MMA Retirement is Not Forever

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Retirement in combat sports is not forever. Once a fighter retires, leaves their gloves in the ring and calls it a day, they tend to get ‘that itch’ and hint at a return. We’ve seen countless boxing and MMA stars ‘retire’ from their craft, only to return and compete again, often multiple times.

Recently, reigning bantamweight and former flyweight champion, Henry Cejudo announced his retirement. He did so after finishing long time bantamweight GOAT, Dominick Cruz at UFC 249. Will we see Cejudo back in the octagon in the future? Most probably. Announcing your retirement, especially when at the top of a division only encourages the UFC brass to give you more money and improve your contract. It’s a clever ploy and one of the most well-known tactics in the book. We also learnt recently that UFC and Bellator veteran Tom DeBlass will be returning to professional MMA under the ONE Championship banner. Mike Tyson has also announced a comeback to boxing (hopefully not in a professional realm) at aged 53.

We take a look at some of those fighters that have ‘hung up the gloves’ only to pull them back on again and continue competing. We also look at retired fighters who are hinting at a return in the near future.

Returning, Retired Fighters

Conor McGregor

Let’s not forget, the sports biggest draw and one of the most captivating personalities in the game has retired from MMA…TWICE.

April 19th, 2016. Coming off a loss to Nate DiazConor McGregor announced his retirement for the first time. Of course, he didn’t actually retire and we would see him back in the octagon no fewer than four months later for the Diaz rematch. He was, however, pulled from the historic UFC 200 card which took place that July.

The second retirement came just last year having suffered a loss to bitter rival Khabib Nurmagomedov. This one seemed more unlikely, although it is well documented that McGregor’s focus had certainly shifted away from MMA.

Again, however, the king of trash talk was to compete inside the octagon, this time almost a year later at UFC 246, defeating Donald Cerrone. Will we ever be able to take a future retirement claim seriously? Who knows. All we do know that for the moment, the circus that Mcgregor brings is very much still alive and kicking.

Georges St Pierre

The man who is always in the GOAT conversation, Georges St Pierre is one of the few fighters to truly retire on top…twice. Riding a 12 fight winning streak, spanning six years, GSP announced his retirement following a razor-close split decision victory. November 16th, 2013 was the day that the welterweight tournament lost one of it’s greatest ever fighters. Dominant, disciplined and class, GSP left a great legacy behind.

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 04: (L-R) Georges St-Pierre of Canada punches Michael Bisping of England in their UFC middleweight championship bout during the UFC 217 event inside Madison Square Garden on November 4, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Many a return was hinted at firstly for UFC 206 in Toronto, but the return eventually came at UFC 217. This time competing at middleweight, GSP toppled fan-favourite, Michael Bisping to capture the 185lbs belt. Despite looking good, the Canadian had to relinquish the belt due to illness. He went on to officially announce his retirement and will certainly go down as one of the most famous UFC fighters of all time.

Matt Brown

Former top contender at 170lbs and perennial face in the UFC’s welterweight division, ‘The Immortal’, Matt Brown called it a day in his MMA career in 2017 after a truly brutal knockout of Diego Sanchez.


After a string of 24 UFC bouts and a total of 37 professional MMA bouts, Matt Brown decided to hang up the gloves…For two years anyway. He returned, successfully against Ben Saunders at UFC 245 in December of 2019. Dominating throughout, Brown finished Saunders in the second round. He then competed at UFC on ESPN 8, this time suffering a knockout loss to Miguel Baeza. Despite losing, Brown impressed, causing Baeza a number of problems in the first round. Is this the end for Brown? Hopefully not, but let’s hope the UFC doesn’t put him in there with any more up and coming talent.

Stefan Struve

The skyscraper by name and by nature, heavyweight Stefan Struve has never really hit the heights (ironically) that many thought he would. Standing at 6’11.5, he has the attributes to really cause a storm in the heavyweight division. Let’s not forget, the Dutch kickboxer holds a knockout victory over current heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic. Struve is a frustrating fighter because he seems to struggle to use his reach advantage over his opponents. With a reach spanning 84.5 inches, Struve has never been able to keep opponents off him. He even struggled against the likes of Mark Hunt, who he held a 12inch reach advantage over.

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC – FEBRUARY 23: An emotional Stefan Struve of The Netherlands announces his retirement after his victory over Marcos Rogerio De Lima in their heavyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at O2 Arena on February 23, 2019 in the Prague, Czech Republic. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Following a victory over Marcos Rogerio de Lima at UFC Fight Night on ESPN+ 3, Struve left his gloves in the octagon and announced he would be walking away from the sport.

His ‘return’ came a mere 10 months after his ‘retirement’. He signed a new six-fight deal with the UFC and faced Ben Rothwell in his return fight. Suffering a controversial TKO loss (Rothwell continually fouled Struve), Struve fell to 1-4 in his last five fights. If his contract is anything to go by, we will see Struve again soon and hopefully, he can utilise his reach advantage and make waves at heavyweight.

Fighters Hinting at Returns

As we’ve seen, MMA retirement doesn’t mean retirement. When a fighter announces their MMA retirement, especially when they have a lot left in the tank they will often return.

London’s own, Jimi Manuwa has been hinting at a return since announcing his retirement last year. Despite suffering four consecutive losses, the ‘Poster Boy’ could return and still make championship moves with his devastating power.

Manuwa’s teammate, Alexander Gustaffson is used to taking long breaks away from the octagon. Since his title bout with Daniel Cormier, Gustaffson has only competed four times. Included in these four bouts have been prolonged breaks, especially the year and a half he had before he faced Jon Jones in their rematch. He is supposedly plotting a return however and could easily still be a top contender at 205lbs or heavyweight if that is the path he chooses.

Anthony Johnson is one of the most devastating punchers the UFC has ever seen. He retired after UFC 210 where he lost a title bout to Daniel Cormier. He has announced his return to MMA, however. If he were to return, he would pick up on a 12-2 record in his last 14 bouts, with his only two losses coming to Daniel Cormier. He stated he wants to ‘bury everyone‘ in a recent interview and that he wanted to compete by the end of the year. We’re all excited to see the return of Johnson as he is certainly must-watch TV.

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Frazer Krohn has been with MMASucka for nearly 5 years. He is the host of the MMASucka podcast, which is released every Monday. He's the author of a series of six books about MMA, which were published in 2023.

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