Off the Hook - By Joe Reilly

UFC 47 Profile: Chuck Liddell

Chuck Liddell, a man, who also has an impressive resume in Mixed Martial Arts. He could easily rival anyone for the status of best striker in the Light Heavyweight Division. This man can also say he’s faced the who’s who of his division so far in his career. He can also say that he has fought both in the UFC and PRIDE FC, which means he’s fought in both of the two biggest MMA promotions in the world. The guy is regarded by many, as one of the most fearless fighters in the world, as he likes to fight as regularly as possible and he has a reputation for only wanting to fight top fighters…

Name: Chuck Liddell
Nickname: The Iceman
UFC record (W – L – D): 8 – 2 – 0
PRIDE record: 2 – 1 – 0
Overall MMA record: 12 – 3 – 0
Height: 6’2
Weight: 204 lbs
Discipline: Kickboxing
Birth Date: 17 – 12 – 1969
Fighting out of: San Luis Obispo, California

Chuck Liddell, a man, who also has an impressive resume in Mixed Martial Arts. He could easily rival anyone for the status of best striker in the Light Heavyweight Division. This man can also say he’s faced the who’s who of his division so far in his career. He can also say that he has fought both in the UFC and PRIDE FC, which means he’s fought in both of the two biggest MMA promotions in the world. The guy is regarded by many, as one of the most fearless fighters in the world, as he likes to fight as regularly as possible and he has a reputation for only wanting to fight top fighters.

Also, before you get on to the full list of warriors he’s faced, just look at some of the top names he’s beaten. In the UFC he’s beaten names like Jeff Monson, former UFC Heavyweight Champion Kevin Randleman, former UFC Middleweight Champion Murilo Bustamante, the dangerous and well-rounded Amar Suloev, current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Vitor Belfort and most recently highly regarded Renato ‘Babulu’ Sobral. In PRIDE he has beaten both Guy Mezger and Alistair Overeem. The thing that makes MMA so great is that it’s the most varied of all combat sports, there is so much more involved than straight boxing or K-1. Due to there being several ways of finding a win in an MMA bout, it tends to be quite rare when we get an unbeatable figure.

When someone does establish an unbeatable reputation it seems there is at least someone out there, who can beat them, even when they are at their peak, alas Matt Hughes against BJ Penn at UFC 46 back in January of this year. The point I’m getting at is that this sport is so damn real and so damn tough that it makes us all realise our own mortality, Chuck Liddell is a great example of this. Liddell has had patches in his career were he looked damn near unstoppable, as many of us looked on in awe of his achievements.

If you are an outsider looking in at this sport and you’re reading this, you may look at this man’s record and say “He’s lost three times, what’s so good about him?” Well, you are not the only person with these assumptions as there are plenty of hardcore fans of MMA out there doing their fair share of ‘bandwagon jumping’. This is the term I use for those who just stick with the flavour of the month and once they lose it’s like “he’s not the fighter he used to be”. These people I am convinced, fail to see the reality of the sport, no man is untouchable. Joe Rogan actually hit it on the head while commentating at UFC 46 by saying “No one can be perfect in all ways”

To touch on the darker moments of Liddell’s career in brief, he lost early in his career to a very experienced fighter in Jeremy Horn. He lost that fight by technical submission, as he was out cold when the buzzer went to signal the ending of the round after getting caught in a choke. His second loss was last summer as an overwhelming Randy Couture dominated him. His third loss came in November of last year when Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson seemed to just out work him until Liddell’s corner threw in the towel. Now, that has clearly been shown that Liddell is as mortal as any of us, but what those last couple of paragraphs hasn’t shown is Liddell’s spirit as a warrior to use defeats as learning curves and bounce back even better than before.

