The announcement by now former UFC welterweight Cathal Pendred that he was calling it quits as a fighter at just 28 years old came as something of a surprise. Sure, he'd lost two in a row, but that's not uncommon for many fighters at the UFC level. Besides, he'd won four in a row before that, including performance bonuses.
Yet, there it was on Nov. 25, Pendred's announced retirement via social media. So, what exactly contributed to the SBG Ireland fighter's early exit?
"I'd just been thinking about it for a while and like I said, when I announced it, I just felt like the fire in my belly had kind of dwindled a little bit," Pendred told Ariel Helwani on Monday's The MMA Hour. "I always talked about how I felt very fortunate that I was pursuing a passion and didn't feel like I worked. It started to feel like it'd become a job and I was turning up at the gym not because I wanted, but because I had to and I had to get paid at the end of the day.
"I have other passions that are kind of coming to the forefront now. I just decided you can't half be in MMA. You're only going to get yourself hurt when you're half-heartedly fighting or just turning up for a paycheck. I decided it was time to pursue other ventures and move on."
Outwardly, there wasn't much of an indication anything was amiss. Pendred had kept up an intense schedule with five fights over the course of 12 months, six total in 15. It'd be natural to experience burnout, but somewhere along the line, Pendred admits he went from needing a break to needing a complete separation from the sport altogether.
"I had been planning on taking quite an extended break after my last fight," he explained. "I just felt like I pushed myself very hard for the first year I was in the UFC. I needed a bit of a break and then, just the way things transpired and have the business ready to open up now, that was taking a lot of my time."
As Pendred sees it, there's a very clear line in the sand: Either you're all in or you're not. Somewhere along the line, he decided he wasn't.
"It's not like other professions where you just have to turn up at the gym and train hard there and that's it," he said. "It consumes your life. It's a lifestyle. Everything you do revolves around the sport and being in peak physical shape and eating right. If you don't do that right, it doesn't work."
The Irish fighter pointed to the recent weight woes of former UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks. As Pendred saw it, it's not just training and doing media. Every element on your life has to be geared towards optimum performance. If so much as one aspect slips, the entire effort collapses. "You have to be on point all the time," he continued, "it was starting to get to a point where I couldn't devote all my time to it. I wouldn't, as a result, be the best I could be. So, I just said it's time to move on."
Pendred admits his first-round stoppage loss to Tom Breese in October in Dublin hurt - " I obviously was devastated" - but with more time to reflect on it, he noticed going to the gym was something he did, not loved. "I wasn't excited about it like I had been in the past," he noted.
With a mental pivot, his life changing was soon to follow. And realistically, he had other irons in the fire he's already been attending to that now command his full attention.
"I have different things in my life now that excite me," he explained. "I decided it was time to call it a day. It was a hard thing to do. I think a lot of fighters don't do it when they feel like that passion has dwindled, they don't admit it to themselves and they keep on going. Ultimately, you're just doing it for the paycheck, as a job, and that never works out well. It was a hard thing to do, but I think it was the right thing to do."
According to Pendred, those other passions involve opening a Chopt chain restaurant in Dublin as an owner, work as a MMA television analyst in his home country and perhaps a push into acting. For now, those activities are keeping him busy and he seems content.
That doesn't mean, however, the decision to make the call to end his fighting career didn't involve a little agony. Through it all, though, Pendred said his friends and loved ones supported him at the end of the run just as much as the beginning.
"I just spoke to my loved ones as well as I talked to my brother, who's one of my closest friends and my girlfriend and my mom and my dad. I just kinda said it to them and like everything I've done in my life, they supported me. They didn't try argue one way or the other. They said, 'Look, if that's what you want to do, we're 100 percent behind you'. That was that. I just kind of wrote out my reasonings for doing it and posted it.
"I got an incredible reaction from everyone, all the fans," he said. "They were very supportive. They thanked me for everything. It was emotional then, just reading everything. I kinda nearly wanted to say, 'No, I'm going back'."
Pendred admitted he was also a polarizing figure to many fans, although he isn't sure why. Ultimately, he wasn't concerned with the negative pushback he received on social media or elsewhere. "The bigger you get, the more haters you get. I learned to accept that early on," Pendred claimed.
Perhaps most telling, now that everything is final (or as final as it can be), it all just feels right to him. A weight was lifted and he can move on. Pendred said he's grateful for the journey. It was unlike much of anything else he'd ever done. It enabled him to pursue the path he's on now. It served its purpose, in essence, and that means it always had a limited shelf life.
"[Retiring] was the right thing to do," he said. "I had an incredible journey. I started off, I was just a MMA fan watching the sport on TV. I just transpired from one thing to another and I ended being a fan, then I was a UFC fighter rubbing shoulders with people that I once was just a teenager looking at on the TV, thinking these guys are heroes. It was an incredible experience to go from that and something I'll always look back on real fondly.
"If you're a fighter and you start asking yourself the question, 'Should I be doing this any longer?' I think that answers it for you if you're asking yourself this," Pendred argued. "As a fighter, you have to have this unparalleled passion inside you, just driving you and I didn't have that anymore."