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Chuck Liddell Falls in a Finish Worthy of a Champion

There's a funny thing that happens when you see a legend like Chuck Liddell knocked out cold.

One minute, he's larger than life, a hero to millions, marching down to the cage like a lion headed for his evening meal. A few minutes later, he goes shuffling back to the locker room with his trainer holding a bloody cloth to his face, and it's like he's somehow shrunk to half his previous size. He almost disappears into the crowd, just another guy trying to get out of the arena and beat the traffic.

The punch from Rich Franklin that ended Liddell's night – and most likely his career – at UFC 115 on Saturday night wasn't exactly a fierce one. It was nowhere near as bad as the blistering right hand from Rashad Evans that began Liddell's three-fight losing streak at UFC 88, but it was enough.

Liddell walked straight into the short right hand and the effect was immediate. Never does a former champ look so old as when he's collapsing to the mat from a punch that wouldn't have been worth mentioning in his prime. That's how you know it's time to quit.


At least, that's when you should know. If you don't, then you need someone to tell you. Someone like UFC president Dana White, perhaps, who's never been one to keep his opinions to himself.

Speaking with MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani after the fight, White guaranteed that Liddell was done fighting. No discussion, no debate. Automatic retirement. That's not déjà vu you're experiencing. You really have lived this moment before.

After Liddell went down to a glancing blow from "Shogun" Rua at UFC 97, White made similar assurances.

"I care about his health, and it's over, man. It's over," White said then. Of course, Liddell had other ideas.

But after seeing the vacant stare in his eyes as he found himself staring up at the lights on Saturday night, trying to make sense out of how he got there, you'd have to be either a masochist or a Tito Ortiz fan to want to see Liddell back in the Octagon again. His body just can't take this sport any more, particularly not with his style.

Liddell has never been the guy who was impossible to hit. Instead, he was the guy who practically dared you to unload on him just so he could hit you back twice as hard. It's a great approach when you can take a shot as well as you can give one, but it's not the kind of thing you can do forever.

In spite of the relatively mild shot that finished him, Liddell went out the same way that he triumphed for most of his career: flinging punches with ill intent. He tagged Franklin early and often, even breaking his opponent's arm with a kick shortly before the finish.

In some bizarre way, it might even be the perfect ending to a great career.

Sure, I know everyone wants to go out on a win, but in the fight game it rarely works that way. Just try and talk a winning fighter into retiring. See how far that gets you. The truth is that all real fighters need to be beaten into retirement. They need to find out for sure that it's over. One only hopes that they can do it with the same heart and dignity that they showed during their best days.

Liddell has already done the first half. He came forward and made Franklin put him away. He went down swinging, which is the way any proud champion wants to go out.

Now we just have to hope that he sees the loss as the bittersweet ending that it is, and that he lets fans remember him as the fighter who thrilled them even in defeat, rather than the former great who didn't know when to walk away.
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