THANK YOU, CHAMP
I remember Chuck Liddell’s UFC debut against Noe Hernandez at the Mobile Civic Center deep in the heart of Alabama at UFC 17 on May 15, 1998. I’ll admit it. I didn’t pay much attention to the 28-year-old kickboxer from San Luis Obispo, California on that night.
He wasn’t an intimidating figure—not in my opinion, at least. The 6’2 former collegiate wrestler was kind of lanky at 200 lbs, unlike many of the sport’s elite at the time, who were largely physical specimens. And the Mohawk was down right ridiculous. Mohawks have always been symbol of wannabe bad boys, though only a select few of them are truly tough guys.
I know that mixed martial arts is not bodybuilding and it certainly isn’t modeling, so someone’s physique and haircut are about as relevant to the game as the color of a fighter’s shorts. Nevertheless, I still viewed Liddell as a caricature. I certainly had no idea that I was watching a future fighting icon in the making.
Of course, Liddell’s UFC debut didn’t get his career off to a meteoric start in Alabama. He defeated Hernandez by unanimous judges’ decision, but it was far from a spectacular fight. It was much more of a workmanlike effort, one that he followed with his first career loss 10 months later, though he rebounded from the loss with a vengeance.
“The Iceman” lost only one more time in over the next eight years—a span that saw him compete 15 times in the UFC. That lone loss was sandwiched by two seven-fight winning streaks. The second such streak consisted of all knockouts or technical knockouts. To date, no other man in UFC history has won seven straight fights by knockout or technical knockout—a record that isn’t likely to be broken any time soon.
Along the way, Liddell picked up the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship and successfully defended it four times. He also avenged his two previous career losses—brutally knocking out Randy Couture twice and pounding away at Jeremy Horn until the referee mercifully called a halt to the beating.
What makes that stretch even more impressive is that Liddell literally faced anyone and everyone who the UFC placed in front of him. He never asked for any opponent, other than a long-overdue bout with bitter rival Tito Ortiz, and absolutely never ducked anybody.
By the time Liddell’s reign of terror finally ended at the hands of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 71 on May 26, 2007, the only thing that surpassed the millions of dollars he earned inside the Octagon were the dozens of millions of fans he entertained with his spectacular knockouts. “The Iceman” was a legitimate crossover star—the only man to truly transcend the sport since Royce Gracie did it during the UFC’s dark days.
Of course, the last few years have been less than kind to Liddell. He has now lost four of his last five fights, and three of those came by knockout. But this isn’t the time or the place to lament about his recent losses. It’s time to celebrate the career of one of the most fearsome champions to ever compete in the UFC.
Liddell currently holds records for the most UFC fights (23) and the most consecutive wins by KO/TKO (seven). His 16 wins inside the Octagon ranks second all time. His four successful consecutive UFC title defenses ranks fourth all time. His seven-fight UFC winning streak is tied for fifth all time, and he is the only man to ever win at least that many consecutive UFC bouts on two separate occasions. Liddell is also tied for sixth all time with five wins in UFC title bouts. And his seven UFC title fights ties for seventh all time.
Numbers don’t lie, but they don’t tell the full story, either. What makes Liddell’s career so amazing is that he reached his apex at precisely the time when the sport needed him the most.
Nobody will ever deny that the first season of The Ultimate Fighter forever changed the future of the sport. The SpikeTV reality show set the foundation for the sport to catapult into mainstream consciousness. Forrest Griffin’s timeless battle with Stephan Bonnar drew more than 10 million sets of eyeballs, raising the sport’s profile to all new heights.
It is unlikely that the UFC would have been able to maintain, let alone build upon, the momentum created by the inaugural TUF finale without a seemingly unbeatable champion ruling over the masses with ice running through his veins and dynamite in his fists (and/or feet, for that matter).
Liddell was that guy and then some. His record-setting knockout streak and willingness to stand toe-to-toe with anyone helped convert millions of casual onlookers drawn to the sport by TUF and an untold number of others into rabid UFC fans.
I can go on and on about the significance of Liddell’s career. Yet, I’d rather end this piece with just a simple, straightforward message to “The Iceman.”
Thank you, champ. It was privilege watching you compete over the last 12 years.
I’m sure there are millions of fans out there who feel the exact same way.
FRANKLIN PUTS HIMSELF INTO THE 205-LB MIX
Franklin’s dramatic knockout victory over Liddell absolutely put him in the mix for the 205-lb title.
What makes Franklin so dangerous is that he is a perfectionist in his preparation. He leaves no stone unturned when building a game plan and then practicing to execute it. And his commitment to cardiovascular conditioning is second to none in the division.
