Fedor Emelianenko and 4 other MMA legends who retired too late

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Fedor Emelianenko (left), Donald Cerrone (top right) and Maurício Rua (bottom right)

Fedor Emelianenko is arguably the greatest heavyweight in MMA history, although UFC President Dana White disagrees. The Russian MMA legend is best known for the time he spent in Japan. There, he carved the foundation of his legend by capturing the PRIDE heavyweight crown, which he would never relinquish.

Despite his storied career, the former sambo world champion never signed with the UFC. Efforts were made to pair him with then-heavyweight titleholder Brock Lesnar, but the bout never materialized. Instead, the 46-year-old plied his trade elsewhere in Strikeforce.

Years later, he rejoined Scott Coker under the Bellator banner. Last weekend, the Russian MMA legend officially retired from the sport for a second time after a brutal TKO loss to Ryan Bader. At 46 years old, his retirement came a few years too late. But there are others like him who have retired too late.


#5. Donald Cerrone, retired UFC lightweight/welterweight (MMA retirement: 2022)

Some great MMA fighters managed to capture championship gold. Others, however, are not so fortunate but still manage to carve a niche for themselves. Donald Cerrone represents the latter. Despite his failure to become a UFC titleholder, he owns numerous records in MMA's premier promotion.

He is tied for the second-highest number of wins and finishes in UFC history. Additionally, he and former lightweight champion Charles Oliveira are joint-record holders for the most post-fight bonuses in UFC history. Lastly, he alone is responsible for the highest number of knockdowns ever seen in the promotion.

While he was once heralded as a thrilling action fighter who fought frequently, 'Cowboy' stuck around for too long. He retired at 39 years old after going on a winless streak of six losses and one no-contest in his final seven bouts. As a 39-year-old in the unforgiving lightweight division, his time was long overdue.

He hadn't won a fight in three years prior to his retirement, and he was either KO'd or choked out in five of his six losses.


#4. Maurício 'Shogun' Rua, retired UFC light heavyweight (MMA retirement: 2022)

Better known by his alias, 'Shogun,' Maurício Rua is an MMA legend whose career heights spanned both PRIDE and the UFC. In 2005, he was crowned the PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix champion. Years later, he captured UFC light heavyweight gold in a rematch against Lyoto Machida.

He stunned the MMA world by knocking out 'The Dragon.' In doing so, he became the first blemish on the mystifying Shotokan specialist's then-spotless record. Unfortunately, 'Shogun's' reign was short-lived after he suffered a brutal TKO loss against Jon Jones in his subsequent bout.

The remainder of his career lacked the level of success he grew accustomed to. Rua never came close to a title fight ever again before retiring after a three-fight losing streak at 41 years of age. His was a career that covered 22 years. After all the damage he took, it was a long time coming.


#3. Royce Gracie, retired UFC openweight fighter (MMA retirement: 2016)

Royce Gracie bears the surname of MMA royalty, and it is partly through his efforts that the Gracie clan achieved the level of acclaim they still hold in mixed martial arts circles. The diminutive Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist introduced BJJ to the world of combat sports by taking part in UFC 1.

He shocked everyone in attendance by securing first-round submissions against all three of his opponents in one night to win the UFC 1 Tournament. He repeated his success by emerging victorious in the promotion's subsequent three tournaments.

After a draw against Ken Shamrock at UFC, however, he was in need of a change in scenery. He traveled around the world and even fought in PRIDE before stepping away from professional bouts in 2007 with a record of 14 wins, two losses, and three draws. But that was not the end.

He returned in 2016 to face longtime rival Ken Shamrock at Bellator 149. While he was victorious, he was also 49 years old and looked every bit his age. After his win, he retired once more, and the MMA world breathed a collective sigh.


#2. Ken Shamrock, retired UFC superfight champion (MMA retirement: 2019)

Ken Shamrock is an MMA pioneer. He represents the sport's golden age alongside the likes of Royce Gracie, Dan Severn, and Don Frye. His career as a mixed martial artist began in 1993 after he debuted at Pancrase: Yes, We Are Hybrid Wrestlers 1. He also took part in UFC 1.

There, a historic rivalry with Royce Gracie emerged. Unfortunately, the Lion's Den founder continued fighting long past his prime. He struggled to walk away from the sport that he's been a part of for decades. At Bellator 159, he clashed with his long-time nemesis Royce Gracie.

Shamrock was 52 years old at the time and the recipient of frequent criticism for fighting so far past his physical prime. The TKO loss he suffered at Gracie's hands was the nail in the coffin. It left him with 9 losses and two wins in his last 11 bouts. While his final loss was in 2016, he only officially retired in 2019.


#1. Fedor Emelianenko, retired PRIDE heavyweight champion (MMA retirement: 2023)

Fedor Emelianenko's passion for the sport can never be understated. But his competitive spirit always coaxed him back into active competition. At the height of his career, 'The Last Emperor' was almost regarded as invincible.

He embarked on an unprecedented 28-fight unbeaten streak, during which he defeated numerous champions from different promotions, including the UFC. Eventually, he suffered a loss against the heavyweight division's resident legend killer, Fabricio Werdum.

While Emelianenko was never the victim of a long losing streak, he did experience a sharp decline the more he aged and the more damage he sustained. By 2023, he was a 46-year-old who was only ever matched up with fellow legends instead of true divisional contenders.

The times that he did fight foes his size from a new generation of fighters, he lost. He got TKO'd in the first round by Matt Mitrione and Ryan Bader (twice). His final loss to 'Darth' was his last appearance inside a cage or ring as a fighter.

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Edited by Allan Mathew
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