5 UFC fighters who hung up their gloves before reaching their prime

Zabit Magomedsharipov recently stunned fans by seemingly retiring from MMA
Zabit Magomedsharipov recently stunned fans by seemingly retiring from MMA

MMA is undoubtedly one of the toughest sports in the world. Often, we see fighters – particularly in the UFC – stick around for far too long despite taking a career’s worth of damage. However, there have been some notable exceptions.

Over the years, we’ve seen a number of UFC fighters hang up their gloves seemingly too early, often before they’ve even reached their prime in the octagon.

While fans were gutted to see the likes of Khabib Nurmagomedov and Georges St-Pierre step away from the octagon, they at least got to achieve greatness. Other fighters, on the other hand, stepped away before they could even reach the top.

With that in mind, here are five UFC fighters who hung up their gloves before they’d reached their prime.

#5. Henry Cejudo – former UFC bantamweight champion

Henry Cejudo stepped away from the octagon before he could really achieve his full potential
Henry Cejudo stepped away from the octagon before he could really achieve his full potential

Okay, so it’s probably fair to say that Henry Cejudo did reach the top of the UFC before he suddenly announced his retirement in the summer of 2020. After all, ‘Triple C’ captured both the flyweight and bantamweight titles during his time with the promotion, and is considered an all-time great in some circles.

However, it’s also hard to shake off the idea that Cejudo retired before he’d even scratched the surface of what he could’ve achieved had he stuck around for a little longer. Even if that time period only lasted two or three years.

An Olympic gold medallist in freestyle wrestling who also boasted an excellent striking game, knockout power and granite chin, ‘Triple C’ had everything required to become a dominant champion for years. It’s safe to say he’d have been favored over contenders like Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling.

Had ‘Triple C’ stuck around to defend his bantamweight crown on even a handful of occasions, his spot as an all-time legend would’ve been absolutely inarguable. As it is, there’s still a very fair debate over where he belongs in the overall pantheon.

Cejudo may still return and cement himself as a legend; he supposedly intends to, even if a fight hasn’t been announced yet. However, there’s definitely a fair argument to suggest he hadn’t even reached his peak when he walked away in 2020, and he may struggle to recapture that kind of form again.

Therefore, there are more ‘what if?’ questions around him than the likes of Georges St-Pierre and Khabib Nurmagomedov, making him a prime example of a fighter who belongs on this list.

#4. Phillip Miller – former UFC middleweight contender

Phillip Miller's retirement from MMA took everyone by surprise
Phillip Miller's retirement from MMA took everyone by surprise

Very few modern-day UFC fans will have heard of Phillip Miller. Regardless, the former middleweight contender is the very definition of a fighter who walked away from MMA before he came close to maximizing his potential.

He was a tough and well-rounded fighter with excellent grappling and striking skills which, of course, was still a rarity in the era that he fought. Miller made his way into the octagon in the summer of 2002 after putting together an impressive 13-0 record on the regional circuit.

Interestingly, Miller’s second career win came over Jake Shields, who, of course, went on to hold the welterweight and middleweight titles in StrikeForce and fought Georges St-Pierre for the UFC welterweight crown in 2011.

Making good on his octagon debut, Miller outpointed the tough James Zikic in a light heavyweight bout. He then dropped back to 185lbs for his second trip to the big show, where he impressed in a rear-naked choke win over Mark Weir.

The fact that his win over Weir came on the promotion’s biggest show to that point – UFC 40, which was headlined by Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock – showed that Dana White and company had plenty of faith in the young star.

However, after defeating Moacir Oliveira in his return to the regional circuit in 2003, Miller abruptly hung up his gloves. Quite why he made this decision remains a mystery to this day. The only thing that’s known about what became of him is that he went on to become a police officer.

Quite how far Miller could’ve gone in the octagon is a fair question. Given the middleweight division wasn’t in the best shape at the time, it isn’t a stretch to say that he could’ve competed with the likes of Evan Tanner and Phil Baroni at the top of the weight class.

