you going to do, say no?” Griffin said. “Of course I’ll fight the fight. It’s 15 minutes, man. I’ll do all right, don’t worry about it.”

Griffin entered the cage that night the same way he would leave it minutes later, jogging down the aisle as if he couldn’t wait to get started. Silva followed in a slow stroll, chin up and head cocked back, as if daring you to try to rush him.

As Bruce Buffer introduced him, the Philadelphia fans peppered Silva with boos, causing him to mock frown as he cast his eyes from one side of the crowd to the other. He seemed to want us to know that he didn’t care what we thought, and yet at the same time he looked at least a little bit surprised at the reaction. Didn’t these people used to love him?

Not that it was going to force him to fight any differently. For the first minute of the fight, Silva did what he’d always done. He circled around the cage. He feinted with his hands, with his shoulders, with his feet. He watched Griffin, like some killer robot gathering data and assessing vulnerabilities. When Griffin threw a distant two-punch combo and then finished with a head kick, Silva calmly moved his head out of the way with a complete lack of concern.

It was roughly a minute into the fight before Silva threw his first strike, catching a Griffin leg kick with his left hand and firing off a punch with his right, much like he’d done to quickly dispatch Irvin in his last trip to 205 pounds.

Griffin, for the time being, stayed calm. He tried a Superman punch. He pumped his jab. He resisted the urge to go chasing after Silva, which, as he explained in a later interview, would have played directly into the counter-striker’s hands.

“What’s he’s doing there is he’s getting you to open up, to stop, to get a little frustrated, to load up, so he can counter you,” Griffin said. “He wants you to throw him that big, slow, hard punch. And that’s what he’s doing. He’s appearing to be open — he’s feinting. He’s not going out trying to lead the fight. He’s trying to get you to (lead). He’s trying to suck you in.”

Anderson Silva and Forrest Griffin

By the second minute of the fight, Griffin had begun to slowly ratchet up his aggression, but by then Silva was ready for more. For the first time in the fight he bulled his way forward with a multi-punch combination that mostly missed, but succeeded in getting Griffin to lash out with a left hook to check his progress. Silva evaded the punch, then came back with a right hook that dropped Griffin.

When Griffin got up, it was as if someone had hit the reset button on his offense, reverting him back to the kind of fighter he’d sworn he wasn’t going to be. As Silva threw more, so did Griffin. Silva gestured for him to come on, and Griffin did. Silva feinted with his hands at his waist, and Griffin unfurled a three-punch combination, hitting nothing but air. Silva came back with a left hand that sat him down again.

“I tried to punch him, and he literally moved his head out of the way and looked at me like I was stupid for doing it,” Griffin said in a radio interview a year later. “He looked at me like, ‘Why would you do such a stupid thing?’ … And then he punched me. … I felt like a kid trying to wrestle his dad.”

With Griffin on his back, Silva stood over him, peppering him with punches as the crowd howled.

“I think he really is trying to send a message here, Mike,” UFC commentator Joe Rogan said to his broadcast partner Mike Goldberg.

Silva stepped back with his hands on his hips, then offered to help Griffin up as he got to his feet. The gesture seemed vaguely mocking, but what could Griffin do? He grasped Silva’s hand, then went back to work firing punches. Strategy seemed to have gone out the window.

Griffin missed a left hook, then connected on a jab that earned him a disdainful look from Silva. Silva didn’t even bother to bring his hands up. Griffin lunged forward with a two-punch combination that Silva avoided almost with a casual shrug before responding with a short right hand in retreat. Griffin ran face-first into the punch and then collapsed onto the Bud Light logo, legs splayed out, hands waving at the air in front of him in a sort of international gesture requesting mercy.

Forrest Griffin

He got that mercy from referee Kevin Mulhall, who moved in to stop the bout at the 3:23 mark of the first round. Silva celebrated with a jog around the cage as a dazed Griffin rolled to his feet and headed for the cage door with the referee and doctor trailing him. As Griffin’s team tried to stop him from leaving the cage, Silva climbed atop it and then jumped back down.

“‘The Spider is back!” Goldberg shouted on the broadcast.

When the camera flashed back to Griffin, he was out of the cage and on the arena floor, jogging back to the dressing room the same way he’d come. He wouldn’t stop until he was out of sight.

That exit would prompt even more Internet mockery than the result of the fight itself. Within days the memes flooded in. Griffin would later refer to it as the worst night of his career, made slightly worse by the fact that he later tested positive for the anti-anxiety drug Xanax, which required him to pay a fine and underdog a 30-day suspension after the fight.

Griffin would fight again that November, defeating Tito Ortiz via decision in a close fight. Afterwards, he apologized to Silva when he encountered him backstage.

Anderson Silva

“I’m sorry I ran out on you, it was no disrespect,” Griffin said. “I just wanted it to be a great fight and I was really disappointed when it wasn’t.”

Silva appeared to accept the apology, and why not? He’d won the fight and enjoyed his moment, maybe even more so without Griffin there. The GIFs of the finish that fans passed around on message boards after the fight made Silva out to be more Jedi than fighter, exhibiting the calm of a man who knew the future, or at least the next few seconds of it.

Plus, now the fans were off his back. He’d given them a show as well as a finish. These people loved him again – at least until the next one.

As for Griffin, he’d spend at least the next year answering nearly constant questions about the fight. How did it feel to lose that badly? What could he have done differently? Why did he run? He used humor to deflect the questions. He recounted telling one interviewer that he was merely in a hurry to get backstage because the interviewer’s mother was waiting for him there. He insisted that he never went back and watched the fight. He didn’t need to.

The thing he should have done instead, he would say in several subsequent interviews, was refuse to take the fight in the first place. This was Anderson Silva, after all. What was he thinking?

For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

“Today in MMA History” is an MMAjunkie series created in association with MMA History Today, the social media outlet dedicated to reliving “a daily journey through our sport’s history.”

Filed under: Featured, News, UFC, Videos
Source: MMA Junkie