In the following paragraphs I aim to take a deeper look into each of these losses and how each of them has shaped Liddell into the fighter he is today. First of, let’s go back to UFC 19 back in 1999, the site of Liddell’s first loss. Before this fight Liddell was 2 – 0 – 0 in MMA and 1 – 0 – 0 in the UFC. Back then Liddell had the reputation as a skilful kickboxer with some good wrestling, which he had shown in some good clinch exchanges. Now, he was taking on Jeremy Horn, a well-rounded experienced fighter.

Even though Horn was well versed in all aspects of the sport, he showed superior Jiu Jitsu skill in particular against Liddell and managed to catch Liddell out in a choke. Liddell hung out until the end of the round. When the buzzer went to signal the end of the round, Horn stood up, while Liddell was out. The referee then stopped the fight giving Horn the victory.

After this fight, Liddell would not only go on to improve his striking and wrestling, but he started to really pay attention to his Jiu Jitsu game. In fact under the guidance of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt John Lewis in Las Vegas, Nevada, Liddell has since then made tremendous strides in this area of his game, as only last year he was awarded his purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which is a big deal I assure you. To all the critics who say “Where has he displayed these skills?”, you have to understand that even though Liddell trains in all aspects of the sport, he mainly loves to stand and strike with his opponent because that’s were he feels like a threat to his opponent.

Even though, he’s well rounded, he’ll use his Jiu Jitsu and Wrestling ability to get back to the feet instead of rolling with his opponent. You also have to take into account that he has never lost by submission since that loss to Jeremy Horn. After his fight with Horn, Liddell went on a nine fight-winning streak. He came back to the UFC in late 1999 and overwhelmed Paul Jones finishing him by TKO. In 2000, he fought twice, once in the IFC and once in the UFC, he beat Steve Heath and Jeff Monson respectively at those shows. He beat Heath by knock out and won a decision over Monson.

In 2001, Liddell had a more active year. He ended up fighting three times in all, first he knocked out former UFC Heavyweight Champion Kevin Randleman at UFC 31. He followed up with a big knock out over Guy Mezger at PRIDE 14. Before the year was out, he also defeated Murilo Bustamante by Judge’s Decision at UFC 33, which led to Murilo dropping down to Middleweight to capture the UFC Middleweight crown.

In 2002, Liddell was just as active in the sport. At UFC 35, Liddell beat Amar Suloev by Judge’s Decision. At this stage, Liddell was adamant that he was next in line to step up and face the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Tito Ortiz. Up until now both fighters had made it known that they trained with one another and that they were friends. When asked about this Chuck basically said that he was the number one contender and Tito was the champion so the fight needed to happen. Then, Vitor ‘The Phenom’ Belfort came along. Belfort had been equally impressive in the division like Liddell, but both times he was suppose to fight Tito Ortiz injuries prevented this.

Therefore, it was decided that the winner between Chuck Liddell and Vitor Belfort would be the rightful number one contender. Well, both men fought and Chuck Liddell emerged victorious by defeating Belfort by Judge’s Decision. Tito appeared to be cheering on his friend, but after the fight Chuck scanned the audience looking for Tito. Tito stepped into octagon. Tito said that he’d have no problem facing Liddell, but first he had to fight Ken Shamrock to settle an old grudge.

By this time Chuck Liddell had established himself as the official number one contender in the UFC Light Heavyweight Division. By right Liddell could have refused to step aside again to allow someone else to fight Tito, but he did, so they could settle their grudge. Coming up to UFC 40, which was the show were Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock were ready to do battle, Chuck Liddell made a very risky decision. He decided that he wanted to fight on the same show against someone worth fighting. Zuffa (The owners of the UFC) tried to urge Chuck to reconsider, as he would jeopardise his number one contender right in the event of losing.

Liddell claimed he didn’t like inactivity and that he wanted to fight. Liddell said it would keep him focused for Tito by continually training. Chuck said that it was really hard to train when you didn’t have a fight coming up. Chuck has always maintained that the actual fight is his reward at the end of training, so he wanted to stay active. When it came down to crunch time Chuck Liddell took on Ruas Vale Tudo fighter Renato ‘Babulu’ Sobral. As it turned out, Chuck Liddell won convincingly by knocking out Babulu with an awesome left kick to the jaw.

