Liddell's Choice: The Art of an MMA Comeback
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“And it is all over!”
These are familiar words from UFC commentator Mike Goldberg, but sometimes they can allude to more than just the end of a fight. With recent upsets against Chuck Liddell, Quinton Jackson, and Tim Sylvia, questions are inevitably asked about where they go from here.
Some, such as Telegraph MMA journalist Gareth Davies, call for Liddell to end his career before becoming a stepping stone for up-and-comers. Davies recently wrote that Liddell “needs to have a sit down with UFC president Dana White, who should spell out some home truths."
In the unpredictable world of MMA, defeat is only a second away and one wrong choice is quickly capitalized on by opponents of the highest caliber. The manner of defeat can help dictate what happens next.
A devastating knockout can end a career, whereas a contested split decision gives a little more leeway when asking for another chance.
A loss on the record is hard for any fighter. For a promising fighter it can be a lesson learned and a few more rounds of experience to rely on next time. Such was the case for Brock Lesnar following his debut defeat to Frank Mir at UFC 81.
“You win some, you lose some. I'd like to win them all but I can't," Lesnar said, reflecting on his first-round submission loss.
For a champion however, the repercussions are great. The invincible veneer is shattered, the deals become less lucrative and—worst of all—he finds himself back at the start of a path he so arduously traveled before.
Matt Serra followed the Hollywood underdog script to the letter as he staggered his way to a 4-4 record in the UFC and seemingly lost his chance at the big time. That is, until he was handed a lifeline in the form of "The Ultimate Fighter 4: The Comeback."
Serra came through the rounds and took victory at the finale by the slightest of margins. But this didn't matter; he had gained his chance and a once in a lifetime shot at glory.
It was a chance he didn't take lightly and, despite being a heavy underdog, he executed a first round knockout on the seemingly unstoppable Georges St. Pierre. (Although ultimately, Serra learned that the only thing harder than becoming a champion is remaining one.)
Randy Couture is the embodiment of heart and he is making yet another comeback as he returns to the UFC. Already twice a champion, Couture retired from MMA after a second-round KO loss to Liddell in February 2006.
A year later, at age 43, Couture came out of retirement to face the much larger Tim Sylvia for the UFC heavyweight title. Sylvia was dominated for five rounds and Couture upset the critics and the odds to become the first ever three-time UFC heavyweight champion and the king of comebacks.
But not all returns are triumphant affairs. Some end almost as soon as they start. Some are devastated by injury and misfortune. Many occur when the fighter is past his prime and make for nothing more than uncomfortable viewing, as fans watch one-time legends be punished by lesser-known fighters.
Ken Shamrock did exactly that when thousands watched his attempted comeback fail inside a round as Robert ‘Buzz’ Berry demolished him with relative ease. It was a tough sight for those who had seen Shamrock help make MMA and the UFC what it is today.
Perhaps the greatest comeback comes in the form of MMA itself. Once vilified by authorities and sporting bodies everywhere, MMA almost faded out of existence before primetime television and careful marketing helped it become the fastest growing sport in the world.
While it may not be viewed as barbaric any more, it is still a cutthroat industry made by and for winners. There are no loveable losers in MMA, and every spot on the fight card has plenty of quality fighters vying for it.
The competition is only getting better, with the likes of Affliction and WEC pushing the UFC to stay ahead in such a profitable market. This can only mean that any fighter not pulling his weight must be removed to make way for more exciting prospects, however big their name.
One of those truly promising prospects is young Brit, Paul Kelly. Undefeated so far, Kelly has one goal—to entertain the fans. As he told UFC.com: “I'd rather lose an exciting fight than win a boring one.”
An admirable outlook, but one that may be tested should a "one" appear in the loss column.
The top fighters made it there for many reasons, not least of which is fan popularity.
With their notable skills, undeniable heart, and crowd pleasing performances, fighters such as Chuck and Rampage should have no problem returning to winning ways. The only real test will be their desire to get back in the cage and mix it with the best once again.
Were Dana White to ask if they still “want to be a f**king fighter,” the answer would be an unerring “yes.”
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