Though it was generally regarded as little more than a formality, Chuck Liddell
's official retirement on Wednesday was one of those moments where one side of your mouth curls a little and you nod silently in respect for one of the greats.
Liddell's retirement has been talked about for the better part of the last 20 months, ever since he was knocked out by Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 97. Then, his boss, UFC president Dana White, said "The Iceman" was done.
It turned out Liddell, who went into the UFC Hall of Fame at UFC 100, had one more fight left in him. But after Rich Franklin knocked him out in June, Liddell walked out of the Octagon for the last time as a fighter.
Liddell is widely regarded as one of the sport's true legends and one of the fighters who is credited the most for putting the UFC on the mainstream map. He's written a book, graced the cover of ESPN The Magazine, made cameos in critically acclaimed series ("Entourage") and in forgettable movies ("Drillbit Taylor"). He even was on "Dancing With the Stars." Now he'll don a suit – though we pray he doesn't lose the mohawk – as a UFC vice president.
But none of it would've been possible if not for so many memorable appearances in rings and cages. On the day of his official retirement, we take a look back at some of the greatest performances of Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell's Hall of Fame career. 10. Liddell vs. Rich Franklin, UFC 115, June 12, 2010
It seems almost unfair to lead off a list of great Liddell moments with a knockout loss. But as his last fight, it's an important moment. And it should be noted that with four losses in his last five fights coming in, including consecutive knockout setbacks to Rashad Evans and Shogun Rua, Liddell came into the bout looking as good as any other time in recent memory. He was cut, and he was confident. He also stood right in and traded with Franklin through the first round, and even broke Franklin's left forearm with a kick. Though he was ultimately put down by a right hand, and then the last two rights of his career on the ground, if Liddell was going to go out with a loss, he went out the only way he would want to go out – pushing forward and looking to finish his opponent with one big shot.
9. Liddell vs. Vernon White, UFC 49, Aug. 21, 2004
Coming off a knockout win over Tito Ortiz four months earlier, Liddell took a a dangerous fight against "Tiger." After all, a loss to a fighter with a sub-.500 record could be devastating. And White had talked plenty leading into the fight, leading UFC analyst Joe Rogan to say for the first time in his career, Liddell legitimately hated an opponent. The two had some good exchanges on the feet, trading bombs back and forth. White even caught Liddell with a few decent strikes, including a spinning back kick. But it was White's ability to withstand several Liddell barrages and knockdowns that had "The Iceman" appearing to mumble to himself about halfway through the first round. But late in the first, after eating a left, Liddell composed himself, looked to his corner and waited for White to throw another left. When it came, Liddell, while backing up, delivered a right hand that didn't need a follow-up. White's knees buckled and he was out as Liddell leaned back and spread his arms wide for that classic Iceman pose that has become immortalized. 8. Liddell vs. Randy Couture 3, UFC 57, Feb. 4, 2006
After beating Couture decisively in their rematch at UFC 52, Liddell beat Jeremy Horn and then drew the 42-year-old Couture again for the rubber match in their legendary trilogy. Both knew the damage the other could do – Couture took Liddell down at will in their first meeting and also outstruck him on the feet. Liddell's striking dominated the sequel. For most of the first round, the two kept their distance. But Couture landed a nice jab and a take down shortly after, and though he was cut and bleeding, he appeared to have at least given Liddell something to think about going into the second. Liddell started the second carefully, eating a couple Couture jabs. But 80 seconds in, Liddell finished things quickly and explosively, just like their second meeting. When Couture slipped slightly, he missed with a follow-up left coming forward. Liddell made him pay with a giant right and the finishing blows on the ground. Immediately after the fight, Couture announced his retirement from the sport – though he would come back a year later to win the UFC heavyweight title. 7. Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz 2, UFC 66, Dec. 30, 2006
The rematch that at that point was the biggest fight in the UFC's history from a sales standpoint, the two most popular champions in the promotion's history – and former friends – had major scores to settle. Ortiz wanted his belt back and to prove Liddell's win over him two and half years earlier was little more than bad decision making on his part – because he chose to stand and trade with one of the sport's hardest hitters. Where Liddell found success in the rematch was in neutralizing the majority of Ortiz's take down attempts. Liddell had Ortiz on the ropes in the first round with a knockdown and a subsequent flurry of ground and pound that cut Ortiz's head open. Late in the second, Ortiz finally landed a take down – and that might have won him the round. It at least made things more interesting going into the third. In that round, though, 90 seconds in, the two stood and traded. And as had happened so many times before, Liddell got the better of the exchanges, dropped his opponent and finished up on the ground. Ortiz gave him as good of a fight as anyone in three years – but the end result was still the same. It would be Liddell's last successful defense of the 205-pound title before losing it to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 71 the following spring.6. Liddell vs. Alistair Overeem, Pride: Total Elimination 2003, Aug. 10, 2003