After the fight, Jeff Osborne interviewed Chuck. Jeff, who was obviously trying to do his job to the best of his ability, started asking questions to get the hype started for Chuck’s next fight for the championship. However, Chuck seemed disinterested with that side of things and just simply stated that he wanted his title shot and that it didn’t matter, Tito or Ken, he was knocking either one of them out.

As the night went on, Tito Ortiz ended up dominating Ken Shamrock. When Jeff Osborne asked about the prospect of Tito fighting one of his best friends next. Tito seemed very hesitant to talk about the situation. He said he wasn’t really thinking about that right then and they’d have to renegotiate some things because he and Chuck were friends. Soon enough we entered 2003 and UFC 41 was next.

At UFC 41, neither Tito or Chuck fought on the show, but they did an interview segment with Chuck. Chuck appeared impatient, as he had been waiting for his title shot for a while now. When asked about the friendship aspect between himself and Tito. Chuck said he liked Tito, but he liked a lot of people and he’d fight any of them. For him it was all business. When told that Tito was recovering from ongoing injuries from the Ken Shamrock fight, Chuck referred to Gan McGee (one of his training partners).

Chuck talked about Gan breaking his hand a few months back, but he was still fighting at this event. Chuck insisted that Tito needed to step up and fight him. By UFC 42 the fight still hadn’t been signed. Now, Tito claimed he had entertainment commitments preventing him from fighting at UFC 42. Tito said he also couldn’t fight at UFC 43, as he had scheduled an annual grappling tournament out in Huntington Beach, California.

It had come to the point were the UFC were in a real bind. Chuck Liddell had understandably been growing impatient with Tito’s recurring excuses. Also, beneath the surface, Tito was trying renegotiate his contract, which most believed was for more money, as he was annoyed to find out fighters like Ken Shamrock and Tank Abbott were being signed to three fight deals and being paid more than he was. He was justifiably upset, as he was a champion and getting treated less well off than guys he believed were over the hill.

The UFC were in a position of great conflict. On one hand they couldn’t tell Chuck that if he was fighting that it would be another number one contenders match, while they couldn’t force Tito to defend his championship. Therefore, because of Tito’s unwillingness to move things along, they decided to have a UFC Light Heavyweight Championship match at UFC 43 anyway, but it would not be between Chuck and Tito.

Instead it was announced that Chuck Liddell would fight Randy Couture for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship. Couture was already hoping to cut weight and drop down to the Light Heavyweight class and was a former UFC Heavyweight Champion himself, while Liddell was due a title shot. Therefore, we would have a championship bout whether Tito decided to fight or not. The UFC referred to the championship as the UFC Interim Light Heavyweight Championship. This whole thing created a lot of confusion amongst the MMA community.

Basically, this championship was created, so the winner would then consider themselves the champion, forcing Tito into a bind to fight the winner or step down. Unfortunately for Chuck, all the training he had been doing getting ready for Tito never prepared him for what he was about to face. Randy Couture up until now had been a two time UFC Heavyweight Champion and showed great dominance in that division, but the opponents were getting too big for him to fight against, so since he was able to get down to 205 lbs, he figured that he should try facing guys his own size for a change.

Going into the fight almost everyone gave Couture no chance of winning since he was coming off two back to back losses, but what many of us failed to realised that the former size disadvantage for Couture in the Heavyweight division was no longer an issue in this division. When the fight went down, Couture manhandled Chuck Liddell and eventually beat him by TKO. Liddell to his credit had fought valiantly to the very end of the fight. Liddell proved he was hard to take down and even harder to keep down.

