Chuck Liddell / Tito Ortiz 3 Is Going To Happen
Yes, after a lot of rumours and what looked to be nothing more than bluster from Oscar De La Hoya, both Chuck Lidell and Tito Ortiz have signed a bout agreement to stage their trilogy fight under the Golden Boy Promotions banner. No date or venue has been announced, but both should be announced in the coming weeks according to ESPN's report (link). What has been confirmed is that the fight will be an MMA fight which takes place in a cage and will serve as the main event of a purely MMA-themed event.
This announcement serves as a bizarre contrast with the recent retirements of many stars, all of whom are younger than both Liddell and Ortiz. That Rashad Evans, Johny Hendricks, and Josh Koscheck have hung up the gloves, while Liddell — who is verging on 50 years old — is dusting off the gloves is a little disconcerting. Liddell stepped away from the sport in 2010, at the urging of UFC President Dana White, after a third consecutive knockout loss. "The Iceman" was gifted an executive role which came with no responsibilities — an ad hoc fighter's pension, if you will. For a time, this seemed to keep Liddell occupied and the notion of a comeback was never seriously discussed; it seemed as though we might see a fighter actually stay retired.
When the UFC was purchased by WME-IMG in 2016, the new parent company began extensive cost-cutting measures. In addition to the bog standard things like reconciling redundant departments like licencing, marketing, etc, elimination of ceremonial roles such as those occupied by Chuck Liddell and Matt Hughes were also eliminated. Since that time, Liddell has kept a low profile but has engaged in a minor public feud with Jon Jones, insisting he could have beaten Jones in his prime and seemingly angling for a fight with him. It was behaviour that is somewhat understandable from a former star, even if I didn't take any of it seriously. Even Tito Ortiz initially dismissed any talk of a trilogy fight, following his retirement in January of 2017.
I initially scoffed at Oscar De La Hoya's claims that he wanted to start promoting MMA events, it seemed more like an attempt to troll Dana White as he attempts to get Zuffa Boxing off the ground. Opting to sign both a personal friend of White's — and specifically one he pushed into retirement — certainly has some antagonistic subtext to it. It's also one of the few big name fights that a non-UFC promoter can book these days. Even Bellator feels obliged to lean on stars who are well beyond their primes, as evidenced by the announcement that Wanderlei Silva and Quinton Jackson will meet for the fourth time in September. With the UFC signing a lucrative broadcast / streaming deal with ESPN, and Bellator announcing their own partnership with newly launched streaming service DAZN, there has been a lot of money thrown at MMA content lately.
It remains to be seen what Golden Boy Promotions' long-term plan is. If they intend to run regular MMA shows, it will be difficult to assemble a roster of any significance. Whatever it took to get Chuck and Tito out of retirement, it probably wasn't cheap, but two middle-aged war horses are going to deliver a very limited numbers of fights — possibly even just this one. Meanwhile, the UFC maintains a stranglehold on the vast majority of best MMA talent, with Bellator picking up anyone who falls through the cracks. On top of that, the Eurasian MMA market — and specifically organisations like ACB — has been throwing big money at ex-UFC names to feed them to up-and-coming savages. This doesn't make it impossible for De La Hoya and company to assemble a decent roster, but it's going to be tricky — and potentially very expensive.
Personally, I am not looking forward to Liddell / Ortiz 3; I thought the rivalry between these two was settled at UFC 66, when Chuck notched his second TKO win over Ortiz. In their primes, Chuck was the rock to Ortiz' scissors, after both fights ended it seemed apparent that Liddell's style was the perfect counter to Ortiz'. The only sense of intrigue that a third fight offers is the possibility that Chuck has deteriorated enough to give a shop-worn, twilight era Tito Ortiz a chance to get one back. Liddell is risking a lot to win very little: the validation that this old man can still push his old foe around? Obviously there's the money, but it doesn't really project a lot of confidence to mark your return with a fight against a guy you handily beat twice before — and to run it as a pay-per-view main event no less!
This sort of thing happens all the time; the term 'retirement' is typically just a synonym for 'hiatus' in the MMA world, so this development isn't a huge surprise. It is a bit of a letdown because it at least makes me wonder if Chuck has other reasons to be taking this fight, beyond scratching the a competitive itch he has ignored for the past 8 years? I'm not going to speculate on Liddell's finances, but one would certainly hope that someone who achieved the heights he did wouldn't be risking further brain trauma at 48 years-old because he's broke. In one of a small number of instances that Dana White showed an inkling of conscience and concern for a fighter's well being, I really think he made the right call in persuading Chuck to hang up his gloves. Liddell had gone from a destroyer with a legendary chin and durability to suffering multiple brutal knockout losses, and little else left to prove in a sport he dominated during the UFC's transition from near-bankrupcy to mainstream success on the heels of The Ultimate Fighter: Season 1. If Chuck can't retire, then who can?
If this were anything but a combat sport, I would have zero reservations over some old legends, well past their prime, making a spectacle of themselves. But this is MMA, and the notion of seeing an all-time great like Chuck Liddell come back after an 8-year break provokes mixed feelings. I won't pretend I am above watching a fight like this, but it's not a fight I would have ever asked for under any circumstance. There is no chance that Liddell's chin has gotten better, we're just going to see a slower, diminished version of both men, in a bout where the winner will be the one who looks the least bad. If nothing else, I hope this venture pays well and the outcome is minimally depressing.
Published: July 3rd, 2018.