Riding an astounding 12-fight winning streak in which he ended each fight by knockout or submission, Overeem was making a case to be the most feared up-and-coming striker in the sport. In the quarterfinals of the 2003 Pride middleweight grand prix tournament, he faced Liddell, who was looking to take out some aggression after his first career loss, a TKO defeat at the hands of Randy Couture for the UFC's interim light heavyweight belt two months earlier. Overeem used some big knees to the body to keep Liddell at bay early, and Liddell even shot for a take down to escape them. But a giant right hand that seemed harmless for a second had Overeem's hands down at his sides. Liddell moved in for the kill, landed a knee of his own, then threw big bombs against the ropes until Overeem was down for good. Considering Overeem has gone on to win the Strikeforce heavyweight title and hasn't lost in more than three years, Liddell's beat down of the future superstar looks even more impressive. 5. Liddell vs. Renato "Babalu" Sobral 1, UFC 40, Nov. 22, 2002
With three straight decision wins, Liddell was rolling through the UFC light heavyweight division – though it had been a year and a half since his last knockout. But the decisions had almost made people forget the knockout power in his hands. Almost. Sobral stood in with Liddell and worked an effective kicking attack in the first half of the first round. But as the two rather calmly looked for their next opportunities on the feet, Liddell threw a right-left combo that dropped Sobral's head – and dropped it right into Liddell's left shin. The head-kick knockout became a staple of Liddell highlight reel footage and put him on the path to a shot at the light heavyweight title. 4. Liddell vs. Renato "Babalu" Sobral 2, UFC 62, Aug. 26, 2006
A rematch from their bout three and a half years earlier, which Liddell won by knockout, Liddell was tested early as Babalu came forward with an attempt at a barrage that had the champion backing up. But as he became known for throughout his career, just because Liddell is backing up doesn't mean he can't knock an opponent out. A right uppercut from Liddell put Sobral on his knees, and from there it was a complete blitz of strikes from his feet, keeping Sobral on the ground with a steady diet of fists. Even after John McCarthy stopped the fight, Sobral was so disoriented looking to defend himself that he wrapped his arms around McCarthy's leg and tried to take him down. 3. Liddell vs. Randy Couture 2, UFC 52, April 16, 2005
Liddell was already poised to become the biggest MMA star on the planet after his win over Tito Ortiz at UFC 47 and a highlight reel knockout of Vernon White at UFC 49. And his rematch with Couture came after the two had coached the inaugural season of "The Ultimate Fighter." Just one week after the TUF 1 Finale that would become known as the event that changed the UFC forever, UFC 52 – thanks to this main event, in particular – was perhaps the most important pay-per-view in the UFC's history. Couture, who had handed Liddell his first knockout loss nearly two years prior, came out willing to stand. But just over halfway through the first, a Liddell left hook staggered Couture, who instinctively came forward to try and mount offense – almost as a defense. As Couture continued to wobble, Liddell cocked his right arm back and waited. A second later, that right hand came forward and crumpled the champion. Two shots on the ground didn't matter, as Couture had been knocked out for the first time in his career. For Liddell, he became a champion for the first time, and he left no doubt in the process that he was the biggest name in the sport.2. Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz 1, UFC 47, April 2, 2004
To put it as simply as Mike Goldberg put it as the bell rang, "The friendship is over!" Former friends and training partners, Liddell and Ortiz brought in some of the biggest pre-fight hype the UFC had seen. Both were coming off losses – Liddell to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in Pride and Ortiz to Randy Couture. And Liddell had a loss to Couture less than a year earlier. Both Liddell and Ortiz knew to get another crack at Couture, then the light heavyweight champion, the road would have to go through each other. The end of the first round saw a flurry from Liddell, and Ortiz responded with an amped-up exchange, seemingly begging for more. It didn't take Liddell long in the second to respond to that request. Ortiz continued to stand with Liddell, and Liddell made him pay the price. An onslaught 30 seconds into the second round featuring dozens of right-left combinations in succession finally buckled Ortiz as John McCarthy stepped in to shut it down. "I give him a lot of respect, because he did stand with me," Liddell told Joe Rogan after the fight. "But this is what's going to happen." 1. Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva, UFC 79, Dec. 29, 2007
So-called "dream" bouts very seldom live up to their pre-fight expectations. Look no further than Frank Mir vs. Mirko Cro Cop at UFC 119 for proof of that. Liddell had been asking for a fight with "The Axe Murderer" for years. He called out Silva after he beat Alistair Overeem in Pride. He asked for him again after beating Randy Couture to win the UFC light heavyweight title. It was a bout he wanted, and to be certain it was a bout the fans wanted. Liddell and Silva were two of the most feared strikers in the sport's history. When Silva finally returned to the UFC after years of dominating Pride opponents, the bout fell into a better-late-than-never category. A good fight was possible, but no one could have expected the Fight of the Year slugfest that ensued. After some safe exchanges in the first round with both fighters feeling each other out, safety went out the window. Countless times, both fighters had opportunities to deliver a career-defining finishing shot, and countless times each stood in, taking the best punches the other had to offer. Liddell even delivered a surprise take down to open the third, just to give Silva a reason to wonder what might come next besides leather across his face. Liddell went on to win a unanimous decision. It was his last victory, the year's best fight and one unforgettable performance.