When Couture managed to put Liddell on his back, Liddell would somehow manage to stand up. It was amazing, this overwhelming world class Greco-Roman Wrestler was on top of him, but he still managed to stand up and get to his feet. Not many guys in the Heavyweight division were even able to do that against Randy Couture. Eventually though Liddell had grown tired and in the third round Couture not only successfully took Liddell down, but established full mount and then punched away to gain a TKO victory. During the fight Liddell couldn’t unleash any of his striking skills when on his feet, Randy Couture defended well and kept pressing forward relentless with takedown attempts.

Couture gave Liddell the respect he deserved by complementing him on his persistent resistance. Now, Couture defeated the number one contender, which made him the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. Soon after that fight it was then announced at a press conference in Japan that Chuck Liddell would represent the UFC in PRIDE FC’s Middleweight (note: PRIDE MW = UFC LHW) Grand Prix tournament.

This tournament would feature eight Light Heavyweights including PRIDE Middleweight Champion Wanderlei Silva, Japanese legend Kazushi Sakuraba, Judo Olympic Gold medallist Hidehiko Yoshida, Rings veteran Kiyoshi Tamura, PRIDE Middleweight number one contender Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, former UFC Middleweight Champion Murilo Bustamante, lanky and dangerous kickboxer Alistair Overeem and of course Chuck Liddell himself.

The opening quarterfinal rounds of the tournament took place on the 10th of August at PRIDE FC: Total Elimination 2003. Technically, the odds favoured Liddell to win his fight with Overeem, but in reality most people had jumped off the Iceman bandwagon quicker than they had originally jumped on in the first place. People were saying that since Couture had little problems in out striking Liddell, they figured a skilled kickboxer in Overeem would be Chuck’s worst nightmare.

Many people speculated that Liddell would resort to trying to take the fight to the ground instead of standing with Overeem. When fight time was approaching it was clear that Overeem felt the same way as the bandwagon jumpers. He said he’d “wreck” Chuck. When the fight went down, Overeem managed to catch Liddell with a big knee to the face early. This was a weapon Overeem had become famous for using in PRIDE and one that many thought would lead to the downfall of Liddell.

However, Liddell quickly regained his composure and clinched with Overeem. After a brief clinch exchange the fight went to the ground, Liddell managed to get the better of the fight by landing several knees to the head of Overeem. When Overeem finally got out of this uncomfortable predicament both men stood up and resumed the striking war. It wasn’t long before Liddell got the upper hand. There was a brief moment where Liddell connected a couple of clean strikes on Overeem.

Overeem then briefly dropped his two hands that were defending his face and Liddell saw the opening and immediately threw a right cross, which seemed to explode on Overeem’s face. Overeem was clearly rocked and Liddell just came at him with a flurry of strikes including punches and knees and Overeem’s legs just flat out buckled and he collapsed to the mat forcing the referee to stop the fight. Liddell was victorious and had regained his winning ways.

After the fight, Liddell was so happy that he asked PRIDE officials to give him Wanderlei Silva in the next round as that was the guy he’s always wanted to face in PRIDE. The final two rounds were on November 9th 2003 at PRIDE FC: Final Conflict. Chuck Liddell’s next opponent wasn’t Silva, instead he was due to face Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, who had defeated Murilo Bustamante by Judge’s decision in the previous round. For this fight, support was very split on both guys, it would be tough to call.

When the fight happened, both men initially decided to stand and strike with one another. Liddell knew he would have to go for the knock out, as he didn’t feel confident of winning a Judge’s Decision in PRIDE, as it was believed by many that a UFC fighter wouldn’t win a decision in PRIDE with the current UFC/PRIDE rivalry that had been established. Also, Liddell was right to be suspicious, as former UFC Heavyweight Champion Ricco Rodriguez had been quite frankly robbed of a decision that should of gone his way when he lost to former PRIDE Heavyweight Champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira on a previous, but recent PRIDE show.

