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Fightweets: What to make of Chuck Liddell’s comeback?

Chuck Liddell Photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

An aging legend announces his return. Jon Jones gets into a Twitter beef. A fighter misses weight by nearly an entire weight class, then gets inserted into the UFC’s official rankings in the division she couldn’t make as a reward. A fight card that looks like a fight card for the sake of a fight card is on deck.

In other words, it’s just another week in the mixed martial arts world. So let’s get right into things in the latest edition of Fightweets.

Return of Chuck Liddell

@DrewHoffar: Liddell vs Ortiz might be happening in November. Is this good for MMA? Are we that famished for big names and stars in combat sports?

We all sort of knew this was coming the day that Chuck Liddell and Matt Hughes were let go from their ceremonial UFC jobs: Sooner or later, “The Iceman” was going to announce his return to mixed martial arts competition.

Let’s give the UFC’s previous owners some due credit: They authentically tried to do right by some of the most beloved and popular former champions in company history. No fight promotion is going to have the bandwidth to give every ex-fighter a job, but Lorenzo Fertitta and Dana White were trying to do the right thing when they gave office positions to the fighters who helped put the UFC over the top. That’s a rarity in this business.

When WME let both Liddell and Hughes go as a cost-cutting measure, it was a signal both that the Hollywood bean counters didn’t have their finger on the pulse of MMA fans, and that White was no longer going to win every battle in the office now that his best friend doesn’t have the final call on every decision.

Now, with White’s net worth in the wake of the UFC sale, he could break off what would amount to a rounding error by his accountant from his bankroll and take care of Liddell forever. But White’s under no obligation to do so and Liddell is a grown man who has made his own choices in life.

And if you’re Chuck, and you no longer had the “job for life” on which you were counting, and you didn’t really want to step away from the sport in the first place, and you’ve sat back and watched everyone from Tito Ortiz to Kimbo Slice to Royce Gracie to Ken Shamrock return and cash big checks long after you were put to pasture, and you’ve got bills to pay, well, why wouldn’t you want in on the action?

You don’t want to see Liddell fight Tito Ortiz. I don’t want to see it. It can’t possibly deliver once the bell rings.

But we’re probably going to get it anyway. If California or Nevada or New York won’t license Liddell, one of the more lax commission states inevitably will. And since this is Liddell fighting for the first time in nearly a decade, and presumably against his most hated rival, it’s going to draw a ton of attention. That’s particularly true if a hypothetical Liddell vs. Ortiz fight ends up with Oscar De La Hoya as the promoter, as the novelty of Golden Boy getting into the MMA game is going to bring a wave of publicity all on its own.

And, if we’re being honest, between now and then, we’ll come up with ways to justify it, like the fact that Ortiz himself is north of 40, been retired for a year and a half, and also has his share of issues (you know ... “best training camp of my life” morphs into “I had 23 surgeries and two cracked skulls”) to rationalize that this will be something of an even fight. At least we’re not throwing him in there with Jon Jones, right?

Sometimes in the fight game, you just have to surrender to the fact that something is going to happen, whether you want it or not. The return of Chuck Liddell is one of them.

@RuckerYeah: What does Jon Jones have to gain by responding to Liddell?

Absolutely nothing. I’m not sure if Liddell is really delusional enough to believe he can defeat Jon Jones at this stage of the game. Maybe that’s exactly the sort of head space you need to get into simply to get yourself to believe you can still fight, when you’re 48 years old and haven’t fought in eight years and got knocked out a bunch of times on your way out.

But, I mean, if Michael Jordan came out and said that he could beat LeBron James today — not prime Jordan vs. prime LeBron, but 55-year old Jordan against today’s LBJ — how do you think James would come across if he repeatedly trolled Jordan and ran him down on social media? It wouldn’t be a good look, even if MJ was the one who started it.

Of course Jones would absolutely smoke Liddell. That’s obvious. So obvious Jones should have just let it pass without comment, rather than pile on over Twitter. Then again, if Jones had the self-awareness to better handle these situations, he might not be in the position he’s currently in.

What to make of Dern?

@Dtcarden69: Does @MackenzieDern deserve the credit received for beating someone after coming in so high over?

I mean, Dern got the job done in the cage against Amanda Cooper at UFC 224, and in pretty short order, so that’s something. She also looked at least a full weight class bigger than Cooper because, you know, she basically was. Seven pounds overweight is a staggering amount for a bout with a 116-pound limit. Later came news Dern was nearly 140 pounds when she arrived in Brazil earlier in the week.

Dern has enough natural talent that I’d like to believe last week’s mess was caused by all the upheaval in her career, leaving the MMA Lab and settling into Southern California, and that things will stabilize by the time she returns to the cage. That’s the glass-half-full version of this. The pessimistic view is that this is the continuation of a pattern (she’s missed the strawweight limit three times in the six times she’s been scheduled to fight there) which shows no signs of change.

Only Dern truly knows the answer. She has to decide, among other things, whether to get serious about making 115 or whether it’s time to jump to 125. All I can say for now is that it would truly be a shame if someone with such obvious natural gifts didn’t make the most of her talents.

Oh, and let’s finish with a side note: The morons who voted Dern into the UFC’s strawweight top 15 after she so wildly missed the weight deserve a special mention. Not only should they not be trusted to make decisions that affect fighters’ careers, but they should probably be kept away from sharp objects for their own safety, as well.

UFC Chile

@NJDevilRyGro: Could UFC Chile possibly be less interesting?

When I read your tweet, I went to go double-check the UFC Chile fight card, fully expecting to write you a “hey, don’t sleep on this card, it’s better than it looks at first glance” reply. But ... no. This is going to be one of those Fight Nights you simply endure, something on the schedule simply to fill a date on the calendar, 13 fights altogether and few of them with any meaning in their divisions. I’m sure a few of the fights will end up fun and some will wag their finger and say you shouldn’t write off a fight card before it happens. But that doesn’t change UFC Chile’s essential meaninglessness.

Okay, we’ll give a nod to the main event of Demian Maia vs. Kamaru Usman. Usman has long deserved to fight an opponent with Maia’s name value. A win here would put Usman at 8-0 in the UFC and make it really hard for top welterweights to continue avoiding him. And there’s some interest in whether Maia still has it, kind of a trippy thing to consider when this time last year he was on the brink of a title shot.

It’s not a bad fight by any means. But I won’t blame you at all for watching Celtics vs. Cavaliers first and then tuning in later to catch the main event.

And hey, just think, this time next year, after the initial burst of publicity on ESPN+ and a few loaded shows to start the new deal has worn off, you’ll start seeing cards of this quality, but have to pay an extra $4.99 a month for the “honor.”

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