A book about the UFC could be written just on the rivalries between Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz and Randy Couture alone. Those three men — all UFC Hall of Famers — helped catapult MMA into the mainstream conversation in the mid-aughts, all fighting each other at least once.
Liddell and Ortiz fought twice. Couture and Liddell fought three times. Couture and Ortiz fought once.
On Nov. 24, Liddell and Ortiz will rejuvenate their rivalry. With both in their 40s, they will come out of retirement and fight each other in the main event of the first MMA card promoted by Golden Boy Promotions, one of the biggest promoters in boxing. The event will take place at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., and air live on pay-per-view.
Couture, who remains friends with both men, told Luke Thomas on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour that he has been asked to be a commentator on the PPV broadcast. He said he would have to ask his current employer PFL if he could do it.
Couture, though, said he had some reservations about the fight happening — and not because Liddell is 48 and Ortiz is 43. It’s due to Liddell’s long layoff from competition. He hasn’t fought since returning in 2010.
“I’m not too concerned about the age, honestly,” Couture said. “I fought right up until where Chuck’s at right now, at a high level. My only concern with that is that Chuck hasn’t been competing, hasn’t been sparring, hasn’t done anything in the fight realm other than regular strength and conditioning for the last eight years, since he retired.
“So that puts the pressure on him to get back up into fight shape, back up and get the timing back to where we’re used to seeing Chuck have going into a fight. He had that style where that timing was very, very important. It wasn’t that he was the biggest, strongest or best athlete. He had a very unique timing, to find you right on the end of one of those long levers and make it a short night. Now, whether he still has that timing, that’s the question.”
Ortiz, meanwhile, fought Chael Sonnen and beat him last year. He retired after that bout, but he is the more fight ready of the pair, in Couture’s estimation.
“He’s been in some big fights with Bellator,” Couture said. “He’s been very active — he’s still in fight shape and in fight mode. So it’s gonna be interesting.”
Liddell has beaten Ortiz twice in a rivalry that goes back 14 years. Liddell won by knockout in 2004 and TKO in 2006. The two almost fought again in 2010 after coaching opposite one another on The Ultimate Fighter, but Ortiz withdrew due to injury.
As the man who won the two previous encounters, the ball is in Liddell’s court, Couture said.
“The onus is always on the guy who won the first,” Couture said. “Obviously, the first two fights Chuck won. What’s he gonna change? What’s he gonna do? The real hard question is what kind of shape or what kind of timing is Chuck gonna bring into this fight after being off for the last eight years? So I think the challenges are really there for Chuck Liddell. Is he capable of getting in there and getting it done? Yeah, absolutely. I think anybody who knows the sport is crazy if they count him out. But I think he’s up against it a little more than Tito is.
“Tito has been way more active, had some big fights. Will he be able to go out and implement his game plan? Which has gotta be getting in Chuck’s face, finding a way to get Chuck on the ground and take some gas out of Chuck. Certainly not standing and trying to trade with Chuck and find out if he does have that timing. I think it’s gonna be interesting.”
Overall, Couture likes the idea of his two longtime rivals and current friends fighting again. And he’s in favor of Golden Boy, headed by Oscar de la Hoya, getting into MMA.
“I think they’re still huge names, both of them,” Couture said. “Marquee names. Names that anybody who’s a fan of this sport recognizes. And maybe this is the start of the masters division of MMA.
“I’m hoping it’s successful for both these guys and the promotion, because it doesn’t hurt to have more options, more places for fighters to go and be a professional fighter.”