By Ike Feldman
What did we watch Saturday night when Tito Ortiz faced Chuck Liddell at The Forum outside of Los Angeles? Was it two MMA legends legitimately renewing a 14-year rivalry? Or was it two past-their-prime fighters looking to make a quick buck?
Father time remains undefeated
Liddell, 48, looked fantastic for a dad but slow and plodding for a former UFC champion who is one of the baddest men ever to ever step into a cage. Ortiz, no spring chicken at 43, knocked out Liddell at 4:24 of the first round in the light heavyweight bout.
It’s not uncommon for mixed martial artists to fight into their 40s. Former greats such as Randy Couture and Dan Henderson successfully fought past the age of 45. Current UFC light-heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier is less than four months shy of 40. It’s not always the miles on the car. It’s how many accidents the car has been in.
Liddell’s career highlight reel of knockouts drew everyone in. His trademark tornado-like flurry of punches is ingrained in MMA fans’ minds. Now, those great memories of “The Iceman” are drifting further and further away. He’s lost four fights in a row, all via knockout. His greatest strength has become his greatest weakness: standing toe-to-toe and recklessly brawling. It’s never easy to see a legend in any sport go out on their heels.
Ortiz, on the other hand, makes out like a fat rat. A man who’s on the Mount Rushmore of all-time disliked fighters got the win over his career rival in the most conclusive way possible. It was the first knockout in more than 12 years for Ortiz, a notorious wrestle-first fighter. “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” stressed over and over his confidence going into the fight, and it showed in the game plan. He did not attempt a single takedown. Ortiz methodically stalked Liddell until he landed a big right hand on The Iceman's chin.
What’s next for the two MMA legends?
Following his last fight in UFC in June 2010, Liddell was employed by the promotion as a front office executive. Along with former UFC champ Matt Hughes, he was let go when UFC was sold to WME-IMG in 2016.
The Iceman was left with a lot more time on his hands. He’s consistently in the gym working with younger fighters. He’s also living a much healthier lifestyle than he was in his heyday; Liddell battled alcohol abuse throughout his UFC career. Liddell’s return to the cage Saturday is part of the fallout from leaving UFC. “Just kinda trying to figure what I want to do, I look at it as a blessing in disguise. It’s got me re-motivated to go out and find what I really want to do,” Liddell said on The MMA Hour in 2017.
Liddell is now in the same position as he was two years ago: defeated, unemployed, and with time to kill.
Ortiz, before and after the fight, vigorously stated he would retire. The former champion has bounced across multiple organizations over the past six years and has continued to cash in because of his drawing power. Since leaving UFC in 2012, Ortiz has headlined events for Bellator and Golden Boy MMA, and also has been a prominent trainer for Cris “Cyborg” Justino, arguably the best women’s MMA fighter of all time. Now he said he wants to focus on growing as an entrepreneur and businessman.
“Let's change the game of mixed martial arts,” Ortiz said. “Let’s not make the fighters contractors, let’s make the fighters partners, if they’re able to promote they should get a lot of the money.”
Ortiz sternly added: “I’m done. I want to focus on great stuff. I want to be a great businessman. Let me focus on the right things and not a million things. This is the beginning of something great.”
Ortiz should convince Liddell to hang 'em up and team with an experienced promotion such as Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy, using his name to give a platform for emerging fighters rather trying to main-event fights himself.
Mixed martial arts is in its infancy compared to major sports such as baseball, basketball and boxing, and the sports public is increasingly aware of the full dangers of brain trauma. Liddell was the pioneer of a chaotic-yet-controlled MMA fighting style. Now, The Iceman is seen almost as a test case for how much damage a fighter’s chin can withstand.
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