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For many young fighters, retirement calls early

For Mark Hominick, the pinnacle of a well-worn career came in April 2011. Before 55,724 fans at the Rogers Centre in his home province of Ontario, just 90 minutes east of where he grew up, Hominick walked into the UFC Octagon to challenge featherweight champion Jose Aldo. The match at first was one-sided, but as it wore into the championship rounds, the drama ramped up. Bloodied and with a massive hematoma on the right side of his forehead, Hominick summoned the energy to take over and dominate the final round. While Aldo ultimately held on until the closing bell and won a decision, it was the culmination of everything Hominick had worked for. He was fiercely competing for the belt, and at the same moment, his wife Ashley was in her ninth month of pregnancy with the couple’s first child, Raeya. Without knowing it, though, the seeds for his exit from MMA had been planted. He had been so close to being world champion, but within less than 20 months, he was out of mixed martial arts and on to retirement at the age of 30.I look at my life now and where I’m going and I know I can’t make the same sacrifices that I could before, he told MMA Fighting. I know what I was doing when I was on a winning streak and what I was doing now. I can’t leave for two months at a time to go train for a bout. I don’t want to be a fighter who is just competing to be in the UFC. I think I belong fighting against Aldo and those top guys. And if I’m not competing and winning at that level, I’m not in it. Hominick is part of a surprising trend in the upper echelons of MMA of fighters who are retiring or contemplating the decision to walk away at a young age.Among those who have called it quits since the start of 2011 include Hominick (30 years old at the time of his announcement), Nick Thompson (29), Nick Denis (29), and Cole Konrad (28). Other young fighters like Jason Mayhem Miller (31), Kyle Kingsbury (30) and Jonathan Brookins (27) are currently in limbo, deciding their futures. Tom DeBlass has been there. The UFC veteran was 30 when he decided he’d had enough, announcing his retirement just days after his second career loss. For DeBlass, the reason for quitting was simple: burnout. After dedicating most of his early adult life to jiu-jitsu, he began his pro MMA career in June 2010, and in less than 20 months, he was 7-0. That led him to his UFC debut, a short-notice opportunity as a replacement. Despite the fact that he was injured and out-of-shape (I was eating Fruity Pebbles when Joe Silva called me, he said), DeBlass took the fight. And lost. Then seven months later, he fought again. This time, he had a good camp. And lost. After less than three years of competing as a pro, he decided he was done.I got back into the locker room and I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore, he said. It’s too much time away from the family. It’s too much time away from my academy. I had to pick up and leave everything that was important to me. I had to spend money to travel. In looking at the pros and cons, I didn’t feel it was worth it anymore.DeBlass said the feeling had started creeping in even before his last fight. During his final camp, he went through a phase where he was miserable while training. It got so bad that he told his family a few times that he was ready to move on.For some, like DeBlass, the decision to retire is like a slow-moving wave, which builds momentum before finally crashing on to the shore. For others, it’s a completely different phenomenon; an unexpected bolt of lighting.Of all the retirements in 2012, none was more surprising than that of Konrad. The 6-foot-5 powerhouse had been the reigning Bellator heavyweight champion when he quietly called it quits, releasing the information to a local newspaper.In Konrad’s case, the end came when he was recruited for a promising employment opportunity as an agricultural commodities trader. Though he had become publicly known for his power and brawn, Konrad had earned a masters degree while in college, and yearned to put it to use. His situation was complicated by a few factors. He had just gotten married and hoped to start a family, and Bellator’s heavyweight division wasn’t deep enough to rapidly generate contenders for him to fight. From the start of 2011 until the date of his retirement in September 2012, he competed only twice. That meant only two paychecks.Even though Bellator was readying a major move to Spike — a change which promised more exposure and eventually, more money — it wasn’t enough to keep Konrad in the fold. When I was weighing the opportunity I was given vs. fighting, I had to face the reality that fighting is a pretty dead-end job, he said. Am I going to be 35 or 40 and still fighting? Then where do I go when I’m done, when I’ve never had a real job? Was I going to make as much money where I would be able to retire at that age? It’s possible. But the reality is, given my physique, I didn’t see that happening. However you want to look at it, that defini…

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