Retiring without Dignity


Ten world championships in six different weight classes. On paper, it looks like one of the most decorated champions any sport has ever seen. Now I will state that I am referring to Oscar De La Hoya. Now the reality of that previous statement should set in when you see how far the mighty have fallen. In his past seven fights, he’s lost 4 times. This means that in the past six years, he has lost more fights than he has in the first ten years of his career. It is most certainly a far cry from his years as the “Golden Boy” who earned the United States their only Olympic Gold Medal in boxing back in Barcelona.

All of the accolades aside, it really makes you think about when the right time is to call it quits. When does a professional athlete finally come to grips with the fact that they just don’t have “it” anymore? Does it take several devastating losses in a row, or will it take something like this to make you say enough is enough? I understand fully how competitive athletes can be at the professional level. Retiring is about as good as “giving up,” and these are men with no quit in their hearts. Perhaps they are just men with no other world to turn to. At 36 years old, a man like Oscar De La Hoya is still young, in spite of how battered his body might be.

Any other 36 year old in corporate America with his money can be considered a “boy genius” for the way they rose up and made their millions before 40. In the world of professional sports, it’s not uncommon to see an athlete go pro after high school, with no education, nothing to fall back on. So from 40 and on, you are now forced to milk your stardom for all its worth, doing autograph signings at random shows in the middle of nowhere. You can always hope for a job with one of the teams that made you your millions that you decided to squander on poor investments and an entourage that would make MC Hammer say “Damn that’s a lot of people!” So what do you do? Stay a few extra years in the sport, make a few extra dollars, then hope and pray that the money you make will last you into your twilight years, for the idea of relaxing at home and not being forced to do another day of work.

Let’s take a look back at some of the more prominent instances where an athlete has too much pride to hang it up and walk into the sunset with their dignity in tact. Or those in which that just decided their money was an unlimited surplus, so why not spend it on a new fleet of Ferraris every year, and now realize “Oh shit! I forgot to save up for retirement!”

Mike Piazza is a hero to Mets fans. He’s a regular Pisan to the Italians in Brooklyn who love the Mets in their neighboring borough, and he just happened to make it to the show. He was fantastic both in front and behind the plate. Winning ten consecutive Silver Slugger awards between 1993 and 2002, and having an extremely high fielding percentage as a catcher, he was everything you could want from a player. This was part of the reason why he was voted to the All-Star Game 12 times. However, after batting .300 in 2001, there seemed to be a significant drop-off in Mike’s production. Perhaps it was that chill-inducing press conference in which he adamantly declared “No! I am not gay!” Maybe he was still miffed about Roger Clemens hurling a bat at him in the World Series back in 2000. Whatever it was, both his batting average and his fielding percentage dropped to levels not before seen in his career. Ole’ Mikey sure should have decided it was time to call it quits. I give it to the Mets for trying everything to keep Piazza in the game. They moved him to first, but that didn’t work out well. They talked about moving him to the outfield (or to the back of the barn like Old Yeller), but Mike ended up signing with the Padres in 2006. His career had a bit of revitalization, but never did he see the success he did while winning ten Silver Slugger awards again. Ultimately, who really wanted to see Piazza don one of the ugliest jerseys in baseball anyway?

[adinserter block=”1″]Mike Tyson was Kid Dynamite. The man that would pound your face into chopped meat while spitting on you with his awful lisp. How degrading is that? You get KO’d in the first round, and the guy is unintentionally spitting on you all throughout. Now that I think about it, perhaps he never really knocked anyone out. Maybe they just slipped in the puddle of saliva that flew out of his mouth while he spoke. All jokes aside (for now), he was most certainly the Baddest Man on the Planet. Going through 37 professional bouts without a loss is certainly an achievement. Five title defenses as the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World is a feat worthy of legendary status. Unfortunately for Mike, a knockout by Buster Douglas, a rape conviction, and biting off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear would tarnish the record of what could have been one of the greatest boxers of all time. It’s sad to think that his antics outside of the ring were so wild, so outlandish, that you could forget how explosive he was starting off the first five years of his professional career.