In the actual fight between Chuck Liddell and Quinton Jackson both men continued to seem content with standing against one another. This continued throughout most of the first round, which seemed pretty even with both fighters managing to cleanly land effective strikes. Towards the end of the first round though Jackson managed to get the slight upper hand by taking Liddell down and keeping him there as the bell went. In the second round Liddell clearly appeared more noticeably tired than Jackson. Jackson then turned it up a notch and persistently went for the takedowns and he again managed to get Liddell to the ground and began punishing Chuck with several body shots while in Chuck’s guard.

When Jackson passed Liddell’s guard, Liddell’s corner through in the towel to prevent further punishment. Liddell has never been a man for excuses and gives credit to Jackson for the win, but Chuck felt a mistake he made for that fight was that he tried to learn too many new things so close to fight time. Dana White (the president of the UFC) had placed a $250,000 bet on Liddell winning the tournament and was investing a lot into Chuck’s training. Looking back on the fight Dana White and many others claimed that Liddell didn’t implement his game plan against Jackson, as he had openings here and there that he could have really exploited with kicks and knees, but hesitated when the opportunities came along.

The reality is with Liddell that he loves to strike with people, but in my opinion, he went into the fight with the wrong mentality and that was looking at Jackson as a great ground and pound guy rather than a well rounded guy with excellent stand up. I’m not saying that Liddell thought Jackson had no striking to his name, but Liddell looked surprised when he hit Jackson and Jackson was still standing. Also he was even more surprised how hard Jackson hit. Overall, Jackson was the best fighter on the night and that’s what counts in any fight. Soon afterwards, the MMA community found out that Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz would finally fight each other, as they had both signed on the dotted line to fight each other.

Even though the fight wasn’t until April 2nd of 2004 at UFC 47, the UFC wanted to do as much hyping as possible and at UFC 46 back in January of this year they did just that. UFC 46 turned out to be a night of surprises regarding the results of fights, but it also set the stage for a big stare down in the middle of the octagon between Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell. Joe Rogan acted as the mediator/interviewer standing between them, as he allowed both men to have their say. Tito being his usual self tried to get under Liddell’s skin with his usual childish jokes, as Liddell just nodded with an intense look on his face. In fact you could cut the tension with a knife, as both men were shaking while staring at each other. Fear, anger and eagerness were the feelings rolled into one regarding both the fighters it seemed. After Ortiz finished making jokes about Liddell’s physique, he reiterated his statement that he was never ducking Liddell in any way, but instead he claimed he didn’t want to lay a beating on his friend.

Liddell replied with a no nonsense reply by claiming that Tito was the one who started talking crap and he made a point of daring Tito to stand up and strike with him. Overall, Tito was claiming that he’d come right at Chuck, while Chuck claimed if he did, he’d get knocked out in the first round. Many have debated the possible strategies both fighters will choose to try and implement when the fight actually happens. One thing that most feel is that Liddell will go all out for the KO. Ortiz has made claims that he will stand up with Liddell and knock him out.

Personally, I think Ortiz is bluffing for a couple of different reasons. First off, Ortiz said this going into his fight with Randy Couture, but in the actual fight it clearly wasn’t the case. Second of all, his obvious advantage over Liddell would be taking the fight to the ground and working for a TKO victory. These fighters do have something’s in particular in common and that is that they are both coming off devastating losses, neither have ever lost two fights in a row and the fans seem to be split between them.

What will happen when these two warriors collide? Order it on PPV on April 2nd to find out. For fans in Ireland and the UK, you can order the event on Setanta Sport. One other thing that is very uncertain also is what is next for Chuck Liddell after this fight? Well, if he wins, most likely another UFC Light Heavyweight title shot against the winner of Belfort/Couture 3. If he loses, even he says he’ll be a long way away from another shot at the title. Only time will tell, but before then Tito Ortiz vs. Chuck Liddell, finally, It’s On!

Joe Reilly

[Note: Photo credited to]