UFC 132 was a great event, one filled to bursting with memorable highlights. There were devastating KOs (lookin at you, Wandy), great fights, even more devastating KOs (poor Dong) and a main event people are already talking about as a possible Fight of the Year candidate.
Yet through it all, one image stands tall above the rest—memorable, indelible, and shocking all at the same time. That’s the image of Tito Ortiz “digging the grave” in the (distractingly lime-colored) center of the Octagon after his stunning first round finish of TUF winner Ryan Bader.
No one was more surprised than Ortiz after he dropped Bader with an uppercut, which itself necessitated the sprinkling by arena staff of rock salt on the places where Hell had just frozen over.
In the ensuing scramble, Ortiz sank in a guillotine. You could almost hear the flux capacitors on Doc Brown’s DeLorean revving up as Ortiz cranked on Bader’s neck with everything he had. A few seconds later, the tap came—and Tito, his entourage, and the crowd partied like it was 1999.
The moment was magical. Everyone was fired up and cheering. Tito was so amped up I feared his head was just going to explode, Scanners-style. Even the Tito haters were forced to give it up for the conquering legend.
Well, all except one Tito hater, that is. As the cameras panned through the ecstatic crowd at the MGM Grand, they eventually came to focus on Chuck Liddell. He didn’t seem very happy. In fact, he looked downright surly.
I’m guessing the image of his most hated rival victorious in the cage while he was forced to watch from the sidelines made him want to punch something, or someone, in the face.
Hey, here’s a thought: Why not pull a Brett Favre (or a Randy Couture), come out of retirement and punch Tito himself in the face? Talk about hitting two birds with one stone (or overhand right, as the case may be).
I can already hear the angry cries of fans coming to burn my in effigy. “Chuck’s done!” the cynical fan snidely remarks, “He can’t take a punch anymore! His chin is shot! Even Dana thinks Chuck is done, and Dana is pretty much First Minister in the Church of Chuck!”
To those cynical fans, I say two things:
First, weren’t fans saying the same thing following Randy Couture’s “retirement” in 2007? Two back-to-back KO losses (to Liddell, ironically enough) left fans with the impression that his chin was shot, and his style pretty much figured out. His return was greeted with lots of doubt and a great deal of derision by most fans.
Of course, that same return also yeilded another world title run, a plum movie role (what, The Scorpion King isn’t plum?) and huge money fights with Tim Sylvia, Gabriel Gonzaga and Brock Lesnar—all of whom are far more effective brain cell killers than Tito Ortiz.
Which brings me to my second point, which is that we’re talking about Tito Ortiz here. Two previous fights with Chuck (both Liddell victories) have pretty much proven that Tito Ortiz doesn’t have the style to make Chuck worry about further brain damage. Even if he wins, I don’t see it being by crushing KO the way Chuck’s last opponents have won.
But Chuck’s fallen off, you say. His chin is shot. He’s a shadow of his former self. He can’t take a punch anymore. WON’T ANYBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!
Let’s assume that’s all true. Let’s assume Liddell wasn’t facing all heavy hitters in his recent run of losses (he was), and that he had shown to have completely fallen off a cliff skill-wise in those fights (he hasn’t). Let’s assume the very worst case scenario.
Then let’s remember that we’re talking about Tito freakin’ Ortiz.
No disrespect to the legend, who proved he still has the skills and the drive to compete at MMA’s elite level.
But a knockout puncher he is not. In fact, his standup has been his Achilles heel for most of his career. Even the Ryan Bader knockdown was due as much to Tito just bowling into him with all his weight as it was to any power in his right hand.
Even on his best day, in his prime, Ortiz isn’t one-hit KO’ing anybody, even a shot Chuck Liddell. And Tito is far beyond what you could call his prime.
To me, this is absolutely the best fight to make from Ortiz’s standpoint as well. The Bader win put some badly needed wind in Tito’s sails, and got MMA fans up and excited about him again. Still, he’s well outside the LHW title picture, with only one solid win in the last five years.
So what’s next for Tito? A time wasting go-round with a mid-level LHW? Been there, done that (see Hamill, Matt). Getting fed to the wolves now residing in the upper echelons of 205 lbs? We’ve seen that one, too (see Machida, Lyoto).
Either choice would be an acceptable way to ride out this re-surge in momentum. But neither will get him top billing on a PPV, the big money payday or the press attention Ortiz always seems to crave.
A third fight with Chuck Liddell would.
Look, if Chuck’s retirement is strictly doctor mandated—if a respected brain doctor sat Chuck down and told him any further damage, at all, could have grim consequences on his health—then of course he should stay put in his recliner. I don’t want to see one of the icons of this sport end up as a vegetable in his old age because he pushed himself one too many times.
But if his retirement is predicated solely on Chuck’s pride, Dana’s vanity and the expectations of armchair MMA fans, then there’s no reason not to come back for one final, unique and exciting fight.
Give us "Liddell vs. Ortiz 3."
Give it to us because Tito earned the opportunity to erase the two Liddell losses the same way Rampage earned the right to erase his losses to Wanderlei Silva. Give it to us because Chuck earned the right to go out on a high note after carrying the sport on his back for half a decade. Give it to us because you teased the fight with TUF last summer and never delivered, and because it makes more sense now than it did then.
Give us "Liddell vs. Ortiz 3" because it would be a big, fun and downright fitting end to both men’s careers.