The highlight-reel knockout suffered at the hands of Vitor Belfort back in September in a 195-lb catch weight bout does nothing to diminish Franklin’s standing in the light heavyweight division. Belfort can knock out anyone in the world if he lands a clean left hand. The big question surrounding Franklin coming into the Liddell fight was whether he would recover mentally from such a loss.
Consider that question answered with an exclamation point.
I suspect that Franklin will be back before the end of the year. He is set to have surgery on his broken left ulna, but that shouldn’t put him on the shelf for the remainder of the year, unless there are complications.
When he does return, I am sure that UFC President Dana White and matchmaker extraordinaire Joe Silva will match him with a marquee light heavy to determine just where Franklin stands in the 205-lb contender pecking order. His body of work is certainly sufficient to justify a title challenge right now, but that seems unlikely after a longer layoff following surgery.
Can anyone say Forrest Griffin? I think that is the perfect next fight for both men. There is nothing in the works, but that would be one fun fight—and a box office hit, in my opinion. And the winner would be well positioned to challenge for the title in early 2011.
BARRY’S MISTAKES…WELL, SORT OF
I’m sure Pat Barry’s fans watched in frustration as the affable heavyweight failed to press for the finish after sending Mirko Cro Cop to the canvas twice with beautiful right hands in the first round. I know I did, particularly after the second knockdown when Cro Cop was clearly hurt.
Barry isn’t the first guy to wave up an opponent after a knockdown. Liddell has done it numerous times. So has Anderson Silva. Heck, Rory McDonald waved up Carlos Condit earlier that same night and nobody questioned him. I can go on and on with examples.
The difference, though, is that nobody that I can recall dared to wave up a striker of Cro Cop’s caliber. One would think that any fighter, even a guy like Barry who has a nascent ground game, would prefer to ground and pound him, rather than stand and strike.
I’m not sure why Barry opted to allow Cro Cop to stand up and regain his faculties, but I am fairly certain that it led to his own demise two rounds later.
In Barry’s defense, it was later discovered that he broke both his right hand and foot during the fight. One must presume that the bones in his right hand fractured when he landed the leaping right hook that led to the second knockdown because Barry barely threw his right hand from that point forward. One must also assume that he broke his right foot around the same time because he completely abandoned the thudding leg kicks that opened the door for the two knockdowns.
Whatever the case, Barry was complete ineffective on the feet from the end of the first round onward. Nevertheless, anyone who criticizes him for that passivity must take heed of the fact that he did not quit, despite his injuries, and that demands respect.
Yes, I’m fully aware that lots of guys have suffered through a broken limb, or what they perceived at the time to be a broken limb, to win a fight. Franklin did it in the main event. In all fairness to Barry, fighting through a broken arm is different than fighting through a broken hand and a broken foot. I cannot recall the last time someone did that en route to a win.
Barry didn’t get the win, but he gets a pass in my book.
JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED
Mirko Cro Cop has been up and down so far in his UFC career, leaving many to wonder if the Croatian superstar is on the downside of what was a brilliant career. He was dead set on proving all of his doubters wrong at UFC 115 by scoring an emphatic win over a very tough Pat Barry.
His win was certainly emphatic, but not in the way that Cro Cop originally intended. Rather than proving that he is still the most dangerous heavyweight striker in the game, Cro Cop demonstrated something that few thought he had—heart.
I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way. But the fact remains that Cro Cop has always been a bully in his mixed martial arts career. He is a monster when he is winning and something less than aggressive when he is facing defeat.
Cro Cop dismissed that notion against Barry. As mentioned, he suffered two knockdowns in the opening round against his younger, more explosive opponent. I fully expected Cro Cop to fold at that point, especially when the left side of his face instantly swelled up to terrible proportions following the second knockdown. Yet, he bit down on his mouthpiece and continued. Cro Cop actually fought with increased intensity and activity after he was clearly hurt, which is something that he hasn’t shown in previous fights.
Cro Cop made a lot to do about his renewed commitment to training coming into the fight. He talked about how he was injury free for the first time in years. We’ve heard that tale many times before from fighters. Rarely is it actually true. This is one of those rare times.
Call me crazy, since I truly believe that Cro Cop would have lost the fight by knockout or technical knockout had Barry pressed the action after either knockdown, but I think that this fight was just what the doctor ordered for Cro Cop going forward. Not only does he benefit from the momentum of back-to-back wins in the UFC. He also now knows that he can survive extreme adversity and still win fights.