By Thomas Gerbasi
On June 12th, UFC Hall of Famer Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell makes his long-awaited return to the Octagon to face Rich Franklin in a clash of superstars that headlines UFC 115 in Vancouver. After more than a year on the sidelines, can Liddell add to his list of defining moments against the former middleweight champion?
Kevin Randleman – May 4, 2001 – UFC 31
Result – Liddell KO 1
When Liddell entered his bout with former heavyweight champion Kevin Randleman in Atlantic City, he was seen as a solid contender, but also one who was expected to be a stepping stone for ‘The Monster’, who was making his UFC debut at light heavyweight. Liddell had other plans, and there was no denying the fight ending power or quiet charisma of Liddell, who would hence be known simply as ‘The Iceman’. And this time it wasn’t just a catchy nickname; it was a warning of what Liddell could do to you if he landed cleanly – you were iced.
The Randy Couture Trilogy
June 6, 2003 – UFC 43
Result – Couture TKO 3
Two years after truly arriving on the scene with his win over Randleman, Liddell finally got his long awaited-title shot against ageless Randy Couture. Couture was undoubtedly the real deal, but to many, the coronation of a new king from San Luis Obispo, California appeared to be a mere formality. Not so, as Couture grounded and pounded him out in round three. It was a costly lesson for ‘The Iceman’, who learned never to read your press clippings and enter a bout overconfident.
April 16, 2005 – UFC 52
Result – Liddell KO 1
It was fast – only 2:06 – but in winning the UFC light heavyweight title after close to seven years in the fight game, Liddell finally had the validation all fighters hope to one day get. Sure he says all the right things and insists that he would fight even without the belt on the line, but at the end of the day, every fighter wants to be a champion, and Liddell finally got to the top, and by knockout against a fighter who stopped him no less. That’s redemption.
February 4, 2006 – UFC 57
Result – Liddell KO 2
A bout overshadowed by the post-fight (and temporary) retirement by the legendary Couture, Liddell’s knockout win over ‘The Natural’ not only put a definitive stamp on the UFC’s first great trilogy (in the Iceman’s favor), but it became a true changing of the guard for the organization and Liddell, who became not only the biggest star in mixed martial arts, but also one that transcended the sport into the realm of mainstream acceptance. In other words, whether you’re a fan of MMA or not, when Chuck Liddell fights, you’ll find a way to check it out.
Bad Blood with Tito Ortiz
April 2, 2004 – UFC 47
Result – Liddell KO 2
If Chuck Liddell never wins another mixed martial arts match, he’ll always be remembered for this bout – a one-sided beatdown of his former buddy Ortiz - which was one of the sport’s most anticipated fights. In the process, he showed an ability to not only handle his business inside the Octagon, but outside of it, as he became a much-requested interviewee among the media in the weeks leading up to the bout, and in the years since.
December 30, 2006 – UFC 66
Result – Liddell TKO3
Despite the one-sided nature of bout number one, by the time the rematch was signed, the entire MMA world was eager to see if Ortiz could reverse the result the second time around. He couldn’t, but in defeat Ortiz showed a ton of heart and he even made it to the third round. But Liddell’s ability to keep his rival on the end of his punches made it impossible for Ortiz to implement his gameplan.
Vernon White – August 21, 2004 – UFC 49
Result – Liddell KO 1
Beating someone you chased for a couple of years has to be a high most of us never could experience. Fighting off the inevitable letdown of such a win has to be tough though. That was what Liddell faced in his first post-Ortiz fight against the always tough Vernon White, who helped motivate his foe with plenty of pre-fight trash talk. What resulted was four minutes and five seconds of war, with Liddell showing not only his punching power (which resulted in a KO victory), but a solid beard, which allowed him to take White’s bombs and continue firing. The only thing left was to get that title belt.
Jeremy Horn II – August 20, 2005 – UFC 54
Result – Liddell TKO 4
Most fighters will tell you that it’s harder to keep the title than to win it. Well, Liddell got no easy mark in his first 205-pound title defense when he faced the first man to beat him, Jeremy Horn. But despite their history and Horn’s pedigree, the fight wasn’t even close as Liddell slowly and methodically broke down Horn’s defenses and stuffed any semblance of offense from the over 100-fight veteran.
Rough Nights with “Rampage” Jackson
November 9, 2003 – PRIDE Final Conflict
Result – Jackson TKO 2
Sent to Japan’s PRIDE organization to compete in their Grand Prix tournament with the ultimate goal being a bout with Wanderlei Silva, Liddell instead ran into a brick wall with fellow American Quinton Jackson, who took some of Liddell’s best punches flush on the jaw and kept coming, eventually putting Liddell on his back in the second round and finishing him off. It was Liddell’s second loss in two fights, but he would go on to win seven in a row and become the most dominant 205-pounder in the game.
May 26, 2007 – UFC 71
Result – Jackson TKO 1
The rematch with Jackson was one of the most anticipated in recent history, and it came at a time when Liddell was bigger than ever, with an ESPN magazine cover and an appearance on HBO’s Entourage series. But a right to the jaw by Jackson in the first round stopped Liddell’s roll in emphatic fashion and moved him from champion to contender in just 1:53. It was a huge upset in the mind of the mainstream, but not to the hardcore, who now just assumed that the talented Jackson had Liddell’s number, just like Liddell had Ortiz’.
Wanderlei Silva – December 29, 2007 – UFC 79
Result – Liddell W3
After Liddell’s second loss to Jackson, he would suffer a second straight defeat, this time via decision to Keith Jardine at UFC 76 in September of 2007. Many were starting to write ‘The Iceman’ off, but when he met Wanderlei Silva in a superfight fans had waited to see for years, he was back to his fearsome form as he and ‘The Axe Murderer’ put on one of the best fights of the year. What may have been more impressive to fans of Liddell was that he actually went for and scored a takedown and threw in some more techniques that had been out of his repertoire for a long time. It showed that there were still some tricks in ‘The Iceman’s bag when properly motivated, and you can guarantee that June 12th will be another one of those nights.