Crafting the Legend of Chuck Liddell
Although UFC 115 is now only a few days passed, people are already busy writing the legend of Chuck Liddell.
Crafting legends in such moments is certainly one of the more pleasurable jobs for a sportswriter.
It's one occasion where it seems acceptable to get off the soapbox of the critical talking head, drop the notepad of the objective reporter, and settle into the role of the fireside storyteller.
The Legend of Chuck Liddell
According to the legend, Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell will go down as the greatest fighter in UFC history.
In a kind of "good old days" reflection, Sherdog's TJ Desantis spent time last weekend talking about how Liddell was the greatest ever, and how he could have been even greater if he had done more with his training earlier in his career.
Joe Rogan called Liddell a destroyer who would win fights before they even began, because people were afraid of his devastating power.
To go along with his power, Liddell also boasted a nearly unbreakable chin.
In his prime, Dana White said, you could hit Chuck with a steel bar and not knock him out.
According to the legend, Liddell used these skills to rule over the division during a golden era of mixed martial arts.
In the end, the accumulation of damage sustained over countless battles finally added up to the point where the spell was broken, and Liddell's previously invincible chin finally cracked, and he lost his final fights when his aging body simply could not keep up with his warrior's spirit...
Yet despite the appeal this legend brings, I hope that the history and context of the true events of Chuck Liddell's career aren't lost in the storytelling.
The History of Chuck Liddell
When Chuck Liddell made his UFC debut at UFC 17, he wasn't the knockout artist that he would eventually become, but he was one of the early guys in the UFC to be able to use his strong wrestling background to keep fights on the feet, where he could out-strike his opponents, trading strikes blow-for-blow if necessary.
In such a fashion, Liddell was able to secure early career wins over Jeff Monson and Kevin Randleman.
He also defeated Vitor Belfort en route to his first title shot. At the time Liddell fought Belfort, Liddell was still relatively unknown, to the point that Joe Rogan was still calling him "Chuck LYE-dell."
He would continue his rise up the UFC ranks up until the point where a title shot opposite Tito Ortiz seemed inevitable.
Yet instead of getting the title shot, it seemed as if Ortiz always had a way to avoid a fight with Liddell, whether it was due to injury, or as Tito put it, an agreement not to fight his friend.
Liddell insisted there was no such agreement, but his first title shot would be for an interim title opposite Randy Couture.
Couture surprised Liddell with his striking ability, and won a knockout win.
Still, The UFC president must have felt confident in Liddell's ability, because he supposedly made a $250,000 wager with the president of Pride FC that Chuck would win the Pride middleweight grand prix, a tournament that included Pride's then-champion, Wanderlei Silva.
Liddell won his opening round fight over Alistair Overeem, but got thoroughly dominated and knocked out in his semi-finals loss to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
Dana White reportedly never paid up on his wager, and Wanderlei Silva would go on to defeat Jackson in the tournament finals.
When Liddell returned from Pride, Randy Couture had become the undisputed champion by defeating Tito Ortiz.
Liddell's first match back in the UFC would be against the former champion Ortiz, and he would finish Tito with a barrage of punches that would make this one of Liddell's signature wins.
He finally won the belt by defeating Randy Couture in a rematch at the end of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter .
It was during this period that the UFC really started to become popular, and Liddell became it's biggest star.
His title reign would last just over two years, including two more victories over Couture and Ortiz, as well as wins over Jeremy Horn, and Renato Sobral, two other fighters Liddell had fought previously.
Liddell's popularity had peaked by the time Liddell fought his rematch opposite Ortiz at UFC 66.
Liddell was starting to become a serious crossover star, and he would make frequent public and television appearances.
He'd gained rockstar-like celebrity, and when he wasn't fighting, he'd party like one.
Tito's assertions that Liddell had become an alcoholic may not have been true, but Liddell certainly liked to drink, and as Dana White put it, he wasn't living the lifestyle of a professional athlete.
Liddell would lose his title to "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 71 by a flash knockout that was almost too quick for people to understand what exactly had transpired.
After dropping another fight to Keith Jardine, Liddell would rebound with decision victory over Wanderlei Silva, who was now in the UFC after the demise of Pride FC.
Despite both former champions generally being considered past their respective primes, the fight would still go down as one of the greatest and most exciting UFC fights ever.
Yet even though UFC commentator Mike Goldberg shouted out that "the Iceman is back," Liddell would go winless in his next three fights against three former world champions.
Liddell's career to this point has spanned nearly 100 numbered UFC events, and has run from when Dana White was his manager, up until now, where White is considered one of the most powerful figures in the sporting world.
Back when Liddell first fought, he was making a few thousand dollars per fight, and would spend the occasional night crashing on Charles Lewis's couch.
Now, Liddell is a multimillionaire, and the MMA clothing company founded by Lewis has become a monstrous entity in it's own right.
More than just cultivating his own success, I don't think it's a stretch to say that Liddell was instrumental in bringing about the success of the UFC, Dana White, Tapout, and many other people within the MMA business.
As for his legacy as a fighter, he was certainly the greatest of his time, but I do feel that his losses late in his career have as much to do with the improvement in the overall talent involved in MMA.
For example, I think that Liddell would have been knocked out by Rashad Evans' punch at any point in his career.
When people say that Liddell's fighting style doesn't age well, I think they're correct, but it's not only because a fighter doesn't age well with that style, but because the style itself has become outdated.
MMA has evolved much since the early days of Liddell, and new fighters are only going to continue to get better in the foreseeable fiuture as fighters like Liddell become myths and legends.
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