The Question: Is Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz 3 the Best or Worst Idea Ever?

Jeremy Botter@jeremybotterMMA Senior WriterJune 6, 2017

Liddell and Ortiz back in the old days
Liddell and Ortiz back in the old daysJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

What's old is new again.

It's 2017 and yet here we are, watching UFC President Dana White apparently bully his athletes, just like the old days before WME-IMG purchased the promotion.

Oh, and we're discussing the merits (or lack thereof) of a fight between Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. For real.

Fellow B/R scribe Scott Harris joins me to talk through every aspect of Liddell vs. Ortiz. Is this a fight we really need to see again? Or is this a feud better constrained to social media and casual forays through the Fight Pass video library?

   

JEREMY BOTTER: Scott, I know it feels like you've emerged from that sweet time machine you found on eBay and found yourself in the year 2007. After all, Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz are doing faceoffs and bickering back and forth just like the old days, and Dana White is still doing that thing where he tries to bully his fighters into doing whatever he wants.

Sadly, it's still 2017. Dana is still Dana. And Tito and Chuck are retired, or at least MMA retired, which is an altogether different thing than actual retirement.

The social media world got all hot and bothered recently when Chuck posted a photo of himself training, which was notable because he looks far more in shape now than he ever did in his UFC career. I mean, Chuck Liddell had abs. That's a sentence I never thought I'd type. But there he was, abs and all, teasing a possible comeback.

And then this happened.

Back when Chuck retired, I was happy. He got a sweet no-show job with the UFC, and he didn't have to get his head beaten into a living death to do it. But that lifetime job Dana promised Chuck...well, turns out it wasn't really for life, as Ortiz hinted at using all the class he can muster in a social media shot at Liddell.

And normally I'd feel gross about the idea of—abs or no abs—Liddell fighting again. But now there's Bellator, a fight promotion that has done a bang-up job of grabbing old UFC dudes and using them to fill an unofficial master's division.

If Liddell, a man clearly in fighting shape, digs the idea of getting back in the cage to smash Ortiz and his planet-sized head one more time, I say why not? It's not as though Tito has turned into a knockout artist in the years since he was on the receiving end of his last Liddell spanking.

I just don't see any downsides here. But I suspect you've got a few reasons of your own.

Tito's head: still the same size
Tito's head: still the same sizeGabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

   

SCOTT HARRIS: Why, yes, Jeremy, indeed I do.

I admit there was something stirring about that faceoff profile Liddell posted on his Instagram. There was Liddell's lantern jaw and mohawked scalp, and Ortiz's bald dome still looking ready to demolish some uninhabited buildings. What fight fan isn't going to look at that and feel a twinge?

But it's not a good idea. It's just not.

The combined age of these two fighters? Eighty-nine years old (Liddell is 47, Ortiz 42).

Remember how Liddell's career ended? The short answer is "badly."

The bottom fell out of the great brawler's chin, leaving him at the mercy of Rashad Evans, then Shogun Rua, then Rich Franklin. All three of those losses were clean KOs.

The end of Ortiz's UFC run wasn't quite as crushing, but he still went out with more of a whimper than a bang. The Huntington Beach Bad Boy had a record of 2-7-1 in his final 10 bouts there, taking three of those Ls by knockout. He only has one knockout loss in the entire rest of his career, so that's not difficult math to work out.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) can't yet be definitively diagnosed in a living person, but there are indications Liddell may be suffering symptoms of that or a similar disease caused or exacerbated by concussions. There have been many instances where Liddell has slurred his speech or appeared semi-coherent in public, like this one from 2009 or this one from 2007. Different explanations, from alcohol to sleepiness to medication, have been thrown out there.

We may never know the cause for certain, but it's enough to raise some flags, especially given Liddell's hell-demon fighting style. That plus his knockout losses were enough to prompt Johhny Benjamin, a physician and MMA fan who has never examined Liddell, to opine that Liddell should never fight again.

