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What Can Dana White Do About Chuck Liddell After UFC 115?

Photo by Jeff Sherwood of <a href="">Sherdog</a>
Photo by Jeff Sherwood of Sherdog

"But I don’t care about that. I care about him. I care about his health, and it’s over, man. It’s over." - Dana White, following Chuck Liddell's knockout loss to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 97.

In October of 1980, Muhammad Ali returned from a two year retirement from boxing to fight Larry Holmes at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. Ali stepped into the ring 38 years of age, three time heavyweight champion of the world, and holding 59 professional bouts on his ledger. His corner carried out a beaten fighter in every sense of the word, following one of the most brutal, savage, and unnecessary beatings seen inside of a boxing ring.

Outside of fighting a man eight years his junior and in the prime of his own career, Ali fell victim to two groups of people - the athletic commission and his own camp. In order to obtain a license to box in the state, the Nevada athletic commission required Ali to undergo an examination at the hands of the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. While Ali was found to be in "excellent general medical health", a neurological exam conducted by Dr. Frank Howard "revealed, a small cavum septum pellucidum (a hole in the membrane separating the ventricles)" while a speech examination "detected a mild ataxic dysarthia (difficulty in coordinating the muscles used in speaking)." (Boxing Scene)

Amazingly, despite the evidence hinting at a severe degradation of the brain and general motor skills, Nevada granted Ali a license for the fight.

Ali's camp, who should never have allowed their fighter to have come out of retirement, exacerbated the problem two weeks out from the fight. Ali, by all accounts, had a successful training camp and slimmed down to 221 pounds after weighing 237 during the examination at the Mayo Clinc. For some reason, Dr. Carter Williams, invited to camp by Ali's manager Herbert Muhammad, advised Ali to take Thyrolar, a prescription medication for sufferer's of hypothyroid conditions - a condition that did not seem to afflict Ali.

What resulted was one of the most harrowing displays of organized combat displayed in this video, summarizing the excellent 30 for 30 ESPN documentary about the fight. Ali's work on the speed bag (about a minute into the clip) should have been enough evidence to put a kabosh on the event by itself.

For as uncouth and aggressive as Dana White likes to portray himself in the media, he has made it abundantly clear that the last thing he wants to see is one of his fighters end up like any number of boxers suffering from the results of repeated trauma to the brain. One could make the argument that White has a financial interest in keeping his fighters healthy, as the image of a UFC mainstay stricken by slurred speech and diminished motor skills would only validate the opinion of many in the mainstream about his sport's savage nature.

But I don't think that's the case with Dana White, and especially not with Chuck Liddell, his friend and former managing client. White was adamant after Liddell's lopsided loss to now-champion Mauricio Rua that Liddell would never fight in the UFC again.

Chuck Liddell had different ideas.

Liddell returns to the Octagon fourteen months after his defeat at the hands of Rua at UFC 97 to fight Rich Franklin, the former middleweight champion who has recently moved back up to light heavyweight. By all accounts, this is a good comeback fight for Franklin who, while being known for his striking, does not possess serious one-punch knockout power.

Win or lose, the question of what to do with Liddell is a serious one that White must answer because unless Franklin seriously overwhelms the "Iceman", it's likely Chuck will still feel capable of fighting after the bout. White won't release Liddell, who has only fought six times outside of the UFC's confines (three of which as a representative of the UFC), and risk him being picked up by rival Strikeforce.

White cannot be fooled by what he sees on Saturday, however. If Chuck goes on and performs well against Franklin, that should not be a green light to reinsert him into the title hunt. With three of his last five fights ending on the wrong side of brutal knockouts, it's clear to any right-thinking fan that Liddell lacks the ability to compete with the elites of the division.

That being said, unless Liddell starts to take sustained beatings like Ali took against Holmes, he should be allowed to fight a level of competition more suited to his current skill level. If he gets by Franklin, maybe he gets a rematch with Keith Jardine or fulfills the third installment with Ortiz. Maybe you give him those fights if he loses too.

The point is, if Dana White is serious about protecting aging fighters and his friend Chuck in particular, he must not give Liddell the illusion that he's just a couple fights away from a title shot. Because he isn't.

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