Both fighters were given front-office jobs by former UFC owners Zuffa as inducements to give up fighting and protect their legacies. But both were subjected to new owner WME-IMG’s job cuts, as they were let go from their positions late last year.
With the idea both fighters could return to action on the table, speculation soon turned to whether the former champions could find a home in Bellator, which has garnered big television ratings in recent years by matching legends of the past against one another.
On a Tuesday media call, Bellator CEO Scott Coker said the company has not yet talked to either Liddell, the former UFC light heavyweight titleholder, or Hughes, his welterweight counterpart.
“We have not talked to either athlete, so, right now I’m really focused on this event coming up in England, this is going to be an exciting week for us coming up with the festivities and the big fights at Wembley. Then my focus really is on New York after that.”
That’s not to say the door is slammed on the idea, however. Coker said that once Bellator gets through its upcoming stretch with major events in London and New York, they’ll have a chat with the two competitors.
“At some point, I’m sure we’ll talk and we’ll just hear each other out and see if there’s anything that can be done, but really, it hasn’t been on our radar, yet.”
In the meantime, the headliners on the next Bellator event both say they’d welcome Hughes and Liddell into the company. Paul Daley, who meets Rory MacDonald in the main event of Bellator 179 on May 19, says he wouldn’t mind fighting Hughes.
“Chuck’s a legendary fighter, produced some high-level knockouts, great character for the sport of mixed martial arts,” Daley said. “And Matt Hughes was a consistently dominant champion. It would be great to have two legends back in the sport, in particular, Matt Hughes, you know, he’s in my division, it would be great to get in there and fight against a legend. it would be great to have them both back and even better if its in Bellator.”
For his part, MacDonald would also like to see them in the company. But he’d prefer to see Liddell and Hughes fight their contemporaries, rather than compete against current top names.
“I think Bellator has done a fantastic job in bringing in these legendary fighters and matching them up against each other,” MacDonald said. “I think it’s good for the legendary fighters to come in and stay busy and do what they love without having to come in against the young, dangerous guys, so I like it, the fans like it, it really works. I’d like to see more of the old-school guys come back.”