A superficial look at Chuck Liddell's career shows a severe decline in his fight results. He's lost four of his past five fights, three by knockout.
Yet if you ask Liddell how he feels about his current condition, he'll tell you that he feels that the whole perception that he's declining has been overblown.
As Liddell sees it, the general sentiment that his best days are behind him is just another example of how fickle fans can be.
People counted him out after his losses to Quinton Jackson and Keith Jardine. Then he went out and fought one of the most exciting fights of the year against Wanderlei Silva, and everybody thought that Liddell was back and as good as ever.
That's the way Liddell sees it, and he believes the same thing will happen this weekend if he can put on a good performance against Rich Franklin, even after his latest defeats.
From a certain perspective, it's hard not to agree with Liddell that reports of his demise may be overstated.
A Perspective On Liddell's Recent Losses
Liddell's four recent losses are to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Keith Jardine, Rashad Evans, and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.
While those four losses total to more than half of Liddell's career losses, Liddell doesn't look at the losses that way.
The loss to Rampage was simply a matter of getting caught by a guy who hit extremely hard. That kind of loss could happen to anybody, and also, Rampage might just be the one guy who has Liddell's number, as Rampage already knocked him out earlier in his career.
Furthermore, Quinton Jackson was still not really a known commodity in the United States at the time, and few people knew that he'd recently begun a new training regime unlike anything he'd done during his career in Japan.
Looking at the loss that way doesn't erase the loss, but it might make it a bit easier to swallow.
Yet after the loss, the UFC placed him opposite Kieth Jardine in a matchup that Liddell was expected to win easily. Liddell lost a decision, but to this day he feels like he really won that fight and deserved the judges' nods.
Fans of Liddell will also say that Liddell simply underestimated Jardine, and that if they were to fight again, Liddell would win easily.
After those losses, Liddell was able to fight a great fight against Wanderlei Silva and win back the confidence of the fans.
A hamstring injury forced Liddell out of a bout with Mauricio Rua, and kept him out of the Octagon for nine months.
When he returned against Rashad Evans, most observers expected Liddell to knock out the man who was known mostly as a wrestler. At the time, Dana White seemed convinced that Liddell would win, and stated that if he did, he'd fight Forrest Griffin for the UFC belt.
Evans had other plans, and knocked out Liddell in brutal fashion. Liddell lay unconscious for what seemed like an eternity, as fans struggled to digest the upset.
Even though Evans had already made a highlight reel head kick against Sean Salmon, nobody thought that he had the power to knock out Liddell, and his win was seen by some more as evidence of Liddell's decline, rather than as evidence of Evans' power and blossoming talent.
Yet when we look at Evans' career now, we see his knockout wins over Salmon, Jason Lambert, Liddell, and Forrest Griffin. Add on to that the way he rocked Quinton Jackson and Brad Imes, and it's clear that Evans has the power to knock out just about anybody if he connects with a right hand.
Although we did not recognize it a year and a half ago, Evans is clearly a championship level fighter, which should make Liddell's loss to him seem less upsetting. And Liddell believes that he was beating Evans up until the moment he got caught.
Because of that, Liddell felt that he could make a few defensive adjustments and once again have success inside the Octagon.
You may not remember this, but when Liddell fought Mauricio Rua, he was actually a fairly sizable betting odds favorite.
Liddell was coming off a performance where some felt he was winning until he got KO'ed, while Rua was coming off a performance where he didn't really show true knockout power, but instead showed off terrible conditioning against Mark Coleman.
Given the way Rua looked against Griffin and Coleman, perhaps people were once again not giving him the kind of respect he deserved.
Certainly when we look at the way Rua has performed against Lyoto Machida, his performances against Griffin and Coleman look just like aberrations resulting from a string of injuries.
And so there we have the history of Liddell's recent string of defeats. Liddell feels that he did enough to win one of them, and the other three were against true championship caliber opponents who were being underestimated at the time Liddell fought them.
Look at the losses this way, and you'll see what Liddell sees: He's fought some of the best guys in the division, and he got caught with some hard punches.
When Liddell talks about his losses, he usually explains them by saying that he "got caught."
The idea of "getting caught" is a tricky one. In simplest terms, it just means that he got hit by a punch. So when some people say they got caught, they mean something like, "I got hit with a punch, and it knocked me out, what else do you want me to say?"
On the other hand, when I hear those words, "I got caught," I feel as though the person saying it feels as if the punches on the chin were some sort of freak accident, or unusual mistake that's not about to happen again.
In the case of Liddell, the second interpretation should not really apply.
One of the things that made Liddell great during his better days was that he could take the best punches his opponents could throw and still remain conscious.
It's clear that's no longer the case, and so, when we're debating the decline of Liddell, what we're really debating is if Evans, Jackson, and Rua just hit harder than Liddell's earlier opponents, or if Liddell's chin has weakened.
The initial reaction from most people is that Liddell's chin has simply weakened. My personal feeling is that while Liddell's chin may not be what it once was because Jackson, Evans, and Rua are all heavier hitters than guys like Tito Ortiz, Renato Sobral, and Randy Couture, guys who Liddell was able to defeat earlier.
Because of that, I don't think that Liddell's chin has deteriorated quite as much as some others believe. Rather, I think that the new guys ruling the division are a bunch of heavy hitters.
It's an unusual position to take, but I feel like it's the correct one.
Unfortunately, even if I'm correct in this interpretation, I don't have high hopes for a Liddell comeback.
Although Liddell feels that he won against Jardine, and was winning against Evans, I completely disagree. He was clearly outstruck against Jardine, and although he may have won the first round against Evans, Evans had clearly picked up on Liddell's timing in the second round when the knockout occurred.
The loss against Rua also was also not just a matter of getting caught. Not only did Liddell struggle to land anything meaningful against Shogun, but before the knockout occurred, Rua had already hit Liddell with a bunch of overhand rights. By the time the fight was finished, the only surprise in my mind was that it was a leaping left hook that dropped Liddell, rather than another overhand right.
Looking at Liddell in the present day, I see some evidence of physical and mental decline. His reflexes may not be quite as quick, and even his speech may have been affected.
At the same time, I still think he's capable of winning fights, even against guys like Rich Franklin.
Unfortunately, I don't know if even a win over Franklin would be enough for Liddell to feel as if he's going out on a high note.
Liddell seems intent upon recapturing the UFC light heavyweight belt, but at this point in time that would be a bridge too far for the UFC hall of famer.