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UFC 237 proved it’s not disrespectful to want fighters to call it a career

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Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) middleweight champion, Michael Bisping, flew off the handle earlier this week when longtime mixed martial arts (MMA) analyst, Ben Fowlkes, criticized the cringeworthy title aspirations of former two-time titleholder, BJ Penn.

That’s probably the nicest thing anyone in the combat sports blogosphere has said about the topic, so I’m not sure why that particular headline was so upsetting for “The Count.” Penn hasn’t won a fight in nearly nine years and holds the longest active losing streak in history.

“Not surprising you’re disrespecting someone that helped build the sport you make a living off,” Bisping wrote on Twitter. “He’s in a tough place, but rather than admire his ambition and fighting spirit, you choose to ridicule him.”

I think it’s fair to say that most MMA fans, including Fowlkes, admire the ambition and fighting spirit of Penn (16-14-2), as well as every athlete who steps foot inside the cage. Why would anyone sign up for the chance to be KTFO in front of millions of fans unless they had “the calling.” Hey, hats off to ‘em, that respect is earned.

But we also have to be disciplined enough to separate that basic respect from the reality that MMA is, at its core, two combatants trying to smash each other until one of them is too damaged to continue. That’s why Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) has become a talking point over the last few years.

Like Fowlkes, I also cringed when I heard Penn, 40, talk about making a run at the title, because he’s not even ranked in the Top 15 (see the rankings here) and that would require several more fights in one of the promotion’s toughest divisions.

Isn’t this the same fighter who admitted he should have never come out of retirement?

I started watching MMA because, in my opinion, it was the most exciting sport on the planet. There was nothing exciting about watching BJ Penn fight Clay Guida at the UFC 237 pay-per-view (PPV) last night in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It felt more like a chore and to be frank, I would be okay if “The Prodigy” never fought again.

So would promotion president, Dana White.

That doesn’t mean I’m not in support of his efforts to provide for his family, or that I think he sucks and should go jump in the ocean. It means he doesn’t perform at the highest level, has no influence on the lightweight rankings, and is simply surviving each fight in hopes of a miracle.

This attitude that a fighter should be allowed to compete until they start getting knocked clean out like the once great but now brittle Chuck Liddell is dangerous, both for the industry and for the athletes. If MMA wants to be mentioned in the same breath as other professional sports, then it should reserve its marquee attractions for its marquee fighters. Not shopworn veterans who hang around because their names used to mean something in a past life. That’s what ambassador-type roles are for.

And as if to reinforce my point, former middleweight champion, Anderson Silva, told the combat sports media he was going to sign a contract extension with UFC and keep plugging along at age 44, despite having just one victory since 2012. Then he stepped into the cage and suffered another leg injury, something we’ve already seen from “The Spider” more than five years back and something I hope to never see again.

And that’s a request I would make “with all due respect.”