Chuck Liddell: Kingdom Come

posted September 03, 2008 12:00:00 AM CDT | 0 comments

To say that fighters learn more in defeat than victory is an understatement. Some of the UFCs biggest stars became more dangerous after recovering from devastating lossesbe it by knockout or submission.

Chuck Liddell (21-5) is no exception to that rule.

At UFC 19, he was submitted by Jeremy Horn. He hasnt been submitted since and went on a 10 fight win streak after the loss, defeating the likes of Kevin Randleman, Jeff Monson and Vitor Belfort, among others.

After riding the wave to the top of UFC supremacy, Liddell ran into Randy Couture at UFC 43: Meltdown. The resulting fight was a meltdown of sorts, which saw The Natural put the heat on the Iceman, ending the fight in the third round by TKO to become the interim UFC Light Heavyweight Championship. Liddells performance was less than stellar, but losing re-lit a fire inside the soon to be champion.

We fought three rounds in that fight and I got tired pretty quick. I had laid off my wrestling for a while due to an injury. The injury was healthy but I was out of shape. So it was a matter of laying off the dessert a little bit and getting into shape, Liddell says of his condition coming into the fight.

Make no mistake about it, Liddell is not making excuses for the loss and takes nothing away from Couture.

Randy is a great wrestler and he puts it together pretty well with striking. Theres always that chance; but combined with me being tired made it real hard to stop him.

With the exception of a loss to Quentin Rampage Jackson in the Pride FC Middleweight Grand Prix, Liddell came back with a vengeance, racking up a six fight win streak en route to becoming the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. In the course of his dominant run in the octagon, Liddell avenged his loss to Horn, defeated Couture (once to win the belt, another in a title defense), and Tito Ortiz. With a combination of superior striking and excellent takedown defense, Liddell became kryptonite for wrestlers and grapplers in the UFC.

Hes so hard to take down and he forces the wrestlers to stand with him, DeWayne Zinkin says of Liddells abilities. Not many wrestlers have had any luck standing with Chuck. He puts the fight where he wants it to go.

Putting the fight where he wants it to go will be critical this Saturday at UFC 88, when Liddellfresh off an eight month hiatus squares off against undefeated Sugar Rashad Evans. Like previous Iceman victims Ortiz, Couture and Renato Sobral, Evans will be looking for victory not by using his wrestling, but by standing and striking with Liddell.

I was looking to put some hands on him, Evans told Fight News several months ago, before the initial bout with Liddell was postponed. "You know, Im a wrestler by nature but I was going to let my hands go a little bit. When you fight Chuck, you gotta go straight at him. Id be looking for the knockout.

According to Zinkin, that kind of talk will be Evans undoing.

I dont think itll go past two rounds, he replied, when asked for a prediction. Chuck will knock him out.

The Uphill Climb

With Liddell being away from the octagon for this extended period of time, coupled with a recovering hamstring injury, it would seem that the heat should be on Liddell. He insists that is not the case. Also staring Liddell in the face is a 1-2 record since May of 2007 when he dropped back to back matches with Quentin Rampage Jackson and Evans training partner Keith Jardine. Liddell was able to rebound from the two disappointing losses with a unanimous decision victory over Wanderlei Silva at UFC 79.

Make no mistake about it, Liddell needs a convincing victory over Evans, but dont look for him to put extra pressure on himself to get it.

I try not to let fights before or fights after effect the outcome of the fight Im in, he says.

Still, Liddell is hopeful that a victory will put him right back into title contention and many speculate that a December showdown with current champion Forrest Griffin will be in the works should Liddell outlast his adversary.

Itd be great, he says about a potential match with Griffin. Thats what I want, I want my belt back.

A Griffin/Liddell headlined UFC has the potential to be one of the biggest fights in UFC history. With both men undeniably being two of the most recognizable faces in all of MMA, its hard to believe UFC matchmaker Joe Silva wouldnt jump at the chance to book a proverbial clash of the light heavyweight titans. Adding to the potential drama is the fact that Liddell coached Griffin on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter.

Money Matters

With the growth of MMA and the UFC in general, the subject of fighter pay has become a hot button issue as of late. While the sports biggest stars can command six figures per fight and reportedly, a percentage of pay-per-view revenue, up and comers can see as little as $3,000 per fight. With the sport growing to new heights, Liddell is quick to give new fighters who may be upset over their pay a reality check.

I was fighting for nothing in the beginning, he says introspectively on his early fights. "A lot of these guys are fighting for a lot more than I was fighting for [when I started]. Id like to see fighters get paid more, Im a fighter and Ill be training fighters when Im done.

Three years and eight professional fights later, Liddell began to see the fruits of his labor and realized that MMA could become a full time career.

"I first started making real money when I fought [Kevin] Randleman and Guy Mezger in the same month (UFC 31 and Pride 14, respectively). Ten and ten ($10,000 to show, $10,000 win bonus) to fight Randleman and twenty and twenty to fight Mezger. I made 60 grand in one month."

The Final Chapter

At 38, many question just how long Liddell will remain a force inside the octagon.

I try to tell people, I have about two to four years left in me. And in two years, I hope to still be saying two to four years, he says concerning retirement. As long as my body works and Im healthy, Ill be fighting.

At 205, there are still a host of interesting matchups for is still looking to take onand take outall comers.

Anybody that comes up, he says of future bouts. Any of the newer guys or the older guys.

Oh, and if you think he forgot about beating Gods Street Soldier before hanging up the gloves?

Think again.

Obviously I want to get another shot at Quentin [Jackson] before Im done.

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