The Iceman: A Retrospective

More Reflection

Jan 12, 2011
Chuck Liddell | Garrett Poe/

Matt Pitt: I had never heard of Chuck Liddell before being dragged to the Saitama Super Arena for a friend’s bachelor party in 2003. I wasn’t an MMA fan and had no interest in becoming one, but every fight that night was incredible. For the first three minutes of their fight, Alistair Overeem beat Liddell around the ring with punches and kicks. Suddenly, Chuck just exploded in a flurry of punches, dropping the bigger fighter. I’ll never forget Liddell’s bloody triumphant snarl as he stood over Overeem. It will always be the face of MMA for me.

Ryan O’Leary: On my first day of college, I stood alongside Chuck Liddell as the Cal Poly wrestling coach welcomed new recruits. To see Chuck’s rise from those pre-Mohawk days as a gritty wrestler to becoming the face of “ultimate fighting” has been unimaginable. The emerging sport was fortunate to have a guy like Chuck to carry the MMA torch forward, because he was a real fighter; not a technician or gifted athlete but a fighter. It’s ironic that his persona carries with it fame, girls and money, because he would just as well have fought in a Taco Bell parking lot for free with nobody watching. He kept his roots in San Luis Obispo, with many of the same college and wrestling buddies at his side to this day. Chuck’s uniqueness goes well beyond devastating right hands and head kicks. Cheers to Chuck.

Greg Savage: Chuck Liddell is one of the few fighters whose career has spanned the entire 12-plus years I’ve covered MMA. I remember sitting backstage with the future UFC champ back in the late 1990s at a small show in California and was surprised to find him as personable and intelligent as he was. Chuck was a fixture in California, and being able to talk to him was a great learning experience for a fairly green journalist just getting into the sport. Despite becoming the first true MMA crossover star from MMA, that affable disposition never changed. Then there was the in-ring killer. The first time I saw him fight live was July 18, 2000, and it is still one of the most brutal knockouts I have ever seen. The Iceman crushed Steve Heath with a right hand that froze him and then launched across the cage with a huge head kick that left Heath unconscious for minutes. Years later, Jeff Sherwood and I presented him with the 2006 “Fighter of the Year” award. He joked with us that he would be the light heavyweight version of “Tank” Abbott -- the old slugger who has a huge puncher’s chance, even though everyone expects him to lose -- and that he would have to be dragged out of the cage kicking and screaming. I know this was probably the hardest decision Chuck has ever had to make, but, in the end, he made the right choice.

Brian Knapp: It might come off as a bit cliché, but Liddell’s fight with Wanderlei Silva at UFC 79 will remain my enduring memory of The Iceman. There was such a buildup for that particular bout, and, somehow, they lived up to and exceeded those expectations, even though both of them had clearly seen their better days, diminished by their years in the cage and ring. It told you everything you needed to know about them and why they were so revered by fans, promoters and fellow martial artists. In a career filled with great moments, Liddell’s victory over “The Axe Murderer” is the one that sticks out for me. What I wouldn’t give for rounds four and five.

Todd Martin: The first time I attended a live UFC show was UFC 39 at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. I was still a college student, and I arrived early to see if I could meet any fighters before the show started. I saw Chuck Liddell standing by himself at a relatively busy bar having a drink, and I went over and chatted with him briefly. I always remember that encounter when I think of Chuck Liddell, because to me, Liddell’s story is identical to the story of the rise of the UFC. Here was the No. 1 contender to the UFC’s most prestigious title, and, at the venue of a UFC event, he was able to have a drink by himself. A few short years later, he couldn’t go out in public without being mobbed. Liddell and the UFC have come a long way.

Rodolfo Roman: Chuck Liddell is an ambassador to the sport. Although quite amusing and comical, his sense of humor was evident when he competed in the reality competition show “Dancing with the Stars.” Despite coming up short, the knockout artist’s presence on the show helped introduce the sport to those who were not aware of MMA or had misconceptions about it. His moves on the dance floor helped promote MMA on primetime national television, and it let others know that the sport is not as violent as many assume it is. I am sure Liddell’s new role will be a great benefit for the sport and him.

Jack Encarnacao: The night Chuck Liddell re-matched Tito Ortiz, I remember how much more full the parking lot was outside of the Boston-area bar-and-arcade where I watched many UFC pay-per-views. It was the only time I had trouble finding a parking space at one of these things. UFC 66 had brought out much more than the standard motley crew of Tapout wearers. Despite the main event’s limited relevance -- Ortiz, don’t forget, had earned the title shot by beating Ken Shamrock twice -- it felt of a higher magnitude. I knew Liddell was catching on culturally but not to this degree. As Liddell stalked a wounded Ortiz around the mat, punching him like a mother trying to catch and spank a rambunctious child, the crowd’s full-throated roars told me exactly what it was they came to see. UFC 66 was the first UFC event to break the one million buy mark on pay-per-view. You could feel why in the air, even on the other end of the country in a screening area next to the laser tag room -- that guy with the Mohawk.

File Photo

Liddell's fight were must-see TV.
Luca Fury: I’ll remember Chuck Liddell as MMA’s first big mainstream superstar. I remember first realizing this when I noticed my friends -- who weren’t even so much as casual MMA fans -- bringing up his name. I would try to make them fans of MMA, and when I had asked them if they’d like to come over to watch an upcoming UFC event, they would always ask if The Iceman was fighting. If Chuck was slated for the event, they wouldn’t miss it; if Chuck was not on the card, however, they couldn’t care less. They didn’t want to see a sporting event. They didn’t care about the spectacle of violence that comes with MMA. All they cared about was whether they were going to see Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell.

