Hackleman, White War over Liddell’s Future

By Mike Harris May 8, 2009
Chuck Liddell’s recently updated Wikipedia biography refers to him as a “former” mixed martial artist.

Not so fast Wiki.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of Liddell’s retirement following his first-round technical knockout loss against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 97 last month have been greatly exaggerated. That’s according to the man who arguably knows “The Iceman” better than anyone, his longtime trainer John Hackleman.

Hackleman said the 39-year-old superstar is mulling his career options, hasn’t made any decision and is in no hurry to do so.

Liddell’s coach and confidante of 17 years also had some choice words for UFC President Dana White, calling him “rude” and “selfish” for saying Liddell, a former UFC light heavyweight champion, will never again fight in the promotion.

At the post-fight press conference following UFC 97 in Montreal, White said he would not allow Liddell, the promotion’s poster boy as recently as two years ago, to step into the Octagon again due to concerns about his physical well-being.

“Obviously, John Hackleman didn’t pay his house off yet. John Hackleman needs some money, because anybody who claims they care about Chuck Liddell even a little bit would not be making these f--king statements,” White told Sherdog.com Thursday.

However, Hackleman said he and Liddell are in no hurry to discuss the pivotal decision just yet.

“Nothing has been decided yet,” Hackleman said from his MMA training facility, The Pit, in Arroyo Grande, Calif. “We made a deal. We’re gonna go, probably this summer, to Hawaii and we’re gonna sit on the beach and see if we can decide then. If not, there’s no rush. He’s not under a time crunch. He’ll decide when he wants to decide. And nobody else is gonna tell him.

“Chuck just loves to fight,” Hackleman continued. “And if there could be another fight –- if he wants one –- and he’s under contract (to the UFC), then we’ll see what happens. If he has to go somewhere else to fight, we’ll see what happens there. If we go sit on the beach and Chuck says, ‘F--k it, I’m tired of this s--t, let’s retire,’ then he’ll just come teach here” at the Pit.

“Whatever happens,” added Hackleman, “Chuck is set. Doesn’t need the money.”

Liddell’s loss to Rua was his fourth defeat in his last five fights dating back to May 2007, when he lost the light heavyweight crown to Quinton Jackson. Two of those four defeats were TKOs, care of Jackson and Rua, while a third was a devastating knockout by current UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans.

Prior to his recent losses, Liddell had won seven consecutive fights, all by TKO, establishing his reputation as one of the most feared strikers in the sport.

White, who managed Liddell earlier in his career and remains close friends with the fighter, said even though Liddell remains a huge draw, he was concerned that the fighter could endanger his health by stepping into the Octagon again. More recently, White ratcheted up the rhetoric, and was quoted as saying there would be “a war” if Liddell didn’t retire gracefully.

Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com

Hackleman doesn't see any
reason why Liddell should quit.
Even given Liddell’s four losses in the last two years, Hackleman said he doesn’t see any reason his fighter should retire, unless that’s what he wants to do.

“He got caught by a couple of great fighters, but I don’t see Shannon Ritch [who has 64 career losses] beating up on him, so I don’t think losing to the top of the top in and of itself warrants the outcries of retirement,” Hackleman said.

“If Chuck was getting the s--t beat out of him by a bunch of nobodies and getting knocked unconscious all over the place, I would try to influence him to retire,” he continued. “But since I don’t see that –- Rashad was the only time I’ve seen him actually knocked unconscious –- if he really wants to still fight, and I think it’s in his heart, I don’t think anyone, including Dana, should take his livelihood and his love away.”

Hackleman said other name fighters have suffered more losses and have been beat up more than Liddell, and they’ve yet to hang up their gloves.

“I’m not going to name names, but they are still up in the top of the game and no one is calling for their retirement,” he said. “Chuck’s wits are about him. He’s not punchy. So it’s up to him. Whatever is in his heart.”

