Right off the bat, I want to go on record saying that I suspect Oscar De La Hoya is a cocaine addict, which might explain why tonight’s old-timers’ card in Inglewood, California featuring a grudge match main event between eight-years-retired Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell and 43-year-old Tito Ortiz was even happening in the first place. Besides being an obvious cash grab by a boxing promoter obviously tired of playing second fiddle to MMA cards as the sport fades in relevancy and recognition, there’s no other explanation to hold a PPV event for two fighters this far out of their prime years, especially when one has obvious CTE issues and is 48. This was like watching The Wrestler for just under five minutes. It’s something the California State Athletic Commission shouldn’t have even sanctioned.
To see one of the first breakthrough, household name stars of the UFC of yesteryear trotted out with abs toned by insulin shots and HGH, his trademark mohawk thinning in the front and trunks I’m sure were retrieved from a long-forgotten storage unit in the Inland Empire is depressing. Chuck Liddell helped turn MMA into the premiere combat sport internationally, and to watch him hardly recognize where he was during the weigh-ins only to briefly light up again once he heard his name called and got to make what is hopefully his last walk up to a ring is so unfathomably cruel. Maybe he needed the payday, pocketing more than $200,000 to fight Tito Ortiz, his arch-rival whom he beat twice in their heyday.
It was a bloodthirsty time for America, when Ortiz and Liddell’s seething hatred for each other helped drive PPV numbers towards the newly-legitimized UFC. Nu-metal and an aggressive, “kill ’em all” kind of patriotism helped color that whole era of fight sports and masculinity in the US and I think collectively we can agree that it’s a culture that’s aged poorly. Seeing that decay, some fifteen years later, in a first-round knockout that Liddell hardly looked present for is something that might stick with purist elements of the sport’s fanbase, people that have harped for years that this is a legitimate test of athletic skills and not a bloodsport.
The jokes are all there, the rest of the internet has beaten me to the obvious ones: “Liddell looked like he was fighting in a dream/underwater/in his sleep.” “This was like Tito beating up his high school bully after finding him overweight in a trailer park fifteen years later.” Jake LaMotta in his later years comes to mind, granted Liddell doesn’t carry the same personal problems. This is something that a lot of people in Chuck’s life really didn’t want to see happen. UFC President Dana White refused to let him take anymore fights under his promotion almost ten years ago. His longtime coach refused to have anything to do with this fight, forcing Liddell to use an entirely new training camp. This was arguably the most embarrassing, shameful, amateurish bout in MMA since Dada vs. Kimbo Slice. Like crashing two comically-sized action figures into each other.
If it was pride on Liddell’s part, I place a lot of blame on Golden Boy Promotions as well as Tito Ortiz. As fighters themselves, one look at Chuck’s work at camp should have let them know this was going to be a farce, and a dangerous one at that. Liddell’s chin was never going to age out of injury, and the man has taken more sustained shots to the head than most NFL linemen. Chael Sonnen, who sure, might be close to king of talking a lot of shit, had the following to say:
Chuck was almost a 3/1 underdog on the betting sheets, which is unheard of on the main event of any card. Ortiz, who has been eyeing getting into the promotions game for a while, also wisely announced his retirement (again) in the post-fight press conference. While it was likely a planned move, you can’t help but think beating up a guy who is one-rung below permanent Parkinson’s on the punch-drunk ladder might have helped influence his decision.
If Liddell really needed the money, the gambit might not pay off either. PPV went discounted down to $14.99 and the take was split three ways. Some might slag off “taking a couple more shots to the head” for around a half-million, but it’s likely Chuck could have been hoping to walk away with significantly more than that. Maybe he was hoping the hype of a brief return to both fighters’ glory days would have pulled in more viewers, his points on the back end setting him up to never have to fight again. It’s delusional, in my opinion, to think casual fans would want to tune into watching two guys in their forties beat the shit out of each other, especially considering that MMA has made the bulk of their fans since Liddell and Ortiz have been outside the promotional umbrella of the UFC. Head trauma makes you think weird stuff.
This reckless, shameful, deplorably depressing card only underscores that mixed martial artists fighting under any profitable promotions company need some kind of collective labor body. It’s no secret these fighters are underpaid, lack decent health care, and have no pension plan in a sport that physically and mentally can destroy you as well as your earning potential and in which you have a very small window of time to be a peak competitor. If the former Light Heavyweight Champion and man who still holds the largest UFC’s largest grossing gate felt the need to fight for money at a visibly crippled 48-years-old, perhaps a similar amount of public outcry and sympathy not unlike what has happened towards the NFL in regards to CTE issues needs to occur. And quickly. Would anyone have let Junior Seau play a full-contact NFL game in 2011?
Tito Ortiz, for gloating and using Chuck’s signature “grave digger” post-fight celebration dance, is a smug, roided-out bag of garbage. He belongs stacking stunt cards with De La Hoya at Golden Boy, who by now are veterans at putting together fights. Considering that the third fight in this “trilogy” was supposed to happen at UFC 115 eight years ago and Tito had to pull out for neck surgery, the fact that he even agreed to this is reprehensible. Oscar is an asshole for signing his name on it and making it happen. CSAC should be ashamed for sanctioning it. All of us, even just those who were morbidly curious, should be sad for watching it.