This weekend marks the beginning of another year for the UFC. And undoubtedly, there’ll be plenty of ups and downs for the promotion and for its fighters throughout 2021. While plenty of young UFC fighters have broken through recently, the UFC is also home to many aging veterans. So could some of them retire in 2021?
One notable fighter – inaugural Ultimate Fighter winner Diego Sanchez – has already stated his intention to step away from the UFC after his next fight. But The Nightmare is unlikely to be the only UFC star to retire in 2021.
2020 saw some notable retirements, as reigning UFC champions Khabib Nurmagomedov and Henry Cejudo stepped away, so will 2021 see any retirements quite as seismic as those two? Here are five UFC stars who could hang up their gloves in 2021.
#1 Joseph Benavidez (last fight: lost to Deiveson Figueiredo at UFC Fight Island 2)
When lists are made of the best fighters never to hold a UFC title, one name that tends to crop up is Joseph Benavidez. The Californian has been fighting in the UFC since 2011, and his UFC record of 15-5 is absolutely outstanding.
However, Joe-B-Wan has also been involved in four UFC Flyweight title fights, and he’s come up short on each occasion. Of course, it’s fair to say that simply losing in UFC title fights is no reason to retire. It’s not like winning UFC gold is easy, after all.
But 2020 was undoubtedly the worst year of Benavidez’s UFC career to date. Not only did he lose twice to current UFC Flyweight champ Deiveson Figueiredo, but he was thoroughly outclassed and finished in both of those fights.
That means that there’s basically no path back to the title for Joe-B-Wan, and if that’s the case, is there any point in him continuing? Benavidez is 36 years old now, likely past his athletic prime, and he’s been fighting professionally since 2006.
Given that most fighters tend to start slowing down after a decade in the game – which was five years ago for Benavidez – there’s every chance that the Figueiredo losses could be a hint of things to come. So with that in mind, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see this Flyweight legend step away in 2021.
#2 Alistair Overeem (last fight: beat Augusto Sakai at UFC Vegas 9)
Heavyweight veteran Alistair Overeem had an understatedly excellent 2020. After ending 2019 with a knockout loss at the hands of Jairzinho Rozenstruik, the Dutchman bounced back last year, defeating Walt Harris and Augusto Sakai to take his UFC record to 12-7.
The Reem already has his first UFC fight of 2021 booked, too – he’s set to face Alexander Volkov in February. So why would he consider retiring this year? Well, there are several valid reasons.
Firstly, Overeem will turn 41 this May, and the list of UFC fighters who had success after turning 40 is pretty short, to say the least. But age isn’t the only reason here. The Reem has also been fighting for an insane 20 years, and he’s taken a huge amount of damage too. In fact, he’s been knocked out on 14 occasions.
Overeem has constantly stated his intent to make one more run at winning the UFC Heavyweight title – practically the only title he hasn’t won in his storied career. But even if he beats Volkov, will he be in line for a title shot?
It’s honestly doubtful. Outside of the semi-controversial Rozenstruik loss, Overeem’s last three defeats came to Curtis Blaydes, Francis Ngannou, and current UFC champ Stipe Miocic. All three men remain at the top of the UFC Heavyweight division – and all would still be heavily favored to beat Overeem, meaning the UFC would be unlikely to book a rematch.
With that in mind, the Dutchman may well take another UFC fight regardless of what happens against Volkov. However, don’t be surprised if that next fight is also his final one.
#3 Carlos Condit (last fight: beat Court McGee at UFC Fight Island 4)
Technically speaking, UFC Welterweight veteran Carlos Condit has already retired from MMA once. He hung up the gloves back in August 2016 after falling to Demian Maia, a loss that represented his third in four fights.
The Natural Born Killer decided to return at the end of 2017, but since then, he’s been unable to recapture the magic that led him to the interim UFC Welterweight title in 2012. Losses to Neil Magny, Alex Oliveira and Michael Chiesa left him on a five-fight skid, but Condit did right the ship in 2020 with a win over Court McGee.
This weekend sees Condit face a fellow aging veteran in Matt Brown in a fight that, stylistically at least, favors The Natural Born Killer. However, even if Condit were to win that fight, what more does he have to prove by continuing?
The answer is nothing. Condit belongs to a previous generation of UFC Welterweights and the likes of Georges St. Pierre, Martin Kampmann, Dan Hardy and Johny Hendricks. And what links those fighters together? They’ve all retired, of course.
Unless Condit is hurting for money, then – which may admittedly be the case – the likelihood is that one more loss would probably send him back into retirement. And that means that even if he overcomes Brown, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him hang the gloves back up before 2021 ends.
#4 Diego Sanchez (last fight: lost to Jake Matthews at UFC 253)
Given Diego Sanchez has already stated his intentions to retire after “one more fight,” it should come as no surprise to find him on this list. The Nightmare has spoken about retirement before but has always u-turned shortly after, claiming to have found a new lease of life in his training or still believing it’s his destiny to win UFC gold, and so on.
However, at the age of 39, it seems like the end is finally here for Sanchez. And to be frank, it’s a good thing that he seems to have accepted it now. One of the UFC’s great survivors, The Nightmare, is the last remaining member of the TUF 1 cast to still be part of the UFC’s roster. However, many fans were writing him off as washed up back in 2013.
That’s now seven years ago, and while Sanchez has actually won six of his 13 UFC fights since the start of 2014, it’s hard to deny that he hasn’t looked at his best for a long time now.
2020 was undoubtedly a low point for him. He was smacked around by Michel Pereira before winning via a controversial disqualification, and then was comfortably beaten by Jake Matthews. It’s undoubtedly the right time for him to go.
So who should the UFC match him with? Personally, I’d like to see him face Demian Maia, as the Brazilian is also past his prime, isn’t likely to concuss Diego with punches, and the grappling exchanges would probably be fun. Either way, 2021 will almost certainly be his final year on the UFC roster.
#5 Junior Dos Santos (last fight: lost to Ciryl Gane at UFC 256)
A former UFC Heavyweight champion, Junior Dos Santos is widely considered one of the best big men to ever compete in the UFC. However, could 2021 be the final year that we see Cigano set foot inside the Octagon? There’s a definite possibility.
The Brazilian turns 37 years old at the end of this month, and after his one-sided loss to Ciryl Gane in December, he’s on a four-fight losing streak.
Admittedly, there’s no shame in losing to Gane, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Curtis Blaydes, and Francis Ngannou. The latter three are amongst the UFC’s best Heavyweights right now, while Gane is probably the division’s best prospect.
However, JDS has been knocked out in all four of those fights, and he’s gone down to strikes on seven occasions during his 14-year career. That’s a worrying number of likely concussions for any fighter to take, let alone a Heavyweight.
So while Dos Santos did protest the loss to Gane pretty heavily, the likelihood is that he knows himself that his time is almost up. One more bad loss, and UFC President Dana White is likely to get onto his case about retirement anyway – making 2021 very likely to be the year that he does indeed hang up his gloves.Published 12 Jan 2021, 19:26 IST