It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly two-and-a-half years since Chuck Liddell has been in the Octagon.
For many years, Liddell was one of the more proven commodities that the UFC could provide, and it used him the way that suited him best—by having him not only fight in the cage but abroad in rival promotions where he was ideally placed to spread the UFC gospel.
Now after so many months, I still expect to see the next Liddell bout being advertised anytime I see the beginning of a UFC pay-per-view commercial. When he is nowhere to be found, I feel a bit cheated.
We are nearing an anniversary of sorts. Two of Chuck Liddell’s biggest victories (against Tito Ortiz and Wanderlei Silva) happened near the end of the month of December, and so it seems a perfect time to remember his biggest moments in the UFC and maybe relive some fine fights in the process.
Here is our power ranking of Chuck "The Ice Man" Liddell’s top performances in the UFC.
When: May 4, 2001
Where: UFC 31 (Atlantic City, New Jersey)
Result: Liddell via KO (punches) at 1:18 of Round 1
In many ways, you could consider Chuck Liddell’s victory over Kevin Randleman as a coming-out party of sorts.
For far too long Liddell was seen as nothing more than the sparring partner of Tito Ortiz. When Randleman announced he was coming down from heavyweight to light heavyweight, many thought the time of Ortiz was coming to an end.
Liddell took the air out of that argument, flattening Randleman with a beautiful punch thrown while his back was against the cage and Ortiz was only too happy with the result.
Still, this was the night that "The Ice Man" proved he was more than a training partner for the champ.
When: Aug. 21, 2004
Where: UFC 49 (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Result: Liddell via KO (punch) at 4:05 of Round 1
While tough talk seems to be one of the cornerstones of pre-fight intimidation, it never mattered one bit to Liddell. There was plenty of hard talk coming from Vernon "Tiger" White, some of which spoke to the idea that Liddell had been ducking him for a long time.
When these men went at it, there was little ducking and a whole lot of throwing from both sides. In the end, Liddell simply had too much firepower, hurting White on many occasions before knocking him out thanks to a perfectly timed punch that caught White square in the face, dropping him to the floor in a world of hurt.
When: Aug. 20, 2005
Where: UFC 54 (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Result: Liddell via TKO (punches) at 2:46 of Round 4
If Chuck Liddell excelled at one thing, it was conquering previous conquerors such as Jeremy Horn, who defeated Liddell many years before via submission.
In the rematch, Liddell took Horn into the back room and showed him how the sausage gets made, and Horn indeed looked like he’d been through the meat grinder.
Liddell was in prime form against a cagey veteran. He had Horn on wobbly legs many times before Horn could no longer take the abuse and signaled to Big John McCarthy that he couldn’t see anymore.
And for fans watching who had thought Horn could give Liddell problems, they too had seen enough.
When: Nov. 22, 2002
Where: UFC 40 (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Result: Liddell via KO (head kick and punches) at 2:55 of Round 1
A hallmark trait of Liddell’s career was the desire to stay busy and do what he loved the most—fight—even when a title shot, which was already his, was on the line.
That’s exactly what Liddell did when he decided to fight the always dangerous Renato "Babalu" Sobral at UFC 40.
Liddell stalked Sobral in their fight and eventually caught him with a somewhat unexpected left high kick to the head. He followed him down with punches until the fight was over, cementing his claim as the No. 1 challenger to the title.
When: June 22, 2002
Where: UFC 37.5 (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Result: Liddell via unanimous decision
This event was a big opportunity for the UFC, now owned by Zuffa, which was dying for a chance to show potential fans that MMA could capture their hearts, if they could just see it.
To make sure it had a surefire hit on its hands, the UFC put two of its best strikers—Chuck Liddell and Vitor Belfort—in the cage and left the rest to the gods.
The gods clearly approved.
Liddell and Belfort put on a damn good show that was decided near the end when Liddell dropped Belfort with a counterpunch and then swarmed, leaving a big impression on the judges. They gave the bout to Liddell via unanimous decision, and the fans who got to watch, both live and on television, knew they had gotten what they had hoped for.
When: Feb. 4, 2006
Where: UFC 57 (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Result: Liddell via KO (punches) at 1:28 of Round 2
When a fighter successfully defends his title against a tough, worthy challenger, the victory is always sweet, but no one expected it to look so easy when the challenger was Randy Couture.
This was "The Natural’s" chance to show that he had adapted and made the necessary changes to his game, but the result was the same: Liddell victorious by knockout.
After more than a few failed takedown attempts, Couture was forced to march into Liddell’s wheelhouse. In the second frame, Liddell took him out in nearly the exact same fashion as in the second bout—via a knockout punch and more punches to follow as Couture hit the deck.
When: Dec. 30, 2006
Where: UFC 66 (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Result: Liddell via TKO (punches) at 3:59 of Round 3
While Liddell's title defense against Tito Ortiz didn’t have as much fanfare or bitterness as the first bout, it also wasn’t some reheated soap opera either.
Ortiz was coming off five straight wins and was now the challenger for the belt he still maintained was his, something Liddell clearly took issue with.
Ortiz had his chance to reclaim the title, and even though he managed to grab a takedown and enjoy some marginal success while standing, he was still clearly outgunned by the champion.
Liddell gave him a pretty good beating in Round 1 and then sealed the deal in Round 3, winning via a slightly disputed referee stoppage.
Granted, the means by which the end was achieved may have been questioned, but those questions didn’t linger long. It seemed like the fight would have ended sooner or later, and perhaps sooner was better for the health of Ortiz, who had to go back to his locker room without the title strap.
When: April 2, 2004
Where: UFC 47 (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Result: Liddell via KO (punches) at 0:38 of Round 2
It was the fight that fans of the sport had waited so long to see, and all the tough talk and innuendo took a backseat when Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz made their way to the Octagon.
For his part, Liddell seemed brimming with a kind of poisonous joy, ready to get back in the win column after losing his last bout to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in the Pride middleweight tournament.
The fact that he was getting the chance to do so against a bitter rival was clearly all the more sweet for "The Ice Man."
Ortiz, on the other hand, looked like an inmate being marched down death row. Gone were the displays of confidence fans had seen against Ken Shamrock and Randy Couture; they were replaced with a kind of bitter realization.
The fight really didn’t take off until the second round, when Liddell pinned Ortiz against the cage and let his hands go. He unleashed a flurry that finally dropped Ortiz, leaving him defenseless and prompting the referee to stop the bout.
While other bouts might have been more meaningful, this was probably the sweetest victory of Liddell’s career.
When: Dec. 29, 2007
Where: UFC 79 (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Result: Liddell via unanimous decision
The fight that most of the MMA world had been waiting for finally took place, and although it was late, it was better than many dared to dream.
For nearly the entire fight, Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva traded heavy leather, knocking each other down and busting each other up in a display worthy of Fight of the Year.
This is one of those fights that had been pondered by pundits countless times. As it turned out, these warriors brought out the best in each other and left the crowd standing and cheering.
Liddell won the fight by unanimous decision and had a smile plastered across his face well into the night.
When: April 16, 2005
Where: UFC 52 (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Result: Liddell via KO (punches) at 2:06 of Round 1
What could be more fitting as the crowning jewel of Liddell’s achievements than the night he won the crown?
Liddell stepped into his rematch with reigning champion Randy Couture as the underdog.
In the first bout, Couture had beat him to the punch when they engaged on their feet and took Liddell down to the mat nearly at will. He had eventually pounded Liddell out to become the first UFC light heavyweight interim champion the company had ever known.
And Liddell swept all of those considerations off the table in under three minutes in the second fight, knocking Couture out cold with precision punching and proving to the world that he was the new king.