Arguably the trickiest thing about being a UFC fighter is knowing when enough is enough. Very few fighters hang up their gloves at the right time, and plenty are sucked back in after doing so.
For every Khabib Nurmagomedov, who stepped away from the UFC at the peak of his powers, there are multiple other fighters who simply hung on for too long.
And to tell the truth, doing so is no fun for anyone. The fighter simply takes more damage – potentially harming them in later life – while the fans usually sit cringed, hoping that an old favorite won’t get hurt in the octagon.
So with this in mind, here are five retired UFC fighters who waited too long to hang up their gloves.
#5 Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza – former UFC middleweight contender
UFC fans largely breathed a sigh of relief this week when it was announced that longtime UFC middleweight contender Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza had retired from MMA after eight years with the promotion.
Jacare – who turned 41 last December – never held UFC gold, and despite his best efforts he never fought for a UFC title either. But he was still one of the best middleweights of his era, holding big victories over the likes of Yushin Okami, Vitor Belfort and Chris Weidman.
However, over his last few active years, the Brazilian grappler clearly wasn’t the same fighter he once was. His win over Weidman came in November 2019, but when he fought Jack Hermansson six months later, he appeared to have aged overnight.
Jacare lost that fight via unanimous decision, knocking him out of title contention, and a subsequent move to 205lbs didn’t re-energise him as he was beaten by future UFC light heavyweight champ Jan Blachowicz.
The Brazilian should perhaps have considered stepping away after that loss, but he returned just days after his 41st birthday for a seemingly winnable fight with Kevin Holland. Just two minutes into the fight, though, Jacare was knocked out in violent fashion by ‘The Trailblazer’.
That should’ve been that. But Jacare further harmed his legacy at UFC 262 this May by having his arm snapped by prospect Andre Muniza - a truly humiliating loss considering his stellar grappling background.
It might’ve only been for two fights, but it’s safe to say that Jacare probably hung onto his UFC career a little too long in the end.
#4 Mark Coleman – former UFC heavyweight champion
The first-ever UFC heavyweight champion, Mark Coleman was once the most feared man in the world of MMA. A world-class amateur wrestler, ‘The Hammer’ was the first fighter to truly dominate – and destroy – opponents with his takedowns and ground strikes, earning his alternate nickname – ‘The Godfather of Ground-and-Pound’.
When Coleman left the UFC for PRIDE in the late 1990’s, it seemed unlikely that he’d ever return to the UFC. After all, in those days the big money was in Japan, and Coleman became a huge success there, winning PRIDE’s first Grand Prix tournament in 2000.
By 2006, though, Coleman was 42 years old and was clearly miles past his prime. And after he suffered a beating at the hands of Fedor Emelianenko, it was clear that it was time for him to hang up the gloves.
That’s why it was a huge surprise when Coleman returned to the UFC in 2009 to face off with a former PRIDE foe – Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua – in a rematch.
The 44-year old Coleman lost the fight when Rua violently knocked him out in the third round, and if the signs that ‘The Hammer’ desperately needed to retire were hinted at before, they were now firmly at the forefront.
But incredibly, Coleman would fight another two times in the octagon, somehow defeating Stephan Bonnar in a sloppy outing at UFC 100 before falling to Randy Couture via submission at UFC 109.
Even then, Coleman didn’t technically announce his retirement until 2013, some three years after his final fight. Considering most fans figured he was finished at the end of his PRIDE tenure, it’s safe to say that this legend hung on for far too long.
#3 Rashad Evans – former UFC light heavyweight champion
It didn’t take Rashad Evans all that long to ascend to the top of the UFC light heavyweight division. The TUF 2 winner was just 12-0-1 when he faced Forrest Griffin for the UFC light heavyweight title in 2008, and three rounds later, he’d become one of the UFC’s rare undefeated champions.
And while ‘Suga’ didn’t hold onto the title all that long – dropping it to Lyoto Machida five months later – he remained one of the UFC’s biggest superstars for a long period of time afterwards.
