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15th May 2018

There should be no reason for Chuck Liddell to fight again

Jack O'Toole

It’s the fighters curse.

Not being able to walk away from a sport that brought you your fame and fortune. The sport that gave you your sense of identity, your sense of purpose, and in many respects, the passion that helped define you as a person during some of the most formative years of your life.

For Chuck Liddell was as much as ‘The Iceman’ as he was Charles David Liddell.

He was the Light Heavyweight champion of the world, a pioneer for MMA’s first real foray into the mainstream and one of the main beams in the house that Dana built; the $4.2 billion mansion that we see the UFC as today.

But after 12 years of service and 23 fights with the promotion he was told by the UFC in 2010 that his services were no longer required. That it was time to hang up his gloves.

“I’ll be the first one to say he does not have the same chin he used to,” UFC President Dana White said after Liddell was knocked out by Rich Franklin at UFC 115.

“You get to a point in your career and the chin just goes. I’ve been around fighters my whole life and you could have hit Chuck in the face with a pole at one time and it wouldn’t have knocked him out. He had an incredible chin.

“We all turn 40 and we all get old. Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player in the world. It happens to everybody.

“He wanted this and he gave it his best shot. He went out like Chuck Liddell would. He was blasting and throwing bombs and he gave the fans a last, good fight with the Iceman.”

It was a good fight with Franklin but when the former UFC Middleweight champion corked Liddell with a right hook he dropped him to the canvas and his career went with him. Or at least that’s what we thought.

Liddell announced on Monday that he planned to return to the cage for a trilogy fight with longtime foe Tito Ortiz at the end of the year and that Oscar de la Hoya and Golden Boy promotions are currently working on tentative plans for the fight to go ahead in November in either Las Vegas or California.

However, even if the 47-year-old Ortiz doesn’t return to fight Liddell, The Iceman still wants to proceed with his planned comeback.

“I miss it. I never stopped missing it,” Liddell said on The MMA Hour.

“And I kinda hadn’t really thought about it much. And then when he brought it up and we started getting going, and I started training and I started doing stuff again, getting ready to try to take this on, it made me go, ‘You know what, what if he pulls out? Am I not going to fight? Am I going to do all of this and not fight?’

“Oh no, we had to have somebody backing up, and if it doesn’t work out with him, I’m [still] going to give it a shot. It’ll be somebody else, one of the guys from my past probably, most likely, and we’ll see where I’m at.”

It can be sad to see a fighter unable to fulfill the void that fighting once provided in their life, but it can be even more disheartening when that fighter develops delusions of grandeur.

When they aim for the very top of their sport, with legitimate intentions or not, eight years after they died on their shield only to return to a plane they once ruled and become the butt of an unfunny joke.

Liddell told MMA Hour host Ariel Helwani on Monday that anybody that has a problem with his comeback should go watch his old fights instead, but therein lies the problem.

The old fights resonate with us and there’s a part of us that wants the great fighter to show that they can do it one more time. It’s why these fights continue to happen and why people like Oscar de La Hoya are there to profit from them.

There’s a part of our psyche that wonders if the fire still burns brightly within and if the fight in the dog still barks loudly long after their physical attributes took a walk.

Bernard Hopkins was still B-Hop until Joe Smith Jr. put the then 51-year-old through the ropes at The Forum in Inglewood, California and ended his career.

One of the greatest defensive fighters of all time left boxing looking up at a ceiling and a television camera. Literally leaving a ring he had once dominated for so long.

Then there’s the image of Roy Jones Jr. lying face down at the VTB Ice Palace in Moscow after he was dropped by Enzo Maccarinelli at the age of 46. There’s Lyoto Machida crane kicking a 47-year-old Randy Couture into retirement, and then re-creating the exact same kick to do the same to Vitor Belfort last weekend.

Then there’s Dan Henderson who lost seven of his last 10 fights before retiring, but not before he pushed then UFC Middleweight champion Michael Bisping to the distance in a fight of the night performance in his final fight.

Maybe Liddell looks at Henderson as an example of a fighter that was still fighting at a supremely high level at the wrong side of 40 but there’s a long list of guys that kept fighting until they took one fight too many.

To be fair to Liddell, 47-year-old Ortiz is not a world apart with just one fight in the last three years and eight losses from his last 13 fights, but both fighters are examples of competitors that have simply been unable to walk away from a sport that in many respects made them into the men that they are.

MMA has made monumental strides in gaining legitimacy over the last two decades but the ‘freakshow’ fights – the Kimbo Slice v DADA 5000, Kimbo Slice v Ken Shamrock, CM Punk v Mickey Gall – serve as the dark underbelly to a sport with an increasingly bright future.

The UFC, MMA’s most prominent organisation, has tried to distance themselves from these sorts of bouts but the CM Punk experiment shows that there still is some room to trial with fights that otherwise shouldn’t happen.

The Tito Ortiz v Chuck Liddell trilogy fight is one of those bouts and Dana White wants nothing to do with it.

“I get it,” said White (via MMA Fighting’s Jed Meshew). “Everybody sees whats going on, everybody wants a piece, and I hope that’s the case. What I do hope is that he is partnering up with Chuck Liddell and they are going to be partners other than have Chuck Liddell come in and fight.

“If they are going to partner up in the MMA business, nothing will make me happier. That is awesome and I would love to hear if that is true for Chuck.

“If he plans on kicking off his MMA program with Chuck fighting, that would not be good and really, really bum me out. Chuck Liddell is almost 50 years old, he doesn’t need to be fighting.”

He doesn’t need to be fighting and neither does Ortiz, or Jones Jr., or Hopkins or Belfort or any of the other fighters that hung around so long that we saw them transform into shadows of their former selves.

It’s hard for fighters to fill the void that elite competition once brought to their lives but chasing former glories will only ever last so long.

A chance to throw one more shot in the lights. Getting back to who they were when they should be focusing on who they are now and who they will be for the rest of their lives.

A fighter’s curse.