He noted that another senior MMA superstar, Randy Couture, was considered done after being KO’d by Liddell in their light heavyweight rubber match at UFC 57 in 2006 and retired. A year later, Couture came out of retirement, went up a weight class and for the third time in his career became UFC heavyweight champion by defeating Tim Sylvia at UFC 68.

So, has Liddell considered moving up to heavyweight?

“Never been discussed,” Hackleman said. “But nothing is completely off the table.”

Hackleman said another option for Liddell could be to fight an opponent not as top tier as his last few adversaries.

“To be honest, even if Chuck wasn’t fighting the top of the top, he’d still be a big draw and boxers end their careers that way and there’s no reason MMA fighters can’t,” he said, noting that like every fighter, Liddell wants to go out a winner.

Hackleman believes that White said he doesn’t want Liddell to fight again in the UFC out of genuine concerns for Liddell’s well-being.

Even so, Hackleman said, “to take someone’s love away from them is rude and kind of selfish and kind of just controlling. You’re the main man in the UFC and you can dictate to people what they’re gonna do for the rest of their lives. It would be like if he (White) threw a bad show, and we said, ‘OK, you can’t promote anymore.’

“Dana is Dana and he’s got the two rich brothers backing him up and he’s got all the money in the world,” continued Hackleman, referring to billionaires Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, who share 90 percent of the Las Vegas-based UFC’s parent company. “I think he says that out of concern for Chuck, but he wants to be the bully, the big shot, ‘there will be a war.’ F--k. You don’t have to say that. But it’s Dana’s playground and he can take his ball and say, ‘You can’t play anymore.’ Could he talk that way if he didn’t have what he had behind him?”

White reiterated his concern for Liddell’s physical well-being.

“This is a guy who I love and care about extremely,” he said. “He comes to my house for Christmas. We go on vacations together. We’ve been together for years. Getting knocked out consecutively is not good for your health. You can ask any doctor that. You don’t have to be a f--king rocket scientist to figure that one out.”

White said he and Liddell “had a deal” after the Evans fight that if Liddell did not beat Rua in spectacular fashion, Liddell would retire.

“He said, ‘I f--king promise,’” White said.

White stressed that because Liddell remains one of the biggest draws in the sport despite his recent losses, the UFC could still “make a s--tload of money” off of him.

“But I don’t want that f--king money,” White said. “I’m not gonna see my friend go out and do that again. When have you ever seen a f--king promoter who can make money with a guy ask him to retire?”

White said Liddell has accomplished all that any fighter could hope to accomplish.

“One of the greatest fighters in mixed martial arts,” White said. “The most famous fighter in mixed martial arts. He’s been a world champion. He’s beat all the top names. He’s helped build this organization and he’s helped build the sport of mixed martial arts. He has nothing to prove. Fighting isn’t a young man’s sport. (Michael) Jordan turned 40. It happens to the best of us. Chuck’s had his day.”

Even so, the UFC president said Liddell will remain employed by the promotion for life.

“He’s going to be with the UFC forever,” White said. “I’m thinking of him doing regulatory stuff with Marc Ratner,” the promotion’s vice president for regulatory affairs. “Chuck Liddell is going to make a lot more money and he’s going to have a lot of fun.”

White said he would never let Liddell fight for another promotion.

“F--king right I wouldn’t,” said White, though he later added, “at the end of the day, if that’s what he wanted to do, I mean, what am I going to do? I’m not his f--king father. I can’t tell him, ‘No, you f--king can’t.’”

The UFC president said Hackleman is frustrated because “he’s never been a decision-maker in Chuck’s career. I can tell you this: He didn’t make Chuck Liddell. Chuck Liddell made John Hackleman.

“How many great, talented guys do you see coming out of John Hackleman’s place?” White asked. “He’s no Greg Jackson. He’s no Mark DellaGrotte. He’s no American Top Team. He’s not one of the great camps. Chuck Liddell made him.”
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