Opinion: The Art of Moving On

By: Tristen Critchfield
Jan 6, 2014
Quinn Mulhern walked away from MMA at age 29. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

It is a little early to start picking out the storylines of 2014, but it is probably safe to say the will-he-or-won’t-he theme will be quite prevalent throughout the year.

That, of course, is because two of the sport’s best and brightest -- Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva -- are on indefinite hiatus. Neither superstar has a timetable for a return to action, assuming they come back at all. Not surprisingly, pretty much everyone has an opinion on what course of action Silva and St. Pierre should take. Whether St. Pierre resolves his personal issues and whether Silva can successfully rehab his broken leg will be the guessing game that does not stop. There is no definitive answer regarding either man’s future, and one is not guaranteed to come anytime soon. I personally would not mind if both St. Pierre and Silva elected to hang up their four-ounce gloves for good -- because really, what else is left for them to prove? However, saying goodbye is never that easy, especially when you have been on top of the game for so long.

Every once in a while, however, an athlete is so brutally honest that it is hard to imagine him ever returning to his previous life. In a relatively low-key announcement, Quinn Mulhern retired from mixed martial arts on Saturday after losing a unanimous decision to Katsunori Kikuno at UFC Fight Night 34 in Singapore.

Mulhern is 18-4 as professional. He is a former King of the Cage champion. He spent the past couple years honing his skills against some of the best in the world at Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts. He is widely respected by his peers for his jiu-jitsu acumen, both as a competitor and as a teacher. Because of his skill set, he was afforded the opportunity to spend the weekend at a famous resort with a 150-meter rooftop pool that boasts a stunning view of the Singapore financial district. According to a report by Business Insider, “if you swim to the pool’s edge, it feels like you’re about to fall off the top of the world.” Despite all of that, Mulhern essentially decided he was not good enough to continue on his current path. In his case, falling off the top of the world might not be so bad.

“This camp was as perfect as they come. Everything fell into place, mentally [and] physically ... my weight cut was a success. I got to a place of mental focus where I have never been before,” Mulhern wrote on his Facebook page. “But when I got in the cage I just didn’t have it. It wasn’t nerves, I didn’t freeze ... I just didn’t have the physical gifts or skill to win. Bottom line is that I could put in years of continued work but I won’t be competitive at this level.”

If you watched Mulhern’s fight, it would be difficult to disagree with his assessment. Despite owning a significant height and reach advantage against the unorthodox Kikuno, Mulhern appeared out of sorts throughout the matchup. He failed to land consistently on the feet, and all nine of his takedown attempts were stuffed. While Kikuno hardly looked like a world-beater, Mulhern resorted to pulling guard time and time again -- a tactic that rarely finds favor with modern MMA judges. There was no suspense when the final scorecards revealed three 30-27 tallies in favor of Kikuno.

Photo: D. Mandel/Sherdog.com

Kedzie equates retirement with a breakup.
“Immediately after the fight, before we went to the judges, he goes, ‘Dude, I’m done. I’m retiring. That’s my last one,’” said Brandon Gibson, who was in Mulhern’s corner in Singapore. “Right before the scorecards were read, he knew.”

Yet, there were plenty of reasons for Mulhern to chalk it up to experience and get ready for the next one: a new weight class, a different time zone, a damaged right eye that might have impaired his vision and affected his performance. Fighters can be some of the most delusional people in the world; I mean that as a compliment.

That resilience and confidence is what keeps them coming back for more, even to their own detriment. Not Mulhern. He would rather devote his energies to other endeavors.

Severing ties with fighting is akin to breaking up with someone, according to Julie Kedzie, a teammate of Mulhern’s who recently made her own decision to call it a career.

“I’m starting to realize the two most important days of a fighter’s career are when they decide to fight and when they decide to stop,” Kedzie said. “I think both of those days should be honored, especially if you make a conscious decision to stop fighting and you’re not forced out of it.”

Mulhern is far from a household name. He has just less than 800 Twitter followers, which unfortunately is one figure many -- including Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White -- use to assess value these days. That means there likely will not be a Mulhern Watch like there will be for a GSP or a Silva. That does not mean he will not be missed.

“I think that he underestimates his talent level; he’s amazing. It’s hard. At the end of the day, you really don’t want to fight if you don’t think you’re as good as the other people, because then you’d be holding yourself back,” Kedzie said.

It takes courage to admit that you are not as good at something as you would like to be. Many of us refuse to do so on a daily basis. Throughout a calendar year that could include as many as 50 UFC events, there will be plenty more fighters who will reach the summit and have to grapple with the same issues as Mulhern. It is hard to imagine that many will be able to do it as gracefully as he has. Maybe Mulhern never became a UFC superstar like St. Pierre or Silva, but he was far beyond competent at what he did. He also had a pretty concrete idea of when it was time to write a new chapter.

“I couldn’t see him being one of those [gatekeeper] guys,” Gibson said. “He’s a competitor and he knew if he couldn’t compete at the highest level then he didn’t want to do it anymore.”

As it turns out, Mulhern’s version of not good enough was actually pretty damn good. Most of us can only hope our “not good enough” takes us to similar heights. It is true that not all fighters are created equal. Neither are all retirement notices. Mulhern’s farewell was hall-of -fame caliber.

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