May I call you Mauricio? Calling you by your first name seems a little weird because I have spent years referring to you by your last name and your nickname, pretty much exclusively. Calling you by your first name seems a little too personal, doesn't it? But what I have to tell you today is quite personal, and so I suppose it is only fitting. Let's go with Mauricio.
You don't know me. I mean, we've seen each other many times over the years. I have interviewed you through various translators more times than I can count. I remember sitting down with you once, in Los Angeles, for a pre-fight interview. You were getting ready to challenge Lyoto Machida for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship.
I sat there in UFC's makeshift media center and asked you questions. And while you waited for me to finish speaking, you smiled constantly and nodded your head in that way people who are nice tend to do when they do not understand the language someone is using. You answered my questions patiently. You were friendly. You were always friendly.
Which I guess is why I'm sitting here writing this letter to you on a Monday morning.
I saw your fight Saturday night, or at least I saw what there was of it. I'm sure you'd rather forget the whole thing ever happened. Me too, Mauricio. Me too. But I can't forget.
Do you mind if I tell you a story? I think that if I tell you this story, you'll understand where I'm coming from.
I have a friend who is a fighter. You've probably heard of him because most people have heard of him. He has been fighting for a long time. He used to be a world champion, in fact, and was considered one of the best fighters on the planet.
We became friends even though I'm not supposed to become friends with the people I cover. This is not exactly an acceptable thing when you do what I do for a living, Mauricio. But it happened anyway, and we've been friends for a long time.
You know what they say: You can't pick your friends, but you can pick your nose? I'm going to be honest and tell you I have no idea if that is a real thing that real people say or if I just made it up. But it makes sense in my head.
So we've been friends for a long time, and like I was saying, he used to be really good. And he probably is still really good, down inside. Once a fighter, always a fighter, for the most part. But there was a moment years back when the wheels fell off for him. And, try as he might, he hasn't been able to reattach them.
He keeps fighting today, Mauricio, because he wants to and because he has a need, deep down inside, to prove that he's still capable of the things he used to do. I'm sure I don't need to tell you about this need. You have it inside yourself, too, because otherwise I wouldn't be sitting here writing this letter.
And so he keeps fighting, but the chin isn't there any more. The punches he used to walk through with fire in his eyes? Today, they either close his eyes or make him look lifelessly up at the lights. And I hate it. I've always been nervous when he fights, because friends tend to get nervous for friends. But these days, I am also filled with a sense of dread. It is as though I know what is coming, but I am powerless to stop it.
Felipe Dana/Associated Press
I want to tell him, Mauricio. I want to tell him that it is time to stop fighting. Did I mention that I've met his family? Because I have. And I suppose meeting his family really changed things for me. It made it real. Because at some point, all of this will be over, and what he'll face left is his family. There won't be any more lights and there won't be any more fame. There will only be a family waiting for him at home.
I want to tell him, Mauricio, that it's time to hang up the gloves. But I also feel like it is not my place to tell him that he needs to stop doing what he loves doing, just as I feel it isn't my place to tell you the same thing. How do you tell a man to give up the only thing he's ever loved to do simply because his body is betraying him?
I cannot tell him that. Or, perhaps I can, but I simply lack the courage to do so.
I want to tell you the same thing, Mauricio. I want to tell you that you have done enough. Your fighting life has been a life lived in full, and if you walked away right now, you'd be remembered as a legend and a pioneer and an all-time great. And nothing can ever take that away from you because you are Shogun!
You don't need to stick around, and I don't want you to stick around. I know the UFC is making a heavy push into Brazil, running cities with names like Uberlandia. They need Brazilian superstars they can run main events with, and you are certainly a Brazilian superstar. Even though you are just 6-8 since coming into the UFC, they'll keep giving you main events because they need all the help they can get with these crazy international expansion plans.
Don't get me wrong: The UFC sometimes has your best interests at heart. Dana White, for all of the nonsensical things he says and all of his bluster, actually does care about most of the people in his employ. He made Chuck Liddell stop fighting back when Chuck started getting knocked out on a regular basis. These days, Chuck's talking voice sounds a whole lot different than it did when he started. If Dana didn't make him stop fighting when he did, there's a good chance we would not be able to understand a single word coming out of Chuck's mouth.
I don't want that for you, Mauricio.
We know so much more about the human brain today than we did even back when you started fighting. We know that it is not good when you're knocked out. We know that guys who are regularly knocked out tend to become sad later in life, some of them extremely so. The NFL is a staple of American life that is trying to find its way in this new world. They don't know where they're going, and we don't even know if the football we know and love will be around in twenty years.
But what we do know is this: We want to protect our athletes, especially when they refuse to protect themselves. And I don't know if you fall in that category of athletes that won't protect themselves, Mauricio. I hope you don't. But I know that five or six years ago, the idea of someone named Ovince Saint Preux knocking you out with a short left hook while walking backwards? It would be preposterous. There's no way the Shogun of old goes down like that. Just no way.
But you did go down, Mauricio. And I'm not saying you are being knocked out a lot, because you've only been knocked out three times since you made your UFC debut. That's okay. But the scary part, for me, is that your last two fights have ended up with you unconscious, and that it seems a whole heck of a lot easier to knock you out than it used to be.
Like I was saying earlier, I can't tell you to stop fighting. I can't even tell my own friend to stop fighting, because it is not my place. I've met his family, and I know what awaits them in the future if he does not stop, and still I cannot tell him to quit.
Felipe Dana/Associated Press
I have not met your family. But I know you are kind and mostly gentle, and I don't want you to spend your twilight years trying to remember your wife's name. I don't want you to struggle with anger and not even understand why you're mad or depressed. It has happened far too often with our best athletes.
And Mauricio, you are one of the greats. We'll never forget what you did in PRIDE, how ferocious and terrifying you were. Those days and those performances are etched in stone, and they'll never be altered.
And what I'd like is for you to go home and live your life, secure in the knowledge that you don't need any of this any more. You have the money. You still have your health. And you'll always have the adoration of millions of mixed martial arts fans.
Please don't fight again, Mauricio. You don't have to do it any more.