Chuck Liddell: The Elephant in The Room

Elton HobsonCorrespondent INovember 14, 2009

In the world of MMA, there is something that fans and talking heads alike are slowly coming to terms with - even if they don‘t want to.

Something is seriously wrong with Chuck Liddell. And I’m not talking about his decision to do the Merangue on national television.

Amidst all the blockbuster success, exponential growth of the sport, self-congratulating and hand shaking all around, there exists an uncomfortable truth, at the periphery of the modern MMA discussion. Dana White and the UFC, MMA media and magazines, fan sites and forums, even the so called “main stream media” - no one is talking about it, at least not nearly enough. Yet it is a necessary discussion, and one we must confront openly if we are to come to terms with the full implications for this sport in the mainstream.

Once the biggest star in the sport and still it’s most recognizable face, the latter years of Chuck’s career have clearly taken their toll on his mental state. He speech is now filled with stutters and mumbles, lacking the clarity of his early years. His blowups in public, usually involving some form of intoxication, are becoming as well known as his exploits in the Octagon. There is increasing chatter, from both fighters and fans alike, surrounding the level of damage Chuck has sustained over his career.

In simple English, Chuck clearly seems to be punch drunk, or some variation thereof.

I’ve never met “The Iceman” - and certainly not recently. I can’t speak from personal experience and must acknowledge that until confirmed by Liddell or Dana White, all of this remains speculation.

But the evidence is damning. Everyone who has seen Chuck interviewed recently can note his mumbling, stuttering style. Granted, he has always talked in somewhat the same style - but consider this video of Liddell, from 2003. Only a few short years ago, and he speaks far more clearly and intelligently then at any point today. One does not go from that example to this one without some serious questions being asked.

Then there is the video that surfaced a few days ago of Chuck getting into it with some photographers outside a L.A nightclub. According to the story, the “Iceman” was attempting to prevent media harassment of - I shit you not - Lindsay Lohan. Chuck Liddell sticking up for Lindsay Lohan - do you need any more evidence of his failing mental capacity?

Even the UFC approved promotional materials featuring Chuck can’t hide the fact that, frankly, we are listening to a different man then we were only a few years ago.

It’s not hard to guess why this might be. Chuck went on a long tear as champion, enduring all the bumps a bruises of tough title fights and the training required for them. Then the left hook of Quinton Jackson put Liddell to sleep and cost him his title. He has his bell rung again in a losing effort to Keith Jardine, and was dropped/hit a couple of times in his war with Wanderlei Silva. Against Rashad, he was on the wrong end of the “Knockout of the Year”. Against “Shogun”, it was the same story.

In short, the last few years have seen Liddell’s head become a speed bag for guys with devastating power.

We know age has stolen Liddell’s speed and, in large measure, his power. It is openly speculated by Mike and Joe that these losses have cost Liddell his once solid chin. And yet, there is only an uncomfortable, unspoken agreement that they have also effected his mental acuity, to whatever arguable degree.

When Dana White basically declared Liddell’s retirement for him, and had the subsequent public blow-up with Liddell’s head trainer John Hacklemen, many people were quick to once again heap scorn on Dana’s ego driven business decisions. Sure, White made some typically boneheaded statements - but I think his concern for Liddell’s safety in further fights was legitimate, and points to the degree White is worried by Liddell’s recent knockouts and their results.

Even today, when White is desperate for big main events and Chuck’s name still commands considerable attention, he has not called upon “The Iceman” to fight out his last contracted bout. I think this points to the extent White is concerned with his friend Liddell’s safety should he once again get shut off badly - and this should tell to everyone wondering just how badly these blows have effected Chuck.

It’s an important lesson on the true dangers of pushing a fighter too far past their prime in this sport - a telling lesson as we get set to welcome 46 year old Randy Couture, rocked badly in his last 2 fights, back into the Octagon this weekend.

The annals of all combat sports are littered with the broken down bodies and failing minds of men who “lived for the glory” one too many times. In the oftentimes bloodthirsty fan atmosphere of MMA, the example of Chuck Liddell, no matter how much or little you believe his fighting career has effected him, should serve as a telling reminder to fans: these people are human beings, too.

All to often we cheer for the violent war, the bloody battle, the all tine highlight reel KO. That’s all well and good - these guys choose the risks and rewards of fighting when they step in the cage - but we must also remember that when the lights go down and the fans go home, these superhuman combat machines are human beings, too. Too often, I fear, as in the case of a Chuck Liddell or a Randy Couture, our rabid fan support keeps them fighting long after their body has lost the ability to cope with the damage. I think it is incumbent upon all us fans to remember that, no matter how much we cheer for “The Natural” to pull of another upset or for Liddell when he makes his eventual return, we must first pause to consider the long term consequences of demanding blood and guts from our heroes long after their ability to deliver. Fighter safety should always - always - come first.

Remember that the greatest boxer who ever lived today cannot tie his own shoelaces, nor defecate without assistance. If we are not careful, we may soon find the MMA landscape filled with broken, stuttering men, the beloved fan hero of old, now robbed of his rabid support, his chosen profession, his very pride - and left defending Lindsay Lohan from the horrors of tabloid reporting.