When Tyson decided to call it quits, he had just lost two matches in a row to relative nobodies. That’s a fine time to get out, if you ask me. But in Iron Mike’s case, he already lost twice to Evander Holyfield, and then once to Lennox Lewis. The comeback was over long before the final two matches that sealed his fate. Kid Dynamite was no more. Any matches he won after he lost to Holyfield were meaningless in my eyes. We would never see the man that went 37-0 again. He was little more than an attraction. A poor, psychopathic, attraction with a silly lisp.

Ken Shamrock epitomizes everything about this article, but he’s not even retired yet. Growing up, I adored Ken Shamrock. The man had the story that made you really want to root for him. Abandoned as a child, he lived in cars until a man by the name of Bob Shamrock took him in and adopted him. Turning his life around, Ken legally changed his name and entered the world of mixed martial arts (when it was just called “bare knuckle beat the tar out of each other”, or Fight Club, but we’re not supposed to talk about the second one here). Ken put UFC on the map. He was basically one of the founders of Mixed Martial Arts. So when you watch UFC, just give a nod to Kenny for just being there at the beginning. Ken compiled a very successful professional record before having a pretty good run with the World Wrestling Federation. Ken had the charisma and look to become the WWF Champion for sure, but his heart wasn’t there. He’s a competitor. Going back to MMA in 2000, he won his first fight back against Alexander Otsuka. It didn’t get better from there. He went on to lose 8 of his next 10 fights. A .200 average is never a good thing. When that spans over a decade, it’s time to hang the gloves up and call it a day. Ken’s most recent fight was against a man who was well over 350 lbs, with a record of 6 wins, 8 losses. Royce Gracie, he was not. Well, neither was Ken on this night. In spite of a submission victory, Ken tested positive for steroids (insert your LOL here, please), and the California State Athletic Commission is sure to overturn this decision to a No Contest after the hearing. Great job, Ken. You hadn’t won a match since 2004, and you essentially cheated to win this one, against a man who can only be described as looking like the Kool-Aid guy. Now you’ve been suspended for a year. Prior to this, Ken pretty much stated he still has plenty of fight left in him, and so long as promoters will pay his fee, he’ll fight for them. Joining the Mike Tyson camp, we welcome Ken Shamrock into this three ring circus. Another sideshow attraction at this point, I sincerely hope and pray Ken doesn’t end up as bad off physically and mentally as Muhammad Ali. I laugh at some messed up things, but this wouldn’t be one of them. Ken, take a cue from the missteps of Oscar De La Hoya and Mike Tyson. Get out now. While you’re suspended and you have nothing else to do, sit back, relax, and understand it’s time to call it a career. It’s a sad day when you have to cheat to win against Ralphie May from Last Comic Standing.

(If you look close enough, you can see where Shamrock injected his steroids prior to this epic, once in a lifetime prize fight)

[adinserter block=”2″]I did intentionally leave off Ric Flair, Brett Favre, and Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, as I don’t think GMail gives nearly enough space to handle the barrage of hate mail I would get for besmirching the name of “The Nature Boy” Ric Christ. Then writing about everyone’s favorite ring-rat murdering Samoan, Jimmy Snuka would be a waste of my time and energy, as we know he’s actually attempting to recreate the ending of The Wrestler, but this time we will get the satisfaction of , so there’s no point in asking him to “retire.” As far as Brett Favre goes, well, I just haven’t gotten over the conclusion of the 2008 Abortion—err… Season. He can go back to his ranch in Lousiana, chopping fire wood in the middle of summer (WHY?!), and hunting for whatever it is you hunt for in Lousiana (I guess he can consult Sean Penn for some advise there). So let this be a lesson to any of you fans. When a player starts becoming a bum, or he gets traded away, or leaves for another promotion, don’t follow him. Don’t look. Don’t watch. Don’t pay attention. Let him go. Pretend he isn’t taking another pitch, throwing another punch, or gaining another yard. Look at them for what brought them the glory, and forget what horrors they became at the end of their respective careers.

See WWE wrestling legends in their prime on the WWE Legends of Wrestling DVD. Click here to order.

See Mike Tyson in his prime by ordering Ringside – The Best of Mike Tyson on DVD by clicking here .

See Ken Shamrock fight in his prime on the UFC Classics DVD. Click here to order .

Erik Espenberg is a native New Yorker who is an avid fan of the Yankees, Rangers, and Jets. When not writing for Camel Clutch, he can be found killing his brain cells playing assorted video games. He can be contacted at .


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