Most Surprising Retirements in Sports History

  • Rocky Marciano retired at the age of 32 as an undefeated champion
  • 9-time Olympic champion Mark Spitz withdrawn from swimming when he was only 22
  • 30-year-ol Michael Jordan announced his retirement but he returned 18-months later
most surprising retirements in sports history

The lives of the top athletes are never easy with continuous training, strict diets and tough competitions. No wonder that some of them had enough after a few years and decided to retire early. But they can have other reasons to do so like a sudden illness or a tragic loss. As we can see in the following examples of the most surprising retirements in sports history. 

24-year-old Grand National-winning jockey David Mullins has just announced his retirement from racing. It might sound strange to retire at such a young age, but Mullins has been riding as a jockey since the age of 16. He won his first Grand National when he was 19 and finished second two years ago. But after a bad fall and a few more races he lost interest in the sport. And would like to do something else now. While the next athletes in our list all had different reasons to retire, one thing was common. Their sudden move shocked everyone from fans to their closest sports mates.

Most surprising retirements in sports history

7. Rocky Marciano

American professional boxer Rocky Marciano retired at the age of 32, with a 49-0 statistics. He is still the only undefeated heavyweight champion after not losing any match in his 8-year-long career between 1947 and 1955. We can say he wanted to finish on top and not risk a sudden defeat in his perfect career. Later Marciano worked as a commentator. He also took part in a film about a fictional fight between him and Muhammad Ali before his sudden death in 1969. The great athlete refused any offer involving his return unlike recent boxers. Mike Tyson had his famous return last year. Floyd Mayweather will also box again this year in an exhibition match as online sportsbooks news in the US were reporting.

6. Jim Brown

One of the greatest American football players of all time, Jim Brown chose acting instead of football at the age of 29. By then he had achieved almost everything with his team, the Cleveland Browns. He appeared in the Pro Bowl all of his nine seasons between 1957 to 1965. He led the league in rushing nine times and was MVP on four occasions. Brown won the NFL championship with the Browns in 1964 and announced his retirement the following year. While his acting career wasn’t so successful but he definitely left his mark on the sport for long decades. Unlike his team, Browns which couldn’t win any more titles since but at least they reached the playoff this season. They lost against Kansas City in the divisional playoff who are favored to win the Super Bowl by online gambling sites in the US.

5. Bjorn Borg

We have next a tennis player in our list of the most surprising retirements in sports history, who said goodbye to the sport at the age of 26. Swedish player Bjorn Borg had been in top form since an early age. He won his first Grand Slam, the French Open in 1974, when he was only 18. He won 10 more GS titles in the next 7 years (5 in the French Open and 5 in Wimbledon) and became the first player to win 11 titles. Borg had a great rivalry with the other star of this era, American John McEnroe. But after such a demanding schedule and high attention he felt burnout by the age of 26 and decided to retire from the sport.

most surprising retirements in sports history
Bjorn Borg – Roland Gerrits / Anefo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

4. Mark Spitz

Another legendary athlete, American swimmer Mark Spitz withdrew at an even younger age, when he was only 22. But by that time he was already a 9-time Olympic champion, winning seven gold medals in the 1972 Munich Olympics. His record was only broken by Michael Phelps in 2008, when he won 8 gold medals in Beijing. His simple reason for his retirement was to earn some money by using his well-deserved fame. At that time swimmers couldn’t make any money but Spitz earned millions of dollars thanks to his endorsement deals.

3. Michael Jordan

The greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan also retired unexpectedly in 1993. At the age of 30 after winning his third NBA title with Chicago Bulls. Jordan’s father passed away a few months earlier and he seemed to lose interest in basketball. He was also after a tiring season and the “Dreamteam”’s performance in the 1992 Olympics. Still his decision shocked the world just like his debut in Minor League Baseball. But luckily he changed his mind and returned to the NBA in March 1995. Jordan was back in form and won three more titles with the Bulls until his second retirement in 1999. He came back even after that and spent two more seasons at Washington Wizards until his final retirement in 2003.

2. Pat Tillman

One of the most unexpected and most tragic retirements was committed by NFL player Pat Tillman. He was spending his fourth season in the NFL playing for Arizona Cardinals. He broke the club’s record of the most tackles in a single season in 2000. But Tillman walked away from a new contract and a sport together in 2002 at the age of 25. He joined the Army and served in Afghanistan where he died two years later due to friendly fire in controversial circumstances.

most surprising retirements in sports history
Pat Tilmann – DoD, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

1. Magic Johnson

The legendary point guard of Los Angeles Lakers, Magic Johnson spent 12 years at the club between 1979 and 1991. He won five NBA titles with Lakers and 3 MVP awards until 1991 when he announced his retirement due to his HIV-positive status. Johnson was still voted by the fans to the 1992 NBA All-Star game and became the game’s MVP. He also joined the “Dreamteam” in the 1992 Olympics and became Olympic champion.

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