LAS VEGAS – When Tito Ortiz retires after his fight with Forrest Griffin on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden, only four fighters will remain who were active prior to Zuffa purchasing the UFC in 2001.
Dan Henderson, Vitor Belfort, Wanderlei Silva and Matt Hughes will be the only fighters left who predate the ownership of Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta and Dana White in the UFC.
And Hughes may have fought his last fight, though he has yet to announce his decision.
The men who helped build the sport are rapidly leaving the scene. In the last two years, icons such as Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture retired. Ortiz will be done Saturday. And Hughes may not be far behind.
Griffin and middleweight contender Cung Le came in the next wave of fighters who followed the Couture-Liddell-Ortiz-led era, but they, too, are looking at saying goodbye.
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It's an inevitable part of any pro sport, but it's more dramatic in an individual sport such as fighting, where certain fighters become synonymous with a promotion.
Le, the 40-year-old former Strikeforce champion who meets Patrick Cote on Saturday, is heavily involved in the movie business and is leaning toward retirement. He's made no fight plans beyond the bout with Cote.
Griffin, who turned 33 on Sunday, is hard to read, and so getting a gauge on his intentions involves a lot of guesswork. He said at one point he "would retire from life," if he lost to Ortiz in the rubber match of their series.
But Griffin, an ex-UFC light heavyweight champion and one of the sport's most popular stars, hasn't fought in 11 months and didn't seem particularly interested when he did.
Griffin has been idle since he was stopped in the first round by Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 134 on Aug. 27 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He was strangely passive in the bout and surrendered meekly.
He said he's motivated to fight Ortiz but conceded that even in the best-case scenario, his career is moving toward a conclusion.
"You know, I don't know [when I'll retire], but it's not going to be a long time," Griffin said. "I don't foresee the huge comeback. I worked out with that [Alex] Gustafsson kid. Them young guys … Man, I'm an old guy. I like what Rich Franklin's done. There are still a lot of guys I can beat, but I don't know if those guys I can beat are in the Top 10.
"I'd say I'm still one of the top 25 guys in the world at 205 pounds. The problem is, I keep fighting the top five, top 10 guys in the world at 205 pounds. It's tough."
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Griffin indicated he's still motivated by another title run, so he'll probably fight on.
Le, though, may have a decision to make after his fight with Cote. He's learning firsthand how difficult it is to juggle a fight career with a movie career, both of which require extraordinary commitments of time and travel.
Le made his UFC debut in November when he met Wanderlei Silva at UFC 139 in San Jose, Calif. Silva put on one of his finest performances in recent times and stopped Le in the second round.
Le wasn't ready to go out like that so he's giving it another shot.
But at 40 and with a family to raise and other interests occupying his mind, he's not going to be fighting much longer.
"It's winding down and I'm taking it one fight at a time at this point," Le said. "I have a big movie career I'm working on. I still love to compete, so I'm going to do it while I can."
As fighters age, they often lose their reflexes and their bodies aren't as responsive. They can cover those faults up with experience occasionally, but the majority of times even massive amounts of experience won't matter.
That's why the turnover of the UFC is nearly 100 percent complete.
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