In the world of gambling, it is said that it is smart to quit while you’re ahead. When you end up winning more than you have spent, it’s the easy strategy to ensure you don’t get greedy and lose everything you have won. The correlation of such a simple example can apply to the life of a mixed martial artist. A fighter builds a legacy, but sometimes they can lose everything simply by hanging on for too long. Such is the case for Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell.
Liddell made his UFC debut in 1998 at UFC 17. Not only was it his Octagon debut, it was also his professional MMA debut. Take a moment to let that sink in.
Liddell’s next fight came outside the UFC, but he returned at UFC 19, where he was submitted by Jeremy Horn. This was in 1999. To put that into perspective, Jon Jones was just 12 years old at the time.
Liddell went on a tear after the loss. He defeated the likes of Jeff Monson, Kevin Randleman, Guy Mezger, Murilo Bustamante, Vitor Belfort and Renato “Babalu” Sobral. “The Iceman” was seemingly invincible.
Enter Randy Couture.
“The Natural” temporarily halted the rise of Liddell, who went on to defeat Alistair Overeem in and suffer a loss to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, with both fights coming under the Pride banner, before finding his footing once again.
This is when it all began for Liddell and his rival to this very day, Tito Ortiz. Ortiz had been in the UFC for quite some time serving as its light heavyweight champion. He defended the belt a massive five times within the next three years. When Couture and Ortiz clashed at UFC 44, Couture took the belt and, in the process, literally spanked Ortiz. This set up Ortiz’s first encounter with Liddell.
The world was not ready for what came next. Liddell was able to dispatch of the former champion Ortiz within the first minute of round two. Liddell went to defeat Vernon White before getting a chance to avenge his most recent loss against UFC’s reigning light heavyweight champion at the time, the aforementioned Couture.
Couture vs. Liddell II was built up by the flagship season of The Ultimate Fighter and changed the landscape of MMA as we knew it. It provided one of the greatest fights in UFC history when Forrest Griffin took on Stephan Bonnar in the TUF tournament finals. The coaches looked on in amazement as their fighters put on a spectacular performance. The two coaches stepped inside the Octagon just one week later.
Liddell set out to prove he could defeat Couture. He not only won the UFC light heavyweight title, but he went on to finish his next four opponents in a row, including additional wins over Horn, Couture, Babalu and Ortiz. “The Iceman” was back.
Sadly, the second win over Ortiz turned out to be the peak of Liddell’s career. Over the next six bouts, “The Iceman” was not only defeated five times, but he was stopped in four of those losses. His only win in this span was an instant classic with Wanderlei Silva.
The losses took a toll on Liddell. After his UFC 115 defeat at the hands of Rich Franklin in a fight that was originally supposed feature Ortiz opposite Liddell in a trilogy fight, Liddell decided it was time to hang up the gloves. However, it was too good to be true.
Thanks to boxer-turned-promoter Oscar De La Hoya, fans were finally able to see the trilogy fight that had not happened eight years prior. Liddell, now 48, would have his day once more with Ortiz, 43.
It never should have happened.
Liddell’s videos prior to the fight really sparked some life into the fans and truly led us to believe Liddell had some fight left in him. After all, Couture had won the heavyweight title at age 43, Mark Hunt continues to compete at age 44, and current UFC heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier is nearing his 40th birthday. Yet, it was hard to ignore the massive knockouts Liddell had suffered back to back to back. Ortiz, on the other hand, had experienced some recent success in Bellator, where he beat former middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko, the aforementioned Bonnar and Chael Sonnen.
On paper, it seemed like Ortiz had the upper hand, especially given that it had been eight years since Liddell last competed. It showed once the two legends clashed.
Ortiz made quick work of Liddell and finally was able to shut the door on the man who had already defeated him twice. Even though Liddell has released a video saying that people should be congratulating Ortiz, it’s tough to agree with this sentiment at all. It was the animal kingdom equivalent of a lamb led to the slaughter. Liddell looked old, and the fight was just not right.
So, it begs the question every fighter is asked time and time again: at what point do you hang up the gloves?
A couple years back, I penned an open letter to former UFC lightweight and welterweight champion B.J. Penn when he announced that he was coming out of retirement to fight again. I wish that he had heeded my concerns. Since returning, the “Prodigy” is 0-2, bringing him to an 0-5-1 mark in his last six fights. Penn has another fight coming up, too, which is utterly disturbing. Penn, like Liddell, shouldn’t be competing anymore.
How do you tell someone whose whole life is fighting that they can’t do it anymore? That’s when the commissions need to step up.
I have always been a fan of Liddell ever since my introduction to MMA nearly a decade ago. While my introduction to the sport coincided with his decline, I still appreciate Liddell at his prime as a thing of beauty, complete with vicious knockouts. It was what carried MMA to what it is today. However, Liddell, like all pioneers of the sport, must realize that there comes a day when the gloves are off. They should never look back.