When Frankie Perez retired from mixed martial arts after his first win in the UFC on Sunday, at the positively spritely age of twenty-six, we were all left scratching our heads. It's rare to see a young fighter with clear potential drop out of the sport when things are going his way, but Perez's reasoning seemed similar to that of the exciting Japanese stand out, Genki Sudo, who left the sport in 2006: the injuries were adding up and he just wasn't enjoying it anymore.
The week got even stranger, however, with news that 25-year-old welterweight contender, Jordan Mein, has also taken his leave of the sport. I didn't know much about Perez outside of his UFC and WSOF bouts, he was a relative newcomer to the big leagues, after all, but Mein is someone I have been following for a while and consistently touting as one of the most exciting prospects in MMA. To hear that he was leaving the game with so much left in the tank was shocking to me.
We can ruminate on the why—injuries, money, sponsorships, the sheer number of fights he has already taken—but instead I would like to take a few moments to highlight some of the ups and downs of Mein's brilliantly technical and promising career in the cage.
By the time Mein came to the attention of the UFC, he had already fought a laundry list of respectable names in the welterweight division. From 2011 to December of 2012, Mein bested Joe Riggs, Josh Burkman, and Marius Zaromskis, among others, dropping a split decision to current top welterweight contender, Tyron Woodley. But it was Mein's battering of Evangelista 'Cyborg' Santos which got the young Canadian into the highlight reels.
Mein always struggled to get used to the kicking game, his love of the jab and the long left hook caused him to stand fairly side on and consequently exposed his lead leg and jeopardized his balance under the fire of heavy round kicks. Against Santos, this was immediately apparent as Mein took kick after kick to the lead leg, failing to land anything meaningful.
Near the end of the first round, Mein switched to a southpaw stance, a sign that his left leg was feeling the bumps it had taken. But unlike many men who concede a switch of stances after taking a shellacking on the lead leg, Mein could actually fight out of both stances. Fighting from a southpaw stance for the entire second round, Mein was suddenly connecting with long, ram rod left straights to the body, and slipping Cyborg's swings to return with lefts to the head.
In the third round, Mein stunned the Brazilian brawler with a series of counter lefts to the dome. Sinking a stern left hook to the liver, Mein flurried on Santos and finished him by chopping horizontal elbows straight through his 'covering up' guard along the fence.
After Strikeforce folded, Mein took a fight against Forrest Petz in Score Fighting Series 7. Mein will often utilize the retreating left hook, which forces opponents to keep their right hand high, putting them in danger of the double hand trap to roll-over elbow which Mein loves. Against Petz, Mein used this double trap to elbow, and quickly capitalized with half a dozen hooks to the body on his stunned opponent. The stoppage came inside of 90 seconds and reinforced the notion that Mein was too good for the little leagues.
When Mein finally got his shot in the UFC, he met tough middleweight journeyman, Dan Miller. Miller had recently made the decision to move to welterweight and had submitted his last opponent, it seemed like a good test of Mein's ability. A theme with Mein was always his decision making—he could hit the one-and-done counters, but he often didn't make the smartest decisions in the ring. Leaping in with a wild left hook, Mein was easily taken down by Miller and immediately put in danger as the savvy grappler scrambled past guard and straight into an armbar.
Mein once again showed the value of being able to fight out of both stances. While he didn't switch stance mid combination, as many true switch hitters are able to, he did sneak into a southpaw stance following a Miller flurry. Suddenly he was able to nail Miller with a venomous left straight which wasn't a concern for the American grappler beforehand.
When Miller returned to the feet he was tagged by jabs and straight rights, before Mein went around the outside with a long right hook, and followed up with his usual digging hooks to the body. The ref waved off the bout and Jordan Mein became the first man to stop Dan Miller—an honour which Rousimar Palhares, Michael Bisping, Chael Sonnen, Nate Marquardt and pletny of bigger, scarier men were unable to obtain.
Of course, Mein was anything but perfect. That is why he was always described as having 'a ton of potential'. When he hit those sniping counters, or those razor sharp elbows and thudding body shots, he was incredible. But he could be flustered, he could be upset, and he could be overwhelmed. Mein liked space to work and when he was faced with Matt Brown, he simply wasn't allowed it. No shame there—in recent years, Brown has done that to everyone he's faced who hasn't taken him down.
From start to finish, the bout with Brown was a case of Mein getting backed onto the fence and attempting to circle out, while getting roughed up by hooks, elbows, kicks and knees. Similar to Matt Brown's later bout with Erick Silva, the moment Brown took his foot off the gas, Mein had space to find his mark. That trademark Mein body hook sent Brown to the mat, but the gritty brawler soon recovered and began attacking Mein with his excellent submission game.
Brown stopped Mein in the second round after setting a brutal pace and consistently landing the heavier blows on a flustered and retreating Mein. The elbows to the body on the ground which Brown used to force the stoppage are still one of the most under-rated weapons in the mixed martial arts arsenal.
Mein's next knockout came over Mike Pyle and it was as simple as it was pretty. A level change and a return to usual height with a left hook. A classic boxing technique, and one which has found even more place in MMA with the risk of the takedown. Pyle hit the ground inside of a minute and everyone remembered how good Mein had looked before the Matt Brown fight.
In what turned out to be the final fight of Mein's career (for now, at least), he made the veteran striker, Thiago Alves look straight up silly. Feinting Alves into committing on his famous counter punches, Mein got the better of Alves on the feet through the first round.
A nice feinted jab into an immediate capitalizing jab.
In one of the weirdest decisions in MMA history, Mein decided to barrell roll away from the fence when he got caught there. Unfortunately, Mein was never good at getting off the fence and he simply ran himself around the cage and got trapped on the other side. As he circled back on himself, Alves connected a body kick which put the Canadian down and forced the stoppage.
The narrative turned into one of “that's what you get for showboating”, because people love that nonsense but the real story was that barrel roll or no barrel roll, Mein had problems with ringcraft and with powerful kickers. Everything up to that point in the bout, however, had pointed to Mein continuing to develop into one of the division's best strikers out right.
Selfishly, I feel that Mein is wasting his huge potential by retiring. But in combat sports, as the theme is to continue far, far, far past your sell by date, we should really be applauding Mein for his common sense. If you neither want nor need to be in the ring, you shouldn't be in the ring and no one should be twisting your arm for another payday. To be wearing forty fights at age twenty-five is probably enough for anyone, it's good that Mein has opted out while he still has the capacity to work a thousand careers other than teaching seminars and showing up to autograph signings.
He wasn't a world-beater, and he had his problems, but Jordan Mein could always be relied upon for a good, technical scrap.
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