1. Iced Liddell: Chuck Liddell thought he still had it in him. But he should know now. We all should. After suffering his fourth knockout in five fights, with proper respect to a man who paved the way for young fighters all over the world to make money doing MMA, this has to be it for “The Iceman.”
Liddell, 40, has the opportunity to remembered as one of America’s first mixed martial artists to make it. He’s rich. A celebrity. Revered instead of reviled. Let’s hope he stays that way because it would be awful if Liddell tried to hold onto his past by mortgaging his future.
I imagine in the immediacy of yet another on-his-shield loss, Liddell will say he’s done. But how many times have similar words from fighters been found meaningless?
This really shouldn’t be his decision, and the people around him need not aid and abet the man. Liddell’s longtime trainer, John Hackleman, one of the first tough guys to trade blows with the Mowhawked star, can’t, as he did in the lead-up to UFC 115, pass off the decision as his fighter’s. He promised: If there was pattern of Liddell being consistently hurt, he’d tell him it’s over. John, it’s over.
Same goes for Dana White, Liddell’s promoter and friend, who was putting the finishing touches on a new contract for “The Iceman” this week. Rip it up. Don’t be a party to this. You guys made one more payday, Liddell socked away a couple more million. Terrific. He deserved it. But friends don’t let friends fight punch-drunk.
Liddell should end his career with a 21-8 record, highlighted by monster wins and heavy losses. We will hopefully remember that Quinton Jackson, Rashad Evans, Mauricio Rua and Rich Franklin are pretty good, and that there’s no shame in fighting like the Alamo needs defending. That was Liddell. When his reflexes and timing synced with his power, few were better. When they didn’t, well, you know.
I had the privilege of watching Liddell fight in a ballroom of 1,200 somewhere outside Fresno, Calif., during the final summer of Bill Clinton‘s presidency. He won by knockout over a tough California wrestler named Steve Heath — one of the 13 KO’s that dot The Iceman’s record — in the last event with Liddell on the poster not named Pride or UFC. He never forgot the small shows. Just last month, I sat ringside with Liddell while one of his friends scrapped on a card in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Find me someone who invests himself in a fight like Chuck Liddell. Here’s hoping watching is truly enough. Working his fighters’ corners is enough. Enjoying life is enough. Because fighting isn’t an option.
2. Franklin one of the toughest: Six months after Liddell fought in that ballroom, one of Monte Cox‘s guys, a Rich Franklin of Cincinnati, showed up to fight on an IFC card. Franklin, in his fifth pro bout, faced a 103-degree temperature and heavyweight Aaron Brink, who as it turned out wasn’t all that good, but he had experience and was thought to be resilient.
Neither man won that night because Franklin managed to slip one of his legs between the cage and canvas, forcing a no contest. It was the first time I saw first-hand how tough Franklin is, and based on his (broken) body of work, pain’s reality has never deterred him.
Not so long ago, I wrote Franklin, 35, won’t go down as a legend. I think it was after Vitor Belfort blasted him out in the first round last year in Dallas. He may not be one of the all-time greats — at least on my list — but nothing will ever diminish his reputation for handling pain, dealing with it in a fight, and prevailing. Such was the case once again versus Liddell. Taking a kick leveled at his body on the elbow, Franklin said his left arm was broken early in Round 1. It was the right hand that stopped Liddell, but as the former UFC light heavyweight champion dropped, Franklin (26-5, 1 NC) unleashed a left hook that jiggled his jellied arm upon impact.
“I broke my hand before and I didn’t quit,” Franklin said immediately after the knockout, which came at 4:55 of the first. “It’s a broken arm. These people came here to see a fight.” As they have for years when Franklin, Liddell and Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, who showed his spirit in the co-main event, strapped on their gloves.
The former UFC middleweight champion will take time off, heal, and get right back in there against another challenge. He has fought them all, and it looks like he will continue to. For as long as his calcified body lets him.
3. Mirko the mixed martial artist: This was a kinder, gentler Mirko Filipovic (27-7-1) in the Octagon. Not that Pat Barry, a good kickboxer and underskilled mixed martial artist, would agree. Because other than a mid-round pause to share smiles and hugs, the duo — who were so chummy in the lead-up to the heavyweight tilt that one might think they agreed to star in a sitcom together — this actually was a pretty interesting fight.
Many were quick to write off Filipovic as dead after his third-round stoppage to Junior dos Santos last September, but I thought I saw spirit in his performance that night. And he showed it to me again against Barry, who took an early lead by planting Filipovic twice on the canvas but failed to finish. When “Cro Cop” dispensed with the pleasantries and treated Barry like the MMA novice he is, ditching respect for disdain, the Croatian plowed through the now 5-2 30-year-old from New Orleans.
Give him Ben Rothwell next and see if that spirit persists.
4. Welterweights shine brightly: Big night for Carlos Condit (25-5) and Martin Kampmann (17-3), who both scored important and resounding victories. There is no shame in the performances of the vanquished 20-year-old Rory MacDonald (10-1) — who suffered through a third round in which Condit, 26, battered him to a finish — or overwhelmed Brazilian stud Paulo Thiago (13-2).
There isn’t a better division in the UFC than welterweight. Its unquestioned depth should continue to deliver quality mixed martial arts as we’re forced to wait for Georges St. Pierre and Josh Koscheck to finish their The Ultimate Fighter 12 business.
5. Dunham delivers: Evan “Velcro” Dunham pushed his record to 10-0 with a decisive decision against Tyson Griffin (14-3). From my seat, he’s the most intriguing prospect in the lightweight division. The 155-pound division is tremendously deep, but I can’t think of anyone with more upside than the 28-year-old. Remember his name. His control on the canvas is uncanny. Can’t shake the guy.