#3. David Terrell – former UFC middleweight contender

Were it not for injuries, David Terrell could've become an all-time great
Were it not for injuries, David Terrell could've become an all-time great

One fighter who definitely didn’t come close to maximizing his potential before he walked away from MMA was David Terrell, who famously fought unsuccessfully for the UFC middleweight title in 2005.

Few fighters made the impact that ‘The Soul Assassin’ did in his octagon debut. Widely renowned as one of the best grapplers on the planet, Terrell burst into the upper echelon of the 185lbs division by knocking out Matt Lindland, who was, at the time, considered the best fighter in the weight class.

The knockout took just 24 seconds, and made an instant star of Terrell, who had already put together a 4-1 record on the regional circuit. Suddenly, ‘The Soul Assassin’ was thrust into a shot at the vacant middleweight title against the more experienced Evan Tanner.

Although he came close to finishing Tanner with a guillotine choke, Terrell then succumbed to a TKO late in the first round. However, that shouldn’t have been the end of his story. Terrell was just 27-years-old at the time, and should’ve been able to bounce back from the loss to contend for the title again.

However, injuries began to mount up for him, forcing him out of multiple fights in the octagon. After winning just one more fight, he quietly hung up his gloves a few years later.

Quite what he could’ve achieved had he stayed healthy and not retired remains anyone’s guess. It’s definitely fair to say that he had the potential to be a champion. He remains one of the sport’s saddest stories, a classic example of missed potential.

#2. Jimmy Flick – former UFC flyweight contender

After an impressive octagon debut, Jimmy Flick abruptly retired
After an impressive octagon debut, Jimmy Flick abruptly retired

Dana White’s Contender Series has produced a number of excellent UFC fighters over the past few years, from a title challenger in Alex Perez to fan favorites like Ricky Simon and Geoff Neal. In 2020, it seemed like the series had unearthed another gem in the form of Jimmy Flick.

A hot prospect in the flyweight division with a seemingly deadly submission game, Flick held a record of 14-5 when he tapped out Nate Smith in his appearance on the Contender Series, earning himself a contract with the world’s biggest promotion in the process.

Just three months later, ‘The Brick’ made his official octagon debut, and it didn’t take him too long to make an impact. Flick needed just over three minutes to submit Cody Durden with a flying triangle choke – earning himself a $50k performance bonus in the process.

However, despite appearing to be destined for stardom, four months later, Flick announced his retirement – withdrawing from a fight with Francisco Figueiredo in the process.

According to ‘The Brick’, fighting in the UFC simply wasn’t his dream at that point, and he preferred to look towards a future spent with his family.

Nobody could really fault his decision, but it’s still fair to question what he could’ve achieved had he stuck around, particularly in a relatively thin division like flyweight. Based on the glimpses he showed, he could’ve been a contender.

#1. Zabit Magomedsharipov – former UFC featherweight contender

Zabit Magomedsharipov looked like a surefire future title contender
Zabit Magomedsharipov looked like a surefire future title contender

If you rewind back to the end of 2019, there were few hotter prospects competing in the UFC than featherweight contender Zabit Magomedsharipov.

The latest great fighter to emerge from Russia’s Republic of Dagestan, ‘Za-Beast’ debuted in the octagon in September 2017. He immediately reeled off a series of impressive wins, culminating in a victory over Calvin Kattar in his first ever headline bout.

Magomedsharipov looked like a fighter with no weaknesses. He possessed fantastic wrestling skills, a wild, unorthodox and dangerous striking attack, as well as some highly venomous submissions. Essentially, he looked like a future champion.

However, before he could return in 2020, health issues reared their head. According to reports, an issue with his immune system meant that he couldn’t fight for a lengthy period of time, resulting in him dropping from the UFC’s rankings.

Incredibly, though, despite reports suggesting he was ready to return in 2022, it was announced last week that he would not be returning at all. Instead, after apparently grappling with the idea of balancing a fighting career with his religious beliefs, he’d decided to hang up his gloves to become a medical professional.

From a fight fan’s perspective, to call this disappointing would be an understatement. Most observers felt that the Dagestani would be a definite title challenger – if not a champion – in the future. Now, the only questions around him will be on what he might’ve achieved had he reached his prime in the octagon.

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Edited by John Cunningham