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The Chuck Liddell Situation: UFC’s Big PPV Showdown

By Scott Heritage

Chuck Liddell makes his return to the cage this weekend against former middleweight champion Rich Franklin in what will probably be a do or die for both if they ever hope to get near a UFC title again in the future.

UFC boss Dana White has gone on record as saying that if Chuck loses, he is done with fighting. Which is strangely reminiscent, or in fact almost word for word the same, as what he said the last time Chuck stepped into the Octagon. What he can actually do to make this happen isn’t clear though. The most he can seemingly do is to stop Chuck from fighting in the UFC. If he still really wants to fight he can leave the company, sue to be released from his contract (which presumably has more than one fight left on it) and carry on with a different promoter.

The difficulty comes from the fact that many fighters are still big draws even if they are well past their best in terms of being a credible title challenger. Liddell has lost 4 of his last 5 and will turn 41 this year. At the same time though he still one of the company’s biggest pay per view sellers, and would certainly be snapped up by a rival promoter if he was to be released.

Some older fighters are content with being given positions within the UFC, and can still make a good living doing seminars, fan events and signings. Most also write a book, start clothing lines and open gyms, any of which they can often make a living from. Some fighters though, Chuck being one of them, want to fight purely because they enjoy it, and that can be a dangerous thing. No amount of money is going to stop Chuck wanting to fight and yet putting him in against much younger and more well rounded guys is only going to give him more losses and potentially damage his health.

Most fighters are simply cut when their days of providing anyone else on the roster with a challenge are gone, just look at the likes of Ken Shamrock or Mark Coleman. Since Liddell in particular is an icon in the sport though, his drawing power will likely last much longer than his physical abilities will. This leaves the UFC in a difficult position, and what will happen should Liddell lose on Saturday will be interesting. If Chuck is cut he will be a huge draw for a rival such as StrikeForce, if not he will need to be spoon fed weak opposition to keep him from taking more fistic abuse.

Chuck’s original opponent in this case was Tito Ortiz, who he has already beaten twice and is probably past his best as well. Before and after every fight these days Tito complains of injuries, some of which would keep most people bedridden. After losing to Forrest Griffin at UFC 106, Ortiz claimed that he had fought with a fractured skull and bulged discs in his back, both of which were strangely missing from the after event medical suspension list.

Either Tito fights when badly hurt and as a result loses often, or he is past his best and looks for excused after he has come up short. Either way though, he is probably the one opponent who most felt that Chuck would beat. Tito’s straight forward wrestling style does not mesh well with Liddell’s take down defense and heavy hands, and Ortiz is still rudimentary on the feet. Towards the end of the current season of The Ultimate Fighter Tito pulled out of the fight with a neck injury, leaving Rick Franklin to fill the slot.

Franklin is a strange fighter to try to compare to Liddell in any real sense because most of his career has been fought at middleweight, and his recent climb to light heavyweight has been interrupted twice with catch weight fights against Vitor Belfort and Wanderlei Silva. Although undoubtedly a great fighter at middleweight, a lot of the time Franklin enjoyed a big size advantage over his opponents, which he won’t have as a light heavyweight. Similarly where he once regularly knocked opponents out, his power of late has seemed to be lacking.

Franklin has tended to do well against strikers when he was the larger man, but is known to get out of his depth at times, and his defense isn’t that great. In the wrestling department it doesn’t get much better for the former Math teacher as Liddell’s defensive wrestling remains top notch. The one thing that he does have in his favor is that Chuck doesn’t have the solid chin that he used to, and a well placed punch will put him out cold. Also there is plenty of footage available for those looking for an effective game plan for beating Chuck.

The biggest gamble for Franklin will be stepping into Chuck’s wheelhouse to try to land that punch, which might well result in him being the one getting sparked out. Franklin is the favorite with the bookmakers, but not my much, and I won’t be surprised either way. I’m leaning towards Franklin though purely because Liddell struggles with fighters who won’t oblige him on the feet and he can be easy to counter when forced to go on the attack.

The recent trend of older fighters continuing to compete comes from a variety of developments within the sport, not least of which is the popularity explosion that MMA and the UFC in particular has undergone over the past few years. Even diminished fighters can now make more in one night than they would in months or even years in any other kind of job.

The timing is such though that many of them didn’t enter the sport when the pay was that great, meaning that some of them would need a regular job if they were to retire. Some don’t have any other skills, most have a blank resume if they have been solely competing for a living. Others just love to compete and are involved with the gym or training business as well. As MMA continues to evolve and grow though we will probably see the number of fighters continuing to compete past the age of 40 drop. With the pay getting better and more up and coming athletes joining the sport, most older guys either won’t be able to cut it or won’t need the money.

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