Now that Chuck Liddell has moved on from professional fighting, and has transitioned on into the next chapter of his life I’d like to take a minute and look back at what made Chuck’s career so much more entertaining and enticing than many other MMA fighters. To me there are four things that made Chuck’s career so special, and all of those things came from Chuck himself. No matter if he had more hype from the UFC or not, it was Chuck that endeared himself to the fans. Chuck’s appeal came from his look, style, attitude, and from him being as big of fan of the sport as anyone else.
Chuck’s look played a big part into why he was so loved by the MMA community. Back in the day when MMA was still a relatively new sport and had just been bought by Zuffa the general MMA fan was not the same as it is today. Now practically everyone and their parents watch MMA, something I can attest to as my parents are as big of fans as I am, but back then very few people actually watched MMA. Fans who had to search the internet and PPV services to find MMA looked like you average American male, and in essence they looked like Chuck Liddell. To be honest Chuck does not have the most athletic looking body, from the semi-beer gut to the mow hawk his appearance was unique in the sport of MMA. In a sport filled with fighters that look like Tito Ortiz, or Randy Couture who both have the clean cut look that you could find on the cover of multiple fashion magazines, but Chuck represented the beer swigging crowd that was originally drawn to MMA, and they were the fans that originally made Chuck a star.
Then beyond the original look of Chuck came his style. Until then most champions had been of the wrestling or Jiu-Jitsu background, and while Chuck did have a background in wrestling he also had a background in kickboxing. His combination of wrestling, that he used to keep the fight standing, and the power in his hands made for interesting fights. It is not that he had an extreme amount of knockout wins, only having 13 out of 2, but it is the way he knocked people out. He hit them hard and from awkward angles, and when he hit them you could see how badly they were hurt. Being the first man to knockout Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, and Jeremy Horn, and the only man to do so since means something in MMA. This drew people to Chuck, to his fights, because honestly would you rather watch Randy and Tito wrestle people for three rounds, or would you rather see Chuck stop people dead in their tracks? Chuck’s career is littered with people who he shouldn’t have stopped, and that is what made him interesting to watch because you knew eventually at any moment of the fight he could catch his opponent.
He never lost his style either, even in the end of his career. You could still see his It all out go for the kill headhunting style, and many observers have stated that if Chuck was a little more reserved, in his style, he may still be around. Maybe he would not have his losses to Rashad Evans, Mauricio Rua, and Rich Franklin because those losses came just as much from Chuck’s style as they did from his opponents. The wide looping angles, the overhand rights, the over committing to punches, and the tendency to drop his hands all played a big part into why he lost those fights, but they also played into why people tuned into watch him. In addition, no one could forget what it was like when Chuck won a fight. His sprint around the cage, arms stretched out wide, with that primal yell emanating from him was just a big of part of the spectacle as was the opponent he had just laid waste to on the canvas.
Many people bag on some of the interviews that Chuck has given over the years, but that is one of the things I find the most interesting about him. He never sounds like he is reading from a cue card. Chuck in interviews always sounds like, to me, if I were talking to him in real life. He seems genuine and honest talking straight from the heart about how he feels. One that was recently discussed on Mike Straka’s show Fighting Words happened at UFC 97. At the post fight press conference, after Chuck had lost to Shogun, reporters kept harassing Anderson about his performance in the octagon that night; badgering him a bout why he did not follow Thales Leites to the ground. Chuck clearly irritated, by the question, retorted about how it is frustrating for a fighter to fight someone who falls after every punch, and is clearly not fighting at all. When pressed farther Chuck continued to retort back with the reporter.
This incident and other interviews, again, clearly shows how strongly Chuck feels about the sport and company he helped build, and he is not afraid to show it. In today’s world public figures are afraid to even show who they really are afraid because of how the press may portray them, something this website has shown about Floyd Mayweather JR, but it is something that Chuck does not shy away from. He came off in his interviews like he seems to come off in real life, passionate and fiery, but also relaxed like you could sit down and have a conversation with the guy not knowing he beat people up for a living.
The fire that I have talked about only really came up when he talked about the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. Chuck clearly loves the sport for all it has given him, but it is more than that. He is a fan. You will see a lot of interviews with fighters and they will get asked a question about another fighter, and sometimes they don’t even know the fighter even if they are fighting on the same card as them. It seems to me that many fighters may not be even a fan of the sport. Chuck is, as he knows many fighters just from being in the business, but also seems to make it a point to come and watch fights. You always saw him in the crowd, even when he was not promoting one of is own fights, rocking and moving as the fighter takes punches. In almost any interview I see of Chuck and he is able to have a compelling conversation about most fighters. I think that is something that helps any athlete connect with his audience because if someone that involved with the sport knows very little about it, beside what concerns them, then fans may be off put them, especially in a combat sport because those other fighters may be your potential competition. This knowledge of his sport still leads to Chuck becoming more connected to his audience, and people feeling like they could crack beer, turn on the fights, and watch it with him.
I am not going to mince words because honestly Chuck was one of my favorite fighters, and still is. I am glad to see him get a job with the UFC after all the blood and sweet he spilled in the octagon. Out of all the fighters that have ever fought under the banner of the UFC I believe that Chuck has been one of the most loyal to the company. The only other fighter I could see being compared to Chuck is Matt Hughes, but he himself does not seem to have that passion for the sport that Chuck does. He himself having stated that he views it more as a job and if there was no UFC he would be a farmer, but if there was no UFC I don’t think Chuck would have known what to with himself. Chuck was born to fight, and the UFC was around for Chuck to fight in it.
The decline in Chuck’s abilities was some of the saddest moments to watch in all of MMA for me. Every time he hit the canvas after someone connected with his chin it just got harder for me to tune in, but no matter how many times he did hit the canvas people still watched. What other fighter could pull in over half a million PPV view buys after going 1-4 in his last 5 fights, none in my book. That is what makes “The Iceman” so transparently fun to watch, because win or lose he came to fight. So to see him stick around and help further the sport of MMA is a good thing, because at the end of the day MMA needs Chuck Liddell and every fan should be glad to still have him around. It is just unfortunate his career could not have ended with him running around the ring arms spread out releasing a guttural scream, as his fans cheered him on.