However, if his rise to the top was quick, his fall down the ranks was much lengthier and much more painful to watch. To say Evans hung on for too long would be a severe understatement.
The first signs that ‘Suga’ was past his prime came in his 2015 loss to Ryan Bader. He hadn’t fought for almost two years prior to that fight due to a severe knee injury and looked much slower than he did in his prime in a disappointing unanimous decision loss.
But it was his next fight – a brutal KO loss to Glover Teixeira – that started the alarm bells ringing. Evans was 36 years old at the time, and really ought to have stepped away from the sport following the loss.
Unfortunately, ‘Suga’ stuck around, suffering horrendously disappointing losses to Dan Kelly and Sam Alvey – fighters he’d have destroyed easily in his prime.
A final loss to Anthony Smith in 2018 finally signalled the end for Evans, but it meant he finished his UFC career on a diabolical five-fight skid, effectively harming his legacy somewhat. Here's hoping his plans for a return don't come to pass, too.
#2 Antonio Rogerio Nogueira – former UFC light heavyweight contender
Two of PRIDE’s most feared fighters in their primes, the Nogueira twins – Antonio Rodrigo and Antonio Rogerio – entered into the UFC some years later and were probably slightly past their best when they did so. Still, both men saw some success, with Rodrigo winning the interim UFC heavyweight title in 2008.
But while he stepped into retirement in 2015 after taking a career’s worth of damage, Rogerio – fondly known as ‘Lil Nog’ – stuck around for a lot longer, five years to be exact. It was almost definitely the wrong call to make.
At the same UFC event that saw Rodrigo Nogueira retire, ‘Lil Nog’ was beaten by old rival Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua. It would’ve been the perfect fight for him to hang his gloves up after, but he chose to continue and actually pulled off a stirring win over Patrick Cummins a year later.
Again, the win would’ve been an excellent note to retire on. But ‘Lil Nog’ hung on for four more fights, losing three of them and coming off on the wrong end of brutal knockouts in two of those losses.
And when he finally stepped into the octagon for his final fight – a third bout with Rua – in 2020, he looked far older than his real age of 44 and couldn’t come close to replicating the skills he once showed in his youth.
Quite what possessed this Brazilian legend to continue to fight for so long is unknown, but it’s definitely arguable that it was a big mistake for him.
#1 BJ Penn – former UFC lightweight champion
It seems bizarre now, but when BJ Penn first announced his retirement in 2011 after he was defeated by Nick Diaz, it seemed too early for the Hawaiian to hang up his gloves.
Sure, Diaz had thoroughly beaten him up, but in the two fights prior to that, ‘The Prodigy’ had knocked out Matt Hughes and had even come close to defeating the UFC’s top welterweight contender Jon Fitch, coming away with a draw instead.
But nobody wanted to question Penn’s judgment, particularly when he stated his reason for retiring was that he didn’t want his daughter to see him looking black and blue.
However, ‘The Prodigy’ couldn’t stay away from the octagon for too long. 2012 and 2014 both saw him make comebacks – only to lose to Rory MacDonald and Frankie Edgar. Losses to both were nothing to be ashamed of, but a third comeback in 2017 saw Penn stick around for much longer.
What followed was one of the most disappointing runs in UFC history. ‘The Prodigy’, once considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet, lost to Yair Rodriguez, Dennis Siver, Ryan Hall and Clay Guida – three fighters he’d have eaten alive in his prime.
And what was worse was that Penn showed no flashes of his old self in any of the fights, acting as a punching bag for Rodriguez and Siver and even being submitted for the first time in his lengthy career by Hall.
Penn would essentially be forced into retirement by the UFC in 2019 as he was released from the promotion following a string of questionable behaviour outside the octagon, and thankfully he hasn’t fought since.
However, his sad and painful downfall still stands as a stark reminder of what can happen when a once-great UFC champion simply holds on for far too long.