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Brian Ebersole wanted 'fairy tale ending' to career but ‘it just didn’t quite happen’

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Brian Ebersole didn't intend for this past Saturday to be his farewell fight, but no one has ever accused the fight game of being fair to its senior class.

Ebersole, the 34-year-old veteran of the early aughts, called it a career after a knee injury ended his seventieth professional bout with a first-round TKO loss to Omari Akhmedov at UFC Fight Night 68. Considering his extensive history in Australia, Ebersole had hoped a win against Akhmedov would land him the chance at a proper retirement bout in Melbourne at UFC 193, but alas the fight gods rarely allow for such formalities.

"I tried to write a fairy tale ending," Ebersole said Monday on The MMA Hour. "It just didn't quite happen. I wasn't going to ask the UFC to put me back out for one more fight if I wasn't going to be 100-percent. If I can't fight the way I want to fight, I don't want to fight at all. I don't want to disparage the sport and myself really by going out there at less than 100-percent."

Despite his relatively young age, Ebersole's 15-year career stretches across several standout eras of the sport, from the NHB days of unregulated barroom brawls, through the boom of the past decade, all the way to the corporate behemoth of the present day.

In that time, Ebersole fought in virtually every weight class from lightweight to heavyweight, making appearances in a slew of organizations from Shooto, to Strikeforce's inaugural show, to the IFL, and finally to the UFC, where he ended his run with a successful eight-fight stint that brought his final career tally to 51-17-1 (1 NC).

"I'm definitely part of a different era," Ebersole said.

"Guys fighting on the local circuit, fighting every two to four weeks. Yeah, you have a few fights back out on you, but for the most part people show up and actually compete. Those days, I think, are gone. Now you get guys who I think are a bit delusional, they don't understand really what the sport's about or what it offers. They're delusional about their own path and place in the sport. They get two or three fights in and they start managing their career, as if you have something to manage at that point that could be called a career.

"You get guys who don't want to fight this guy for this reason and whatnot. Back then, we just fought. The Robbie Lawlers of the world, you show up and you fight. You might not even be there (to fight), you might be there to corner someone and you might take a fight. It's kind of the ‘have gloves, will travel.' There are people out there who are still like that, but they're usually not the most talented ones. These days, the guys with the talent really seem to be sitting back. ... Those are the guys I'm talking about, that aren't of that same breed. They aren't just willing to go challenge yourself, take the fight and trust the path."

When it comes to stories from MMA's bygone days that could illustrate his point, Ebersole has more than his fair share. Take, for example, the time he cast his name into four one-night tournaments within a span of seven months in 2001-2002, winning three of them, including a grueling eight-man bracket down south in Mexico. Or the time he ballooned up to light heavyweight just to test his luck against a pre-TUF 1 Stephan Bonnar. That fight was actually Bonnar's pro debut and it ended with the goliath 205er besting the career welterweight in 51 seconds, but all of that was beside the point because, hey, why not?

But when Ebersole looks back, he points to one moment in particular that stands out among the rest. Back in 2011, 11 years and 62 fights into his career and then-living in Australia, Ebersole got a call to replace Carlos Condit against Chris Lytle on just two weeks' notice in Sydney at UFC 127. Ebersole took the opportunity and ran with it, upsetting Lytle in a firecracker of a fight that notched the longtime journeyman a ‘Fight of the Night' bonus in the UFC debut that he never saw coming.

"Just having that as my debut was (already) going to rank that in the top-three, as far as memorable moments and memorable weekends of my career," Ebersole said. "You add in the win, you add in the fact that it was over a guy like Chris Lytle, you add in the financial factor, the bonus, which is two ways -- it's about the recognition that it was an outstanding fight and obviously the fact that I could pay off my student loans from college and take some of the financial pressure off of myself, continue training to move forward. That night was definitely the pinnacle."

With his fighting career now behind him, Ebersole joked that he's going to try his hand at "being old for a little while" while working on a few side ventures in the real estate business. But ultimately he'd love to stay in the sport that has helped shape his adult life for nearly two decades, whether that means coaching or even commentating.

"It's definitely pretty neat to see all the ways in which the sport has grown," Ebersole reflected. "That's for the industry and the people within it. It's made it better for them, given it more stability, big shows are happening more often, things like that. Obviously for fans, they've got a lot more access to athletes, there's more athletes being marketed, more athletes on TV, more autographs that are worth chasing, things like that. So it's an exciting time obviously with all that growth.

"The one reservation I do have (about MMA's future) -- and you mentioned the Reebok thing, and obviously the sponsors being cut out, things like that for the athletes -- the one thing that doesn't excite me so far is the philosophy of how it's being grown, in the sense that all of the plans and all of the direction are coming pretty much from one head table. It's not a situation where we have a players' union or something like that which speaks on the collective behalf of the athletes and helps implement some of the things that we would like to see to make the sport better or more fair. So that would be ideal, if the fighters really did have a voice."