On Aug. 26, 2006, as he headed into his third title defense at UFC 62, Chuck Liddell was at the height of his powers. After all the twists and turns—the difficulty getting a title fight with Tito Ortiz, the shocking upset at the hands of Randy Couture and the ill-fated entry in the Pride Fighting Championships Middleweight Grand Prix—he was finally in possession of the Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight belt.
The 36-year-old “Iceman” was the UFC’s most dominant champion and biggest star at a pivotal time in MMA history. The success of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality television series, which had launched the year before, had quintupled the UFC’s pay-per-view numbers overnight. Where 100,000 buys had been considered a blockbuster before the show, only one event since then had failed to break six figures, and the two events immediately preceding UFC 62 had each exceeded the half-million mark. Liddell was a deserving beneficiary of the new normal, as it was he and Couture who had served as coaches for that inaugural season of “TUF.”
In the headliner that evening in Las Vegas, Liddell faced a familiar foe in Renato Sobral. At UFC 40 back in 2002, Liddell had knocked out “Babalu” in the first round with a ferocious head kick that became a staple of UFC highlight reels for years, to the point that Liddell referenced it in the lead-up to UFC 62, saying, “I made him famous by kicking him in the face.” Nonetheless, Sobral had more than earned a second shot at Liddell, as he entered the fight on a 10-fight win streak that included three straight finishes in the UFC.
However deserving he was, Sobral’s second attempt at cracking the Liddell code was even less successful than his first. At his best, “Babalu” was defined by a barely-checked fury and aggression that served him well on the ground, where his combination of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling gave him a deep toolset. When it came to striking, however, he was often reduced to rushing headlong at his opponents, and running straight at prime Liddell was a recipe for a very short night. Where the first fight had ended in under three minutes with a head kick that caught the charging Sobral full in the face, the rematch was over in 90 seconds. A Liddell uppercut caught him perfectly as he rushed in and it was all downhill from there, as Liddell put Sobral’s lights out with a series of ground punches. It was Sobral’s only UFC title shot, and one of the greatest performances of Liddell’s career, an effortless sparking of a Top 10 light heavyweight who had otherwise been wrecking shop.
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