Chuck Liddell is no doubt an incredibly popular figure in MMA, helping to carry it to its current height. He was a feared striker for many years, and a longtime UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. However, contrary to what you have read or heard, Liddell is not solely responsible for bringing MMA to its current level. His long-time arch nemesis and twice-over victim, Tito Ortiz, has just as much if not more claim to carrying MMA to its current heights. Ortiz carried the UFC through the "Dark Ages" of the UFC, where the UFC was off pay-per-view and just getting back on through Zuffa's new ownership. Can you imagine how things might've played out if Tito Ortiz had not been LHW Champion during this time? Yes, Ortiz ducked Liddell...but Ortiz also made people watch the sport, whether you loved him or hated him. In addition, I think Ortiz is just as big a star and successful outside the Octagon as Liddell is.
However, I digress. This article is not about Liddell and Ortiz. Bottom line, Chuck has what matters most, and that is two victories over Ortiz inside the Octagon. UFC 66 was a huge night for the UFC, and their second bout still holds many records. But Ortiz, like so many others before him, was tailor-made for Liddell. Ortiz, a powerful wrestler known for his Ground and Pound and not known for his willingness to engage on the feet, was the perfect victim for Liddell. Scan the list of Liddell's most recent victims and you'll find this style quite prevalent. Ortiz, Randy Couture (Similar to Ortiz with better stand-up), Renato Sobral (Submission Wrestler), Jeremy Horn (BJJ Expert), Vernon White (Seriously?)....these are guys who want to get it to the ground. None of these guys wanted to exchange with Liddell, and none of them had the power to seriously test Chuck's chin. Couture was the only one willing to even try and engage Chuck on the feet, and it was successful in their first fight and the first round of their rubber match. However, Randy got caught like so many before and went crumbling to the mat. Not all that unlike when Brock Lesnar caught him.
Scan the rest of the list of Liddell victims....Kevin Randleman (Wrestler), Murilo Bustamante (BJJ Whiz), Jeff Monson (Grappler)...are you getting the picture here? Liddell's best wins in my mind are his victory over Vitor Belfort, dominating Vitor and dropping him, his win over Guy Mezger even though Guy was getting the better of him until he got caught, and Wanderlei Silva....although a much-depleted and past his prime Silva. Not to mention, Silva had no answer for Chuck's reach and Silva's gung-ho style was tailor-made for Chuck. Credit Wanderlei for not being KTFO'd.
But now look at the guys who have recently beaten Chuck....Quinton Jackson (2x) a vicious striker who has a good enough wrestling base to take Chuck to the mat. Quinton isn't afraid to trade with anyone, and has a solid chin. These are the keys to beating Chuck. The best part is Quinton showed you two ways to beat Chuck....absolutely batter him for 10+ minutes, take him down and beat him into submission, or hit him on the chin with solid power and send him to la-la land. Keith Jardine beat Liddell too. Jardine is probably an anomaly here, because he is so awkward and I think Liddell took him too lightly. However, he fought effectively and even knocked Liddell down. Rashad Evans, formerly known as solely a wrestler, really impressed. Rashad has great power, and was willing to engage with Chuck. Evans was far too quick and absolutely smashed him in the face. By this fight, it was evident Chuck's chin was not nearly as tough as people gave him credit for. And finally, Shogun....Shogun came into the fight in shape with a smart gameplan. He knew he'd have a hard time taking Liddell down and keeping him there...say what you want, but Liddell has some of the best takedown defense in MMA and has the best ability and getting to his feet once down. Shogun was willing to trade and engage....and Liddell got caught again.
What does this all add up to? I think if these fights had happened from 05-07 instead of 07-09, the same results happen. I truly believe Chuck Liddell was, in some fashion, a protected fighter. His title reign, filled with impressive KO victories, were against fighters with styles who had almost no chance at beating Liddell. It isn't that Liddell would've been done in 06...but I just don't know if Liddell was ever as good as so many people gave him credit for. Chuck's been the same fighter for far too long. Wide fighting stance, looping punches, huge knockout power and waiting for the right moment to counter-strike. I give Liddell credit for going out of his element to train with American Top Team...but it is too little too late.
This article is not meant to trash Chuck Liddell. Chuck has done a lot for the sport, and for that I am eternally grateful. His book was very entertaining. He has cross-over appeal, and is a true rockstar. I just don't see why people choose to overlook the obvious in proclaiming Chuck the biggest star MMA has ever had, and the one fighter who made MMA as popular as it is, because that simply is not the case.
However, if Chuck Liddell chooses to continue to fight, that is his choice. Dana White has no business telling the public that Liddell is retired. If Chuck wants to continue to fight, he has earned that right. While I don't think he should continue to fight, that is not my decision. Chuck just needs to know he is now a gatekeeper for the LHW division. What interesting fights are left though? I have no desire to see Liddell v. Silva again. Liddell v. Machida would just be ugly for both Chuck and the fans. Liddell v. Griffin would probably be the only fight I'd like to see in that division. And stop it if you are thinking that Chuck should move up to HW...they are too big, too strong up there and it would not be pretty. How about this for a retirement fight...Liddell v. Couture IV as both men's swan song?
This is just one writer's opinion, one I know many of you will vehemently disagree with. I welcome to criticism, as long as you come strong with valid points. While I appreciate what Chuck has done for the UFC and MMA...he is not the God many writers on the Internet have made him out to be since his TKO loss to Shogun. Until next time.....
Matt William pens his "The Real Deal" columns for MMAFighting.com.