Matt Hamill didn’t look like a man beset by injury against Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 133 on Saturday night, nor did he look like a man who knew the end was at hand.
Maybe that’s the point.
After taking the fight on a bit less than a month’s notice and admitting afterward he didn’t have much of a game plan, Hamill largely held his own against the 24-year-old Swedish up-and-comer before a final exchange that saw him succumb to a TKO three minutes, 41 seconds into the second round.
You could argue he didn’t do any worse than the average late-replacement fighter who climbs in the cage just planning to wing it, so it was a mild surprise on Monday when Hamill announced his retirement in a prepared statement on his official website, citing a years-long accumulation of injuries and what sounded like psychological exhaustion.
“I just don't have it in me to fight anymore and my last two performances have shown that …,” Hamill said in the statement. “I can't continue to fight without having the hunger and desire to do so.”
You know what? Good for him.
Hamill clearly knows he still has things to accomplish in life. Autumn will see the official release of his self-titled biopic, a film that’s already netted a handful of awards at regional film festivals and garnered decent advanced reviews from people in fight circles. As the first deaf fighter to compete in the UFC and a decorated amateur wrestler, he’ll no doubt have more than his fair share of business opportunities coming his way, so it’s admirable that he’s decided to try to take advantage of them now, before the fight game exacts any further toll.
His MMA career likely isn’t one for the history books, anyway, and even if Hamill looked fairly capable on Saturday night -- moving around the cage well and marking Gustafsson's face with a lunging jab -- his best days in the UFC were surely behind him. After back-to-back losses to Quinton Jackson and Gustafsson and that embarrassing “win” against Jon Jones back in December 2009, it felt as though a gulf was widening between Hamill and the top of the light heavyweight division. That gap wouldn’t get any narrower moving forward.
Instead, Hamill opts for the smart way out, taking with him a 9-4 record in the UFC, three of the company’s incentive-based postfight bonuses and a list of opponents that includes four past and present world champions.
No, Hamill may never have won a title in the Octagon, but in retiring at age 34 with most of his physical and mental faculties intact, he pulled off a much more important feat. He got into the fight game, he left his mark with 14 career fights (all but one in the UFC), he made a little bit of money and he got out. You can’t play it much better than that.