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| | Can "The Iceman" Liddell keep on skating at UFC 97?
Can "The Iceman" Liddell keep on skating at UFC 97? |
by Dave Meltzer on Apr 14, 2009 at 9:45 am ET
There comes a time in every athlete's career when his memories become bigger than his dreams. Many feel that Chuck Liddell, 39, the most popular and most financially successful fighter in Ultimate Fighting Championship history, has reached that point.
Every time he does an interview, the questions revolve around when he's going to retire. He's lost three of his past four fights. In his last fight, he wasn't just knocked out; he was out cold for several minutes courtesy of a right hand from Rashad Evans.
Saturday night's UFC 97 co-main event in Montreal against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, which two years back may have been MMA's ultimate dream match, is a career crossroads for both men.
Several weeks back UFC president Dana White, who also is Liddell's promoter and friend, made a statement that surprised a lot of people, noting not only did Liddell need to notch a win, but also it needed to be a remarkable one.
"I've made it very clear to Chuck, very clear," said White to the Canadian Press, "[that] it's not about money. It's not about this or that. Chuck is one of my good friends. Chuck has cemented his legacy in the UFC and in the fight game. I'm not even saying if he wins, unless he looks incredibly impressive – I mean he's going to have to go out there and dazzle me, for me to want Chuck to still fight."
Liddell brushes all the "do-or-die" talk aside. He's not concerned whether White's comments were meant to motivate him, or if it was a suggestion from a concerned friend to retire before he takes more punishment that will affect him later in life.
"I don't think about it either way," said Liddell, who arrived over the weekend on his first trip to Montreal, where he is the key drawing card for a sold-out show at the Bell Centre. "I think it's being blown out of proportion."
Liddell (21-6) has accomplished almost everything there is to accomplish in the UFC. With his quiet demeanor and distinctive look that includes a mohawk haircut, Liddell became MMA's first world champion and the knockout artist in the marquee division as UFC hit television in early 2005.
He has won more fights, garnered more popularity and earned more money than any fighter in the history of the organization. But he doesn't talk of the past, other than to share his opinion that more is being made of the loss to Evans than should be.
"I was winning that fight [with Evans] until I got caught," Liddell said. "I made a mistake and got caught. It's as simple as that."
Both men were tentative in that fight early, and the first round was close, but Liddell was ahead on the judges' scorecards. Early in the second round, both threw, but Evans' punch landed first. It was a punch that would have knocked out most farm animals, let alone human beings.
Liddell looked predictable in the fight but certainly not physically shot. But his being laid out cold for several minutes on the Atlanta canvas had to concern everyone who knows him well.
"I think I got a little impatient and got overexcited, and I got caught," he said. "I don't think that's from being too predictable. My style is I'm going to throw punches at you, and I'm trying to knock you out."
During the same period Liddell reigned in the UFC, the Brazilian Rua (17-3) fought in Japan. Ever since winning the PRIDE Grand Prix tournament in 2005, many considered him No. 1 in the world in that division. While Liddell was dominating the U.S., Rua was stopping the likes of Alistair Overeem (twice), Kevin Randleman, Ricardo Arona, Quinton Jackson and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, beating all but Nogueira in the first round.
Rua is 12 years younger than Liddell, but he's fallen on hard times. He lost to Forrest Griffin in his UFC debut, which was followed up by two knee operations, one of which caused a match cancellation with Liddell last year.
In his return, he gassed out quickly on Jan. 17 against 44-year-old Mark Coleman, though he did stop an even more exhausted Coleman late in the third round.
A loss to Rua would make for a definitive loss in stature for Liddell. It would relegate him from the pay-per-view headliner slot and reposition him as an aging fighter used to help make young stars, something White doesn't envision for Liddell.
A Liddell loss on Saturday could force the toughest fighter decision White has ever had to make.
If White won't use Liddell but Liddell still wants to fight, every organization in the world will clamor for him.
Cutting Liddell would only hand an opposing promotion its new big star, complete with a set of fresh match-ups against competition probably not as tough as in UFC, and whose name will still sell pay-per-view orders.
But Liddell doesn't see it reaching that point. Rather, he talks instead about regaining the light heavyweight championship that he held from April 16, 2005, to May 26, 2007.
"Look at Randy [Couture]," said Liddell, who sees Rua as the first step toward a second championship reign. "I knocked him out twice, and he came back to win the heavyweight title in his 40s."
Every older MMA fighter invokes the name of Couture. But the truth is, Couture is an anomaly.
Virtually every other king in this sport could not compete at the championship level by the time he reached Liddell's age. Liddell is luckier than most, noting that when the day comes to retire, which he said he'll recognize because he'll see a dip in his daily performance in training, he's not one of those fighters who has to continue because it's a way to support his family.
"I'm in a position where I won't have to do anything I don't want to do," he said. "I love fighting. I get paid a lot of money to do what I love for a living. That keeps me motivated. I'd like to wind up back on top for the title."
Can "The Iceman" Liddell keep on skating at UFC 97? | MMAjunkie.com
I think it's going to be one good fight on saturday.
HW- Mirko Cro Cop, Cain Velasquez, Fedor Emelianenko
LHW- Quinton Jackson, Tito Ortiz
MW- Dan Henderson, Frank Shamrock
WW- Georges St Pierre, Matt Hughes
LW- Sam Stout, Diego Sanchez