Mixed martial artists come from every corner of the globe, bearing a variety of styles. Sometimes, fighters are products of their environment, favoring disciplines prevalent in the country or state from which they hail. Various regions of the United States are considered factories for great fighters, though that certainly is not the case with each state. In this weekly Sherdog.com series, the spotlight will shine on the best mixed martial artist of all-time from each of the 50 states. Fighters do not necessarily need to be born in a given state to represent it; they simply need to be associated with it. For example, reigning Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight titleholder Robbie Lawler may have been born in San Diego, but few would recognize him as a Californian.
Perhaps no state in the union has produced as much historic MMA talent as California. The most prominent mixed martial arts promotions haven long been littered with fighters from “The Golden State,” many of them becoming champions. Pride Fighting Championships, Strikeforce, World Extreme Cagefighting and the UFC have all seen their flags flown by a Californian at one point.
Of all the legendary fighters who have called California home, one stands above the rest: Chuck Liddell. A former light heavyweight champion, he was instrumental in the UFC’s rise to prominence and mainstream acceptance.
Born in Santa Barbara, Liddell took up martial arts at a young age and eventually turned into a wrecking machine known as “The Iceman.” A superb defensive wrestler with crushing power in his hands, he captured the light heavyweight title with his knockout of Randy Couture at UFC 52 on April 16, 2005 and successfully defended it on four subsequent occasions. Included in those victories was a second KO of Couture that cemented Liddell’s legacy as an all-time great. He eventually surrendered the title to Quinton Jackson -- the only man to defeat him twice -- at UFC 71 in May 2007. By the time Liddell retired, he had a total of 10 UFC knockouts on his resume, more than any other fighter in history.
Liddell’s exploits extended beyond the Octagon. He delivered two sensational knockouts in Pride, where he bested Guy Mezger and Alistair Overeem; and his 30-minute war with Jose Landi-Jones under the Internation Vale Tudo Championship banner in 1998 remains one of MMA’s most memorable encounters.
Like many strikers, Liddell did not age well. He lost five of his last six fights, a victory over rival Wanderlei Silva the lone outlier. Those struggles did nothing to tarnish his legacy, as his run as UFC champion and his rivalries with Couture, Jackson and Tito Ortiz remain signature pieces. Liddell was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame on July 10, 2009.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Dan Henderson, Tito Ortiz, Urijah Faber, Robbie Lawler, Frank Shamrock, Nick Diaz