LAS VEGAS – Chuck Liddell's career as a mixed martial arts fighter isn't definitively over. Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White left the door open a crack on Thursday for the former light heavyweight champion to compete once more.
A minor controversy developed after Liddell's knockout loss to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 97 in Montreal on April 18. White said at the postfight news conference that the 39-year-old Liddell, who has lost four of his last five, would retire and be given an office job with the UFC.
At that same news conference, Liddell was not nearly as definitive, only going so far as to say he "probably" would not fight again. But Liddell's trainer, John Hackleman, said later that it isn't White's call and that Liddell had not made up his mind whether he'd fight again. Hackleman said White was pressuring Liddell to quit, but he said Liddell was mulling his options.
On Thursday at the MGM Grand, following the prefight news conference for UFC 98, White wouldn't entirely rule out the possibility of Liddell fighting again.
He said "there are no rumblings" that Liddell may fight once more and placed the blame for the speculation on Hackleman. But when prodded with the fact that Liddell himself said he's still mulling his future, White backed off slightly.
"Trust me when I tell you, he's ready to retire," White said. "He's ready to retire. It's the reason we love Chuck Liddell. He has nothing left to prove. He's got a [expletive] load of money. He's been a world champion. He's beaten a who's who of mixed martial arts fighters. He's the most famous guy in the sport. There's no reason to fight. He's 40 years old, man. He and I had an agreement. We had a deal.
"Am I his father? Can I tell him not to fight? Absolutely not. If he still wants to fight, he can fight. I'm not saying, 'It will never happen. It will never happen.' But he made a deal with me. He's never not listened to me. We'll see what happens."
White could block Liddell from fighting in the UFC by simply refusing to book him. If he did that and Liddell decided he wanted to fight, that could create a ticklish situation of Liddell having to look for a fight outside of the UFC.
White is Liddell's former manager and the two are close friends. When asked if he'd stand in the way of Liddell fighting outside the UFC if Liddell opted to fight, White hedged.
"I don't know, man," he said, grimacing. "I'm honestly telling you guys I can not see him coming back to me and saying, ‘I want to fight one more.' We already did that. I can't see it happening. I think there are a lot of people around him who need his money putting pressure on him. That's what I think."
Liddell could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
UFC TO ONTARIO IN 2010
White said he expects MMA to be legalized in Ontario and that once it is, the UFC will hold an event in Toronto. He said he expects to hold a show in Ontario in 2010.
"We're coming next year," White said. "I'm very confident we're going to be there next year. There's no reason we shouldn't be. We've put on two successful events in Montreal. We've been putting on successful events for almost 10 years now. There's no reason why we shouldn't be in Ontario.
"We know what a big market it is. We know the economic impact it will have on that [province]. It's ridiculous. We're going to get in there. It's all talk now. But other than a boring main event, I don't think there's anything up in Montreal that they saw that would keep us out of Ontario."
Although there had been talk that the UFC would stage its annual late December card in Toronto instead of in Las Vegas this year, White put the damper on that.
"I don't think we'll be there in December," White said. "But we will be there next year."
If Lyoto Machida defeats Rashad Evans on Saturday to win the light heavyweight title, it would create the eventual possibility that he and his close friend, middleweight champion Anderson Silva, would be ranked 1-2 in the pound-for-pound rankings and 1-2 in the light heavyweight division.
Silva still holds the UFC's middleweight belt but is fighting occasionally at light heavyweight and may make the fulltime move there before long.
Machida and his manager, Ed Soares (who is also Silva's manager), ruled out the possibility of a fight between the two because of their friendship. Soares said it would take $100 million for them to fight.
White, though, grinned and said if that situation arose, Machida and Silva would fight.
"Trust me: This is the fight business," White said. "You know what you do in the fight business? You fight guys. You find out who's the best. I don't ever worry about guys saying they won't fight. Everybody [who should fight] will wind up fighting in the end."