Rivalries: Chuck Liddell

By: Brian Knapp
Jun 30, 2021

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Chuck Liddell’s star burned blindingly bright at its peak.

Armed with devastating punching power, near-impenetrable takedown defense and his trademark Mohawk, Liddell won 20 of his first 23 fights, many of them in spectacular fashion, and captured the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight crown in 2005. He was the class of the 205-pound weight class for the better part of decade, leaving a path of destruction that included various high-profile victims, from Kevin Randleman, Murilo Bustamante and Amar Suloev to Guy Mezger, Vitor Belfort and Alistair Overeem. “The Iceman” produced two separate seven-fight winning streaks inside the Octagon, his sustained excellence rivaled by few. He was inducted into the pioneer wing of the UFC Hall of Fame on July 11, 2009.

In reflecting on the remarkable run of one of the true all-time greats, a look at a few of the rivalries that helped shape his career:

Jeremy Horn

Horn choked out “The Iceman” with an arm-triangle in the first round of their UFC 19 pairing on March 5, 1999 at Hollywood Casino in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Liddell wandered into the Pat Miletich protégé’s world one too many times. Horn lured the Californian into his guard, absorbed some ground-and-pound for his troubles and made passes at a heel hook, Achilles lock and toe hold before eventually working to top position. After a restart, he pressed Liddell in the clinch, executed a double-leg takedown and advanced to half guard. Horn framed the choke and clamped down from the bottom once his counterpart rolled in an effort to relieve the pressure. However, Liddell sank deeper and deeper into the Omaha, Nebraska, native’s clutches as the final seconds of the round ticked away. Referee John McCarthy separated the two men when the horn sounded and called for the stoppage once it became clear Liddell was unconscious. It was the only submission defeat of the UFC hall of famer’s career. Liddell exacted some revenge in their 2005 rematch, as he was awarded a fourth-round technical knockout after dominating the UFC 54 headliner.

Renato Sobral

Liddell cut down “Babalu” with a head kick in the first round of their UFC 40 co-main event on Nov. 22, 2002 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Sobral bowed out 2:55 into Round 1, suffering the first knockout loss of his career. The Brazilian tried and failed to keep Liddell at bay with leg kicks. “The Iceman” staggered Sobral with an overhand right inside the first 20 seconds, sprawled on his attempted takedowns and probed for openings with his jab. Liddell marched forward midway through the first round and followed a two-punch combination with a left high kick to the face. Sobral collapsed backward and ate a few more punches before referee Larry Landless arrived on the scene. “Babalu” fared no better in the rematch three-plus years later, as Liddell put him away with punches just 95 seconds into their UFC 62 headliner.

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Tito Ortiz

They were once friends and training partners, but by the time Liddell and Ortiz arrived for their UFC 47 headliner on April 2, 2004 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, their relationship was far beyond strained. Animosity was still rising between the two, and after a competitive first round, Liddell turned his hands loose. The results were devastating for “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy.” Ortiz later claimed he had been temporarily blinded by a thumb to the eye, but Liddell backed him to the fence and unleashed an endless stream of lefts and rights. Enough of the punches found their mark. Ortiz could do nothing but cover up and eventually crumbled under the barrage, giving Liddell the technical knockout 38 seconds into Round 2. More than bragging rights were at stake in their UFC 66 rematch a little more than two years later. There, Liddell put the light heavyweight title on the line, along with his six-fight winning streak. Ortiz pushed it to a third round, but the punching power of “The Iceman” and his ability to stonewall takedowns were again the deciding factors. The event generated a $5.397 million gate and more than a million pay-per-view buys, the Liddell-Ortiz feud proving lucrative for both the organization and the fighters themselves. They met for a third time under less-than-ideal circumstances—Liddell was 48 years old and a shell of his former self—under the Golden Boy MMA banner in November 2018. Ortiz knocked out his shopworn adversary 4:24 into the first round.

Randy Couture

Liddell fought Couture on three different occasions. Their first meeting at UFC 43 in 2003 resulted in his being upset in a third-round technical knockout, as Couture gradually wore down “The Iceman” with clinches, takedowns and ground-and-pound. They squared off again a little less than two years later at UFC 52, where Liddell knocked out Couture 2:06 into the first round to capture the light heavyweight championship. A successful title defense against the aforementioned Horn, the only man to ever submit Liddell, set up a trilogy bout with Couture. The two legends met for the third and final time in the UFC 57 main event on Feb. 4, 2006 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Liddell again proved too much for “The Natural,” as he delivered another scintillating knockout, this time in the second round. The event resulted in a record $3.3 million gate and more than 400,000 pay-per-views. More importantly, the Liddell-Couture rivalry helped drive the sport’s popularity to unforeseen heights.

Quinton Jackson

Father Time catches up to all prizefighters, no matter how great. Liddell walked into his hotly anticipated rematch with Jackson—“Rampage” had defeated him in Pride Fighting Championships in 2003—on the strength of a seven-fight winning streak that included four successful light heavyweight title defenses. It did not go according to plan for “The Iceman,” who appeared on the cover of ESPN The Magazine in advance of the fight. Jackson floored Liddell with a rolling right hook and mopped up what was left with follow-up punches in the first-round of their UFC 71 headliner on May 26, 2007 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. “Rampage” drew the curtain 1:53 into Round 1 before a crowd of 14,728. After 770 days, Liddell’s reign atop the 205-pound division was over. He went on to lose five of his final six fights, four of them by knockout.

Wanderlei Silva

Fans had carried on the debate for years. Those loyal to the UFC thought Liddell to be superior. Those carrying the Pride Fighting Championships flag backed Silva. The two living legends finally collided at UFC 79 on Dec. 29, 2007, and though they both were past their primes, their fight largely lived up to expectations. Liddell and Silva went at it for 15 minutes in the co-feature, as they served as the appetizer for the Georges St. Pierre-Matt Hughes headliner at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. “The Iceman” outlanded the Brazilian in the first and third rounds while weathering a knockdown in the second. The 15-minute battle resulted in $50,000 “Fight of the Night” bonuses for both men and quenched the thirst of MMA observers everywhere. It was also the final victory of Liddell’s career, a fitting capstone for a true all-time great. Advertisement
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