As self titled "hardcore" MMA fans, we can sometimes become jaded and revisionary. We have a habit of judging fighters on only there most recent performances and disregard past achievements. Legends of the sport are often diminished in retrospect based on recent performances. We use terms like "The Ghost of Wandy", "Zombie Nog", and "The Shell of CroCop". Few instances are more exemplary of this trend than "The Iceman" Chuck Liddell.
For years, Liddell ruled the UFC LHW division with an iron chin and an overhand right thrown like a major league pitcher. The Iceman thrived off brutal counter punches, impeccable takedown defense, and an absolute refusal to get stuck on his back. To this day, Chuck Liddell is one of the most recognizable faces in the sport of MMA, so let's take a look at what led to his legend-(wait for it)-dary status:
The Destruction of Tito Ortiz
In one of the most anticipated fights to date, Chuck Liddell and the aptly nicknamed "Huntington Beach Bad Boy" Tito Ortiz faced off for the first time at UFC 47. In a clash of styles where Ortiz wanted to impose his vicious ground and pound against Chuck's kickboxing and takedown defense, it quickly became clear that Tito had no answer for a powerful striker who could deny his takedowns. Early in the second round, The Iceman put an exclamation point on the end of Ortiz's run as champion with a ferocious flurry of punches that forced Big John McCarthy to stop the fight.
From 2000-02, Tito Ortiz was an unstoppable force at Light heavyweight. His dominant wrestling and lethal ground and pound from the guard set him up for one of the most dominant title reigns in UFC history. Chuck Liddell called a halt to that, but after a 6-fight win streak Ortiz was ready to reclaim his belt. All he had to do was avenge the most embarrassing loss of his career. From the start, it's obvious that Tito has worked hard to improve his striking, but still unable to impose his wrestling ability, the second fight would end much like the first.
The Liddell-Couture Trilogy
In their first bout, Randy frustrated Liddell with pressure in the clinch, slick takedowns (including a punishing double and an impressive catch-kick to leg sweep), and solid boxing fundamentals. By the third round, worked and wearied, Chuck was unable to defend himself under Couture's mount.
At UFC 52, Liddell would get his chance for revenge:
After being featured as a coach on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter, Chuck had the opportunity to avenge the devastating loss to Randy "The Natural" Couture. Using powerful counters and evasive footwork, The Iceman finished The Natural with a merciless counter and obligatory ground and pound.
Only 5 events later, these two would get the chance to determine who was truly the UFC Light Heavyweight king at UFC 57. The rubber match is, without a doubt, the most dramatic of the trilogy. Liddell tries to establish distance with a strong jab and straight right, while Couture is constantly using great footwork to cut off the cage to create an opportunity to get inside. Liddell scores often with the jab, but late in the round Couture lands a strong double leg to put Chuck on his back. The second round starts out much like the first, with The Iceman utilizing the jab while Randy tries to get inside by cutting off the cage and landing counter hooks. About half way through the round, Liddell takes advantage of a small slip by Couture, landing a destructive right hand.
Liddell v. Silva: The Late Arrival
Many fans will tell you that this battle of MMA legends happened far too late in each fighters' career. Each fighter was past there prime and the anticipation of the bout had dropped significantly since the initial attempt to set it up in 2003. They may be right, but eff those guys; this fight was awesome.
Liddell Silva Weigh In Altercation (via sxeoptic)
Chuck Liddell would end up winning a unanimous decision in an absolute war of attrition. There were no losers in a fight as exciting and intense as this. However, it would be the last great showing of The Iceman before his retirement.