Liddell’s Last Stand

Story by Anthony Springer, Jr.
Photo by Chris Cozzone

Chuck Liddell offered little more than a blank stare in referee “Big” John McCarthy’s direction. At UFC 71, it took Quinton “Rampage” Jackson just 1:53 and a right hook in the opening stanza to bring “the Iceman’s” 25-month reign as light heavyweight champion to an end. Prior to that, Liddell had only tasted defeat on three other occasions (one of which a 2003 Pride loss to Jackson).

In other words, watching the mohawked warrior defeated in such a fashion was a pretty big deal.

Unfortunately, Liddell (21-7) found himself reacquainted with the Octagon canvas on two more occasions as his career progressed. A brutal right hand courtesy of “Suga” Rashad Evans separated Liddell from his senses at UFC 88 and current light heavyweight title-holder Mauricio “Shogun” Rua defeated Liddell by TKO at UFC 97.

Dana White, current UFC president and friend of Liddell’s had seen enough.

In a move that put people over profits, White acknowledged that while Liddell was still a draw, fighting was no longer in the cards. “He’s a huge superstar and we could still sell a lot of tickets,” White said of Liddell’s future in the sport. “But I don’t care about that. I care about him. I care about his health and it’s over man. It’s over.”

Liddell himself conceded that the “Shogun” loss was probably the end to his legendary career. “Yeah, that’s probably the case,” Liddell stated when asked about the future.

Key word: probably.

After a stint on ABC’s hit reality show Dancing with the Stars, Liddell found himself back in shape. Though not training for a fight, the fire that was all but extinguished reignited. A skeptical Dana White threw fuel on the fire, betting Liddell a substantial sum of money that he wouldn’t be in shape for the show.

Liddell took the win—and the purse—with relative ease.

Today, “the Iceman” is quite possibly in his best shape in years. Gone is the slight beer belly the former champion used to carry to the ring, replaced by a six-pack. Liddell’s long time coach John Hackleman told ESPN’s Josh Gross, “I’ve never seen him hit this hard. Brutalizing training partners without even trying. It was scary to watch.”

But will it be enough?

Without a doubt, Liddell’s goals aren’t just lofty, they’re enormous. He’s made no secret that his goal is to win the coveted light h Fuel was thrown on the fire by a skeptical Dana White, who bet Liddell a substantial sum of money that he wouldn’t be in shape for the show.

Liddell won handily.

Today, “the Iceman” is quite possibly in his best shape in years. Gone is the slight beer belly the former champion used to carry to the ring, replaced by a six-pack. Liddell’s long time coach John Hackleman told ESPN’s Josh Gross, “I’ve never seen him hit this hard. Brutalizing training partners without even trying. It was scary to watch.”

But will it be enough?

Without a doubt, Liddell’s goals aren’t just lofty, they’re enormous. He’s made no secret that his goal is to win the coveted light heavyweight title and go out on top. At 40-years-old in MMA’s most stacked division, reaching the top requires fighting—and beating—the world’s best. The two-time champion will take a step towards the mountain when he meets fellow living legend Rich “Ace” Franklin (27-5) in Saturday’s UFC 115 main event.

Let’s be clear what’s at stake here: physically speaking, Liddell will walk into the bout looking like a 30-year-old. Whether or not his body will perform like one is another story entirely. While some would argue that Franklin, 34, has lost a step himself, the former middleweight champion has not been on the same downward spiral that made Dana White force Liddell into retirement. A decisive loss to Franklin is almost certain to be the nail in the coffin—regardless of how many fans Liddell attracts.

On the other hand, a victory silences many of the nay sayers who believe—with a great deal of supporting evidence—that Liddell’s best days are behind him. The critics don’t believe he can win. Many fans wonder if he can win.

Chuck Liddell says they’re all wrong.

“I can still beat anyone in the world at my weight,” a confident Liddell said recently.

Rich Franklin begs to differ.

The rest of us will find out Saturday night.

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