Liddell’s Top 8 Moments in MMA

No. 8 – No. 6

By Jordan Breen Sep 4, 2008
Zuffa brings its beloved big top to Atlanta on Saturday night for UFC 88. As good hosts, Dana White and Co. are putting their best foot forward in Georgia with an end-to-end burner of a fight card, suitably topped off with MMA's foremost rockstar, Chuck Liddell (Pictures).

In a main event some five months in the making, Liddell, now with full hamstring capabilities, meets the undefeated Rashad Evans (Pictures). For the 38-year-old Liddell, the fight is a must-win to secure a December mega-fight with UFC light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin (Pictures) and to have one last crack at solidifying his resume as the sport's greatest light heavyweight.

On the cusp of boom-or-bust for MMA's favorite San Luis Obispan, here are eight of the finest episodes from "The Iceman." And in the interest of class, only one reference to “Good Morning Texas.”

8. Liddell vs. Vitor Belfort (Pictures) (June 22, 2002)

While he impressed in his recent 185-pound debut against Terry Martin (Pictures), the MMA world has learned to temper its enthusiasm when it comes to Belfort after approximately 42 career resuscitations.

Six years ago, we were in the middle of the first Belfort rehabilitation tour. After embarrassing and deflating losses to Randy Couture (Pictures) and Kazushi Sakuraba (Pictures), Belfort had seemingly matured in the fight game and was still only 25 years old. It was supposed to be his time (for real, this time), and he was thus slated to meet light heavyweight kingpin Tito Ortiz (Pictures) at both UFC 33 and 36 before injuries nixed the respective bouts. In the meantime, Liddell had quietly piled up victories of his own, and as Ortiz began to embrace his poster-boy persona and shirk in-cage duties, it left a Liddell-Belfort title eliminator as the obvious solution.

Aided by Fox Sports Net and “The Best Damn Sports Show Period,” which aired the fight three days later, the bout was the most cautious of the ad-hoc promotional vehicle known as UFC 37.5, which largely featured Octagon neophytes. However, the fight did showcase the technical and tactical side of Liddell, who put his now famous cage-crawl takedown defense on display vividly in the first round.

Even if the most memorable moment of the affair was the wild, winging right hook that sent Belfort to the canvas with 90 seconds to go, Liddell's ability to take over the fight was dictated by an acute sense of distance created with low kicks and straight punches. Not epic fight material to be sure, but a major win in Liddell's career that highlighted the finer technical points of his game rather than the sizzling KO power he's become acclaimed for.

Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com

Many fans and pundits alike saw
Jeremy Horn as a serious threat
to Liddell.
7. Liddell vs. Jeremy Horn (Pictures) II (Aug. 20, 2005)

You would be hard-pressed to find a seasoned MMA fan who would admit to having taken Horn against Liddell. Amidst Horn's current spell of disinterested doldrums and with hindsight being so crystal clear, such a prefight prognostication would seem farfetched. However, a considerable contingent in MMA, even if they will lie about it now, thought that Horn could pose serious problems for the newly minted champ.

Much of the live-underdog hype was arguably generated by kneejerk anti-Zuffaism that had propelled Horn to indie-hero status after being cut from the UFC following his Elvis Sinosic (Pictures) debacle -- the same sentiment that saw Sean Sherk (Pictures), Ivan Salaverry (Pictures) and Matt Lindland (Pictures) all gain acclaim and adoration only after being booted from the promotion.

In spite of Liddell’s title triumph over Randy Couture (Pictures) only four months earlier, some fans and pundits had begun to pigeonhole "The Iceman" as a willfully one-dimensional fighter. Many figured that the submission-slick Horn, who had never been knocked out, had the skills to outlast and outwit Liddell on the mat as he had in their first encounter six years earlier.

Instead, Horn was bruised and abused over a woefully lopsided opening 10 minutes that featured two nasty near-finishes. Liddell's major weapons early in the fight were actually straight (at least by his standards) punches from inside the pocket rather than long-range, looping artillery. More impressive still, in the wake of Dana White's infamous "following the game plan" rant that has become a full-scale MMA meme, Liddell showed sober strategy in fighting a conservative third round, only to come out firing in the fourth and halt Horn, who told referee "Big" John McCarthy he could no longer see.

Liddell's one-sided avenging of his first loss was an early indicator of his title reign ahead, even if those who had backed Horn will never admit it.

6. Liddell vs. Renato "Babalu" Sobral I (Nov. 22, 2002)

Much of Liddell's ability to transcend the sport itself and become a pop culture icon can be traced to his physical packaging. The distinctive Mohawk and mustache combo, the head tattoo and the killer's stare all richly contribute to a seemingly violent veneer that is the exact example of how the public would expect an MMA ambassador to look.

Beyond the world of posters and promotion, however, Liddell has secured his stature in the sport by embodying the non-superficial essence of prizefighting with an anyone-anywhere-anytime mantra -- an attitude exemplified by his first bout with Renato Sobral (Pictures).

Already installed as the UFC's top 205-pound contender to then-incumbent king Tito Ortiz (Pictures), Liddell voluntarily chose to take on the ever-tough and well-traveled "Babalu" rather than rest on his laurels and wait for the elusive Ortiz. The fight was more a favor to Liddell from Zuffa than vice versa, and although he was a rightful favorite, a Liddell loss on the main card of the biggest event the promotion had staged to that point would've been relatively disastrous.

Just inside the three-minute mark of the first round, Liddell thwarted Sobral's attempt to play spoiler, putting his left shin across the Brazilian's mug in brutal fashion. While he would replicate his victory over Sobral in their August 2006 rematch in a mere 95 seconds, Liddell's display of his down-for-whatever disposition and a highlight reel KO he'll be reaping royalties from forever make their first encounter the more memorable.
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