By Matt Bentley
From the moment I walked into Mick Doyle’s gym at eight years old I was hooked. I knew instantly I would be a martial artist for the rest of my life and right from the get go I set some pretty lofty goals for myself. “What do you want to be when you grow up”? Every kid is faced with this question several times during their upbringing. For some the answer is an astronaut, for others it was to be the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys (Jerry Jones should probably start looking at some of these kids given his current staff behind center), for me I wanted to be a professional fighter. Looking back my answer is just as crazy as the first two but I didn’t see it that way at the time, I knew I had what it took to be a World Champion.
While I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted to in my pro career I am one of the lucky ones in this world fortunate enough to chase a dream. After a very long and successful amateur career which included several regional boxing and kickboxing championships, two National Championships in Muay Thai, and a spot on Team USA MMA, I decided to turn professional in late 2011. One year ago today (September 9th) I fought a very game Marc Tongvan out of Team Hard Drive in what would be my last professional Mixed Martial Arts fight. After putting on a decent performance in what was the fight of the night I had suffered a TKO loss in the third round bringing my pro record to 3-2.
Following that fight I took a week to reflect, talk to my wife, coaches, and management and I came to a very difficult decision, it was time to retire. I have always believed that fighting was something you needed to invest 100% into if you were going to do it. This sport should not be a hobby and while I understand that there are fighters who are very passionate about it, if you do not have the ability to train full time or the drive and ability to get to the next level then being a professional fighter is not for you. I was honest and realistic with myself which is very hard to do when it means the thing you have been chasing for so long was not going to be yours. I was never going to make it to the UFC.
I have a wife and two young girls and they weighed heavily in my decision making process. I didn’t want to be the fighter that hung on too long. Unfortunately, I think that is something that we see far too often. Fighting is an ugly sickness and at the same time a beautiful malady. Let’s face it, you have to be a little “off” to do what we do. Guys don’t know when to walk away or even how to walk away. For some of us fighting, at least for a period in our lives, was all we had, all we knew. I made the mistake of tying my identity to fighting. Fighting wasn’t just something I did, it wasn’t just a passion, I made it who I was. I was more than that. I was a husband, a dad, a Detroit Lions fan, a friend to many, a brother to five, and the son of one of the best Moms anyone could ask for but in my mind at the time I was a fighter, period.
Following my retirement a deep depression set in. I drank more than normal, I withdrew from my friends and family even shutting my wife out at times. This didn’t make the process of moving on any easier, it made things worse. It felt like everything around me was falling apart. I of course pinned everything on my retirement and talked to my management and coaches several times, telling them I thought I made a mistake and that I may want to fight again. I am fortunate enough to have the right people around me. While everyone told me that ultimately it was my decision and they would support me, it was Mick (Doyle) who got me pointed back in the right direction. “Where does it end? When will enough be enough? Will you ever be satisfied”? When I asked myself those questions I realized that ultimately what I wanted was to fight in the UFC and the fact remained that I wasn’t going to get there and one, five, ten more fights wasn’t going to change that. If I wasn’t in the UFC I was never going to be satisfied.
Looking back today a year removed from my dream, I am happy with my decision. I spend more time with my wife and children. I am more focused on my career as a personal trainer. I have made time to spend with friends that I didn’t have time for before. I got my purple belt in Jiu-Jitsu and have shifted my role in fighting to that of a coach. I get to help guide fighters technically and make sure they have the tools necessary to perform at the level which they are expected to. I enjoy it! I love getting to work with these guys and helping turn a fighter into a martial artist. I also get to help them maximize their earning potential. I understand the business side of this sport and while fighting as a professional I made more money than most entry level UFC fighters because I hustled tickets, t-shirts , built relationships with the right sponsors. On the business side I used this business to make money, I never let the business use me. While I will never get to the UFC or win a World Title, I get the chance to take the Trey Smith’s, Eric Daigle’s, Bryan Corley’s, and Anthony Smith’s through their journey towards those same goals. It is very satisfying and for the first time in a year I feel content. I made the right decision.
As we see more and more professional boxers and NFL players come forward with brain injuries and trauma and the ill effects that were previously overlooked we need to remember that MMA is a sport still in it’s infancy and I believe we will see much of the same, unfortunately. We all know the risks when we enter the cage but if I could offer fighters a bit of advice; it would be to surround yourself with the right people. People who have your best interest at heart and will help you make the tough decision of when it is time to walk away.