The deafening roar of the Las Vegas crowd drowned out the announcers’ proclamations of yet another successful Iceman title defense. Chuck Liddell circled the ring doing his trademark victory dance; arms fully extended, stretched, and flexed, while Liddell screamed furiously with elation.
This was the Iceman fans had come to know and love from the seemingly unbeatable knockout artist with hands of steel and an iron chin. On this night, Dec. 30, 2006, Liddell had managed to TKO his long-time nemesis Tito Ortiz for the second time, earning him his seventh straight victory and truly cementing his legacy as an all-time great.
Unfortunately for Liddell, his victory over Ortiz would mark the last meaningful one of his career. If late 2006 was the highlight of his illustrious career, than mid-2009 is rock bottom for the Iceman. Having lost four of his last five bouts, three by way of brutal knockout, it seems as though Liddell may have to hang up the gloves once and for all.
Make no mistake, the Iceman was one of the most prolific fighters of all-time and one of the few fighters who helped to promote the sport. He was more than just a fighter; he was a marketable household name who became a celebrity and the face of the UFC organization. His acting stints, commercials, interviews and appearances made him a beloved red carpet A-lister, but also a major ambassador to the sport.
Sporting a shaved head, except for his raised Mohawk, Liddell had a distinct look that made him recognizable. The UFC rode this notoriety to major pay-per-view events and all-time mixed martial arts revenue records. Liddell was one of the most polarizing figures to ever grace the sport, specifically because his presence extended well beyond it.
Liddell began gaining notoriety after a string of impressive victories over top notch competition in Jeff Monson, Kevin Randleman, Guy Mezger, Murilo Bustamante, and Amar Suloev. These solid wins helped him to develop a following and jumpstart the UFC.
But, it wasn’t until his two emphatic wins over Vitor Belfort and Renato Sobral that people began to view him as a destroyer. Specifically against Sobral, Liddell began to let his hands go at will. He had the innate ability to knock competitors out from any angle; moving backwards, forwards, or side-to-side. His heavy hands made him one of the most feared strikers in the sport and opponents simply didn’t want to get hit by him. Very quickly, Liddell was becoming the Mike Tyson of MMA; fellow combatants were truly hesitant to fight.
In early 2004, Liddell went on a seven fight win streak that saw him beat Ortiz (twice), Randy Couture (twice), Sobral (again), Vernon White, and Jeremy Horn. All of the aforementioned bouts ended in TKO. During that two year span, nobody in all the sport had as many devastating, highlight reel knockouts or more of a dominating impact.
That time period also came at a critical juncture for MMA. It was in a period of transition, with the sport finally being accepted into mainstream culture. More importantly, Liddell was the face helping to usher in this new era of sport. He was revered by his fellow fighters, marketed by the suites within the organization, and loved by millions of fans.
After those accomplishments in the ring, his achievements on behalf of the sport and his cross-over appeal, it’s difficult to see a fighter of his stature be forced to retire. Great boxers like Ali and Joe Frazier didn't know when to end their careers and the damaging results were tangible. As combat sports have proven time and time again that it's better to walk away unharmed than to risk future damage. And, at the end of the day, Liddell has the opportunity to do so.
The time has come for Liddell to call it quits. His once stout chin has become much maligned in recent fights. The timing and speed in which he regularly landed his monstrous right has slowed and the versatility of his kicks have dwindled. The once great champion, the fierce competitor, the crowd pleasing knockout artist is now a shell of the fighter he once was.
However, if the Iceman chooses to up and leave, walk away from the sport he helped build, then he will do so at exactly the right time. Right now, the sport is in a state of flux. Old school legends such as Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Matt Hughes, and even Frank Shamrock are getting exposed for their one dimensional skills and lack of versatile arsenal. Newer, more athletic hybrid fighters like Georges St. Pierre are beginning to take over; they incorporate fluid transitions from all disciplines of MMA. The Iceman’s era of fighting is over and these younger fighters are ushering in a new one.
Chuck Liddell needs to understand that he will always be remembered as a pioneer. He was somebody who fought and beat the best and did so in an entertaining fashion. There is no shame in walking away physically unscathed and financially secure.
You have accomplished all that is necessary, so, before you hurt yourself, do the right thing and end your career. Because I know that I hate to see you go, but will love to watch you leave.