Rodney Dean: The first time I ever laid eyes on Chuck was while watching some reality TV show set in a casino. They were taking one of the “whales” to a UFC event, and he really wanted to see Chuck. I thought, “What’s so special about this goofy-looking guy?” Well, he knocked out Vernon “Tiger” White that night, and many others followed suit.

Funny thing is, after he beat Tito for the second time, I remember actually being bored with how good he was. Seven wins in a row, and it never seemed like it would end. Hard to believe that was only a few years ago.

Cameron Conaway: I’ll always remember the time when I walked in the classroom to begin teaching a lesson on poetry and saw three of my students now had Mohawks. I asked why, and they said because of Chuck Liddell. I knew then that he had completely pushed MMA into the mainstream.

Mike Sloan: One time, Slayer came here to the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, with Lamb of God and Children of Bodom. Chuck was borderline devastated because his camp, in particular John Lewis, didn’t want him getting into any shenanigans during preparation for his rematch with “Babalu” and forbade him from going to the show. Naturally, before Slayer came on, the big screen was looping awesome race crashes, explosions and Liddell highlight footage. But nothing tops the time when Slayer played at the House of Blues, not long after Liddell’s loss to Randy Couture in 2003. A fan ran up to Chuck, shook his hand and shouted, “Dude! Randy! I’m a huge fan! I’m so glad you kicked Chuck Lie-Dell’s ass! I won so much money off you! Thank you!” All Chuck could do was stand there with a stunned, bemused look on his face and say, “Hey, no problem, man. Thanks.” Absolutely classic.

Marcelo Alonso: As a Brazilian, I’ve got interesting memories of “Homem de Gelo.” Liddell faced six Brazilians -- some of the country’s greatest ever -- and beat four of them: Jose Landi-Jons, Murilo Bustamante, Renato Sobral and Wanderlei Silva. His only loss was to Mauricio Rua at UFC 97. I’ve always been fascinated by Liddell, one of most aggressive and exciting fighters I’ve ever seen. My fascination started in August 1998, when he came to Brazil to face “Pele” under vale tudo rules. Pele was already considered the biggest local star in Brazil. In that 30-minute bloody fight, Chuck showed his cold nerves and clearly beat Pele in front of all his fans. I knew that a special fighter was being born in front of my eyes.

Scott Holmes: You never forget your first. Mine was UFC 22. Paul Jones was about to run through some wiry Mohawked dope who got predictably tapped out by Jeremy Horn in his debut. My hero’s wife, Susan, gave me a team T-shirt and a credential. “Want to be in Paul’s corner?” she asked. I felt like a Gracie walking with my hands on the shoulders of the champ. I saw my hero stumble back, angry at the eyebrow-sized cut on his forehead. What just happened? I hated Chuck, but, in the end, it didn’t matter. I couldn’t deny him. Hate turned to adoration, and, the fact is, he made my hero bigger -- Mighty Paul Jones, the man who fought the great Chuck Liddell.

Rob King: In 2004, I met Jeff Sherwood for the first time, and we went to supper at the local pizza parlor with Jeff’s son, Preston. The whole time, Preston would not stop talking about how his favorite fighter was Chuck Liddell and how he was so proud to have a Mohawk just like Chuck. This was coming from a 4-year-old. As MMA was just starting to hit its growth spurt, I think this was the moment when I realized that The Iceman was going to be the first true mainstream MMA fighter in the United States.

TJ De Santis: I remember interviewing Chuck for the first time. I didn’t know a ton about him on a personal level, but I figured it would be an easy interview based on the facts of his fight career. To my surprise, I struggled making the interview entertaining because he was dry. He had no emotion and no signs he was really interested in talking to me. At one points, I asked, “Is everything OK? Do you need me to call you back and do this later?” He responded with “Why?” Chuck will be remembered for his knockouts, post-fight victory roars and his Mohawked and tattooed head, but I’ll always remember him for just being incredibly mellow outside of the cage. In a time of “Pitbulls,” “Hurricanes” and other wannabe-intimidating nicknames, few names will ever be as appropriate as The Iceman.

Lutfi Sariahmed: I was in college sitting on my couch with my roommate and his girlfriend when a replay of the first Liddell-Ortiz bout came on FSN. I watched, spending the next five minutes just shaking my head and saying nothing more than “Wow” over and over, recalling their feud leading into the fight. The girlfriend scolded me for what she perceived to be my gawking at the ring girls when in fact I had been floored by the performance of The Iceman. Liddell embodied “cool” throughout his career, and when mainstream media jumped on board the MMA train, it focused its bright lights on the main event at UFC 71 between Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Liddell. Rampage won, but the coverage of the bout that followed proved what people already knew deep down inside. Liddell was the reason that people were now watching.

Keith Mills: Chuck Liddell earned my reverence on Sept. 20, 2002, the night of the Ring of Fury weigh-ins in Boston. Liddell and UFC President Dana White were guests at the show, so they made a press party at a local bar to push UFC 40 two months later. Dana spoke to the press about advising Chuck to sit out until a title fight with Tito Ortiz could be arranged, but Chuck refused, saying he wanted to risk it all to stay active and didn’t want to “sit on the shelf.” Chuck defeated Renato Sobral at UFC 40, but when an interim title was created in 2003 to try to force Tito’s hand, Chuck lost to Randy Couture and had to wait almost two more years for his title shot. The fact that Chuck risked his contender status to stay active forever more makes me equate Liddell with “solid brass balls.”
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