In the UFC world, even the greatest fighters don’t seem to know when is the right time to hang up the gloves. Most of them just keep fighting until they suffer a series of losses and end up either leaving the promotion or being forcibly removed by Dana White.
Over the years, however, we’ve seen a small handful of big UFC stars who managed to get out before they fell down the ladder, even though their careers in the octagon ended in defeat. These fighters were smart enough to see the writing on the wall and walked away before their legacy was damaged, unlike so many of their peers.
Here are five legendary UFC fighters who dropped out of the game before they could be ousted from the top.
#5. Frank Shamrock – former UFC middleweight champion
The first UFC legend to really step out of the game while still at the top was former middleweight (now light-heavyweight) kingpin Frank Shamrock.
After making a name for himself in the Pancrase promotion in Japan, Shamrock – the adoptive brother of fellow trailblazer and UFC legend Ken – first stepped into the octagon in December 1997.
There, he instantly struck gold, submitting former Olympic wrestler Kevin Jackson with an armbar to become the promotion’s first middleweight champion.
After pulling off impressive title defenses against Igor Zinoviev, Jeremy Horn, John Lober and Tito Ortiz, Shamrock was widely regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. With skills both on the pitch and on the feet, he seemed to have no weaknesses.
However, after dispatching “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy”, he also seemed to lack viable opponents. Therefore, despite being only 26 at the time, he decided to hang up the gloves while still staying on top, vacating his title in the process.
Shamrock made two later returns down the line – a one-off fight with Elvis Sinosic in 2000, then an ill-advised comeback with StrikeForce in 2006 – but the fact that he first walked away at the peak of his powers and n ever returned to the UFC shows he definitely had a great sense of timing.
While his relationship with Dana White means he will likely never be recognized as such, the former middleweight titleholder remains a true legend of the game.
#4. Henry Cejudo – former UFC flyweight and bantamweight champion
Although he appears to be planning a comeback, for now at least, former UFC flyweight and bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo definitely belongs on any list of fighters who retired from the game while they were still at the top.
After winning a gold medal in freestyle wrestling at the 2008 Olympics, Cejudo first joined the UFC in 2014, where he won his first four fights to set up a title shot against the United kingpin. then-flyweight Demetrious Johnson.
‘Triple C’ fell short in that shot, but after winning two more fights, he then knocked down ‘Mighty Mouse’ in a rematch, winning octagon gold for the first time. A year later, Cejudo went one better, fending off a challenge from then-bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw to defend his flyweight crown before defeating Marlon Moraes for the 135-pound title that Dillashaw vacated.
When ‘Triple C’ then successfully defended that title against former titleholder Dominick Cruz, it looked like he was about to embark on a legendary run – only to abruptly retire right after the fight, stunning the observers around the world.
Whether Cejudo’s retirement was really a ploy to get the promotion to offer him more money is still up in the air, but although he recently declared his intention to reclaim the bantamweight title before tackling to the featherweight crown, he has not returned to action since.
If that remains the case, you could say he came out almost too soon, but he will certainly be remembered as a fighter who walked away while still on top of the mountain.
#3. Daniel Cormier – former UFC heavyweight and lightweight champion
Unlike the other fighters on this list, Daniel Cormier did not give up his UFC career following a win. In fact, ‘DC’ actually hung up the gloves in 2020 after suffering their second straight loss to rival Stipe Miocic.
However, just because he lost those two fights doesn’t mean “DC” didn’t leave while he was still at the top of his game. The truth is, in a fight against any other heavyweight not named Miocic — and indeed, any of the promotion’s light heavyweights — he likely would have been favored to win.
Although his skills were still at their peak, Cormier had already stayed longer than he had originally planned. ‘DC’ had always expressed a desire to hang up their gloves before they turned 40, and in fact both of their losses to Miocic came shortly after that point.
However, given that he held the UFC heavyweight title on his 40th birthday – and had never lost his lightweight title in the octagon, relinquishing it at the end of 2018 – he would have been hard for him to just walk away at that time. .
‘DC’ staged two epic final clashes with one of its biggest rivals and then came away with its head held high.
Although he wasn’t a titleholder when he retired, he was still on top of the mountain and never really fell off it – making him one of the few legends to come out at the right time.
#2. Khabib Nurmagomedov – former UFC lightweight champion
While it’s arguable he still had a lot to give when he hung up his gloves, it’s still fair to suggest that former UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov made the right decision. walking away while still on top.
After all, “The Eagle” was 29-0 after his final victory over Justin Gaethje – one of the toughest challenges of his career – and had already beaten outstanding foes like Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier and Rafael dos Anjos.
Specifically, Khabib had promised his mother that he would leave after the Gaethje fight following the death of his father and trainer Abdulmanap a few months prior, and so it would have been unthinkable for him to go back on that word. .
In the two years since his retirement, UFC President Dana White has made numerous attempts to encourage ‘The Eagle’ to reconsider. However, White seems to have recognized the futility of this and seems to accept that his former champion is not returning.
Could Nurmagomedov have continued his dominance had he chosen to stick around? It seems highly probable. At the time of his retirement no one had really tested him and given his powerful grappling, incredible control at the top and unstoppable takedowns, it’s arguably unlikely that any of the current 155-pound crops – even Charles Oliveira – could have had more success against him.
However, all fighters slow down and age at some point, and had he continued to fight, “The Eagle” ultimately would have been no different. Therefore, by coming back to the top, Dagestan cemented their legacy – which means it’s hard to challenge their decision.
#1. Georges St-Pierre – former UFC welterweight and middleweight champion
Perhaps the best example of a UFC legend who knew exactly when was the right time to go is former welterweight and middleweight champion Georges St-Pierre. Not only did he hang up his gloves at the perfect time to cement his legacy at 170 pounds, he also did the same at 185 pounds.
“GSP” first won the welterweight title from legendary champion Matt Hughes in 2006, but his longest reign began in 2008 when he avenged his loss to Matt Serra to reclaim the gold. The Canadian held his title for more than five years, beating a total of nine different challengers to set a new record in the weight class.
However, rumors surrounding his future were already swirling the moment he faced his latest challenger, Johny Hendricks. Although St-Pierre won the fight, it was a controversial split decision. Rather than perform ‘Bigg Rigg’ again, St-Pierre decided the time was right to walk away – and despite Dana White’s best efforts, refused to return and walked away with his record and legacy intact.
After four years away, however, ‘GSP’ has finally announced their comeback. Rather than seek to reclaim his welterweight title, however, he decided to move up to 185lbs in a bid to win a second title – and he did just that, beating middleweight champion Michael Bisping. in an epic battle in New York.
Again, rather than defend his title, St-Pierre decided to retire. Citing a bout of ulcerative colitis, the Canadian gave up gold and retired again, meaning once again no one had a chance to knock him down.
While White and company were clearly not happy with St-Pierre’s decision, it’s safe to say that on both occasions ‘GSP’ knew precisely the right time to exit the game, proving to be one smartest fighters of all time. as well as one of the greatest.