Adding an extra note of sadness to this is the strong likelihood that Liddell is doing this, as you suggested, Jeremy, for the money. The gravy train left the station when the UFC took on new owners. That was six months ago.

And now, suddenly, he has the itch again?

Far be it from me to tell a man not to make a living, but at the age of 47, couldn't a famous and highly accomplished person like Liddell find a less concussive way to make a buck? This is a bit out of character for me, but I'll let UFC President Dana White have the final word here.

In a first-person account given to Bloomberg in 2013, White explained his rationale for essentially staging an intervention to force Liddell's retirement.

"Someone can say, 'Listen, I know about concussions. I had a couple in college. I'm done with them.' Then there are these guys, like, 'I don’t give a s‑‍-‍t if I get a concussion every single hour. This is what I'm going to do until the day I die.'

"The guys who came off the first season of The Ultimate Fighter became some of our biggest stars. But every athlete's run comes to an end. Age catches us all. Chuck Liddell, a fighter who helped us build the brand, got to the point in time where he wasn't Chuck Liddell anymore."

That's scary and it's sad. And I don't want to see it get worse for the benefit of my nostalgiaphilia.

   

BOTTER: I'd usually agree with you, Scott, that it's better to err on the side of caution with older fighters.

I was happy when Liddell was forced into retirement. I didn't want to see him take more punishment from a younger generation of fighters that had clearly passed him by. I still shudder when I think of that hellacious knockout he suffered at the hands of Rashad Evans.

But that was before Bellator.

I'm not looking to have Liddell come in and face a young, 20- or 30-something light heavyweight contender. I don't want to see him in the cage with Phil Davis or Ryan Bader.

What I'm looking at is a situation where Liddell signs with Bellator and faces guys like Ortiz, Ken Shamrock or Vitor Belfort, should the Young Old Lion make his way to Scott Coker's promotion in the near future.

There's also the personal dream match I never got to see in Liddell vs. Fedor Emelianenko. You can't tell me you wouldn't watch that one. Both guys are older, yes, but both guys being older is the reason a master's division works. You've got one aged competitor fighting someone his own age and with similarly diminished skills.

Granted, that's not something every fight fan will dig. It's not mixed martial arts at its highest level. But as long as these guys are matched up with others in their own age bracket, I'm probably going to get excited when fight time rolls around. And I know I'm not alone.

Shamrock and Gracie found a home in Bellator
Shamrock and Gracie found a home in BellatorTroy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

   

HARRIS: Oh, there's no way you're alone. If it happens, this pulls monster ratings. Legends and freakshows are bread and butter for Bellator. The promotion's ratings record came last year at Bellator 149. Topping that card were two fights—one between 50-year-old Royce Gracie and 52-year-old Ken Shamrock, the other between Kimbo Slice and Dada 5000. You remember that fight as the one where Dada 5000 nearly died in the cage.

Plenty of people will like this. I'm not one of those people, and I know I'm not alone on that side, either.

On the issue of safety, I don't think I'd put this as erring on the side of caution. Although CTE is always something of a guessing game, erring on the side of caution implies prevention. At this point, I'd say we're talking less about prevention or caution and more about stopping additional damage. In other words, erring on the side of caution is no longer an option for these two, in my opinion.

But there's more than a safety issue underpinning my objection. And hey, these are grown men who are experts in their field. I'm not here to be their nanny or wring my hands. As sad and scary as CTE might be, these are two men who are free to make their own decisions.

I guess part of it is what you indicated, Jeremy—that the actual quality of the fight will be very far diminished from their glory-days fights. Another part is the concussion issue, which would make me wince at various points throughout this fight whether I want it to or not. Another part is that I don't like watching old people fight—simple as that. Another part is the sad assumption that these former champions are doing it because, contrary to the evidence at hand, they need a quick paycheck. They're humiliating (not to mention potentially badly hurting) themselves for a buck.

Basically, these are no longer titans of the sport. They are fallen titans.

I don't want to watch fallen titans fight.

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