Post-Fight Thoughts: Chuck Liddell -vs- Tito Ortiz 3
Well, it finally happened — and it was every bit as depressing as one could have anticipated. Topping off a fight card almost completely devoid of recognisable names, save for discarded UFC vets Tom Lawlor, Efrain Escudero and Gleison Tibau, former UFC light heavyweight champions Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz staged the third fight in their trilogy of encounters. Having been retired for 8.5 years, Liddell sought to make his comeback against an old foe whom he had already racked up 2 impressive victories over. Lightning rarely strikes twice, and it seems that a third time was asking a little too much, as Ortiz finally managed to get one over on his nemesis.
The fight highlights are as brief as the bout was lamentable; a completely shot and tentative Liddell awkwardly circled away from Tito, arms in his trademarked low stance, failing to throw any meaningful strikes. Tito picked his spot, eventually rushed Chuck against the cage and dropped him with a solid right-hand. Liddell, once possessed of a legendary chin and capacity to absorb punishment, dropped like he'd been shot. Just like that, the fight was over; the notion things could have ended any other way dissipating along with Chuck's tenuous grasp on consciousness. I expected Tito to win, but figured the fight would have been a bit longer, and Tito's win would have been a ground-and-pound TKO rather than a one-hitter quitter as it was.
Chuck had no business fighting, and that's not news to anyone. That the California State Athletic Commission has extended medicals for older fighters seems moot since they didn't prevent Chuck Liddell from getting to a cage and racking up another KO loss as he's about to turn 49. Chuck was absolutely done the first time Dana White convinced him to retire, and when he got another chance — and was summarily flatlined by Rich Franklin at UFC 115 — it seemed clear that his fighting days were absolutely over. That he felt the need to attempt a comeback 8.5 years later is both disappointing and completely unsurprising in the world of combat sports.
While it is understandable that Chuck still has a competitive urge to fight, the reality is that he's been brutally knocked out a number of times. The KO at the hand of Rashad Evans alone was a life-changing event — and the loudest punch I've ever heard on a live broadcast. Not a single one of Chuck's KO losses was anything short of a complete lights-out starching. Regardless of how much time he took off, his durability was not going to get better; the reality is that we were only going to get a further diminished Chuck Liddell and the main event of Golden Boy MMA's inaugural event proved it. The notion of Tito Ortiz eschewing his wrestling to outbox — and ultimately KO — Chuck Liddell would have been unfathomable in the latter's prime, now it seems like the most painfully obvious thing. Ortiz may be past his prime, but he's kept himself in good shape, avoided accumulating a lot of damage over his career, and could still hold his own over all but the top 15 in the light heavyweight division.
This fight had no implications for the light heavyweight division; neither man was fighting for a title or ranking prestige. This was a freakshow fight, booked by a boxing promoter who saw an opportunity to grift a quick buck off faded legends from another combat sport. I am not sure what the future holds for Golden Boy MMA, but existing as a strictly pay-per-view entity is not sustainable, and never was — you can ask Affliction MMA how that worked out, and they had the benefit of an MMA landscape that had not been totally ensnared in the UFC's grasp. Who knows how many people were convinced to part with $40 to see a slew of unknown fighters capped off by a depressing KO to end a cringe-worthy nostalgia fight. Whatever the number, I doubt it's enough to sustain a fight promotion. The list of aging legends capable of fighting — or, at least making their way to the cage at a mutally agreed upon time — is incredibly small, and Bellator has pretty much all of them under contract.
Tito claims he will be returning to retirement, which means nothing — he could very well fight again next year. Chuck remained noncommittal in his post-fight comments, which is worrisome; hopefully Chuck's family and friends will intervene — and successfully get through to him — and convince him to hang up the gloves for good. I cannot imagine any fight that Chuck could win at this stage, he moves like his feet are made of lead, his durability is non-existent and he has the inability to pull the trigger on shots that is the hallmark of every shot fighter. No good could come of Chuck fighting again, all that will happen is a further erosion of his brain health and the potential to accumulate more damage in training. Chuck's story was complete when he retired to a UFC office job, any further chapters will only serve to undermine and devalue the accomplishments of one of MMA's first true superstars.
This event should never have happened, but it did and we are all complicit in giving it our attention and money. As a combat sports fan, one has to get used to seeing spectacles like this; almost never does anyone retire before racking up hard-to-watch losses. Even more rare is a fighter actually staying retired, unless forced to do so as a result of catastrophic injury or health issues which make licensure impossible. It is not unique to MMA, it's endemic to combat sports. These fighters spend their whole lives dedicated to a brutal craft, losing parts of themselves in the process and the pursuit of greatness. It's easy for people like myself to tell them to stop — even if it's for their own good — but I understand how difficult that can be for someone who ascended to superstardom, who made millions to compete and who experienced the rush of tens of thousands of fans cheering their exploits.
But everything ends — one way or another — and now is the time for Chuck to move on to the next stage of his life. MMA is so young, we've yet to see the toll it will eventually exact on its aging stars. In another decade, expect to see some harrowing Where Are They Now? tales, as the damage accumulated throughout lifetimes of professional violence manifests as chronic injuries, CTE, and organ damage as a result of weight cutting. I'll be honest here, there is a hugely selfish bent to my desire to see fighters retire — and stay out of action — when their time comes: I don't want to see, or accept the true cost of professional violence. Hopefully Chuck hasn't gone back to the well too many times...
Published: November 25th, 2018.