Third time won't be a charm for Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Tito Ortiz, 43, and Chuck Liddell, 49, will fight for a third time Thanksgiving weekend. (Getty)

Pay-per-view is a strange thing and it’s very difficult to understand why one fight sells like gangbusters and the public turns its back on another and rejects it out of hand.

Star power and name recognition are a large part of it, of course, and Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz have that, primarily as a result of their days in the UFC.

Liddell and Ortiz will fight for a third time on Nov. 24 at The Forum in Inglewood, California, in a bout promoted by Oscar De La Hoya, a guy who as a boxer had that special something that enabled him to sell pay-per-views like few others.

There was no controversy in either Liddell-Ortiz bout, the first of which was held April 2, 2004, and the second of which was on Dec. 30, 2006. Liddell won the first by second-round finish and the second by third-round stoppage.

Conor McGregor, the biggest name in MMA now, was 15 and not old enough to drive the first time they fought. Max Holloway, the UFC’s brilliant featherweight champion, was 12.

When Liddell enters the cage on Thanksgiving weekend, he will be 48 years, 11 months and eight days old. He hasn’t won a fight since scoring a decision over Wanderlei Silva on Dec. 29, 2007, and he hasn’t shown signs of being anywhere near the elite fighter he once was in years.

This is a grave mistake by Andy Foster, the executive officer of the California State Athletic Commission, in approving the fight. Fighters can suffer a lot of injuries and go on and lead a happy, successful life. The one injury they can’t overcome is one to the brain.

Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell exchange punches at UFC 66 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Dec. 30, 2006 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Getty Images)

Liddell once had a legendarily strong chin, which was as much a reason for his success as his concussive punching power and airtight takedown defense. One hard shot by Rampage Jackson knocked him out at UFC 71 on May 26, 2007. Another big shot cost him a knockout loss to Rashad Evans on Sept. 6, 2008.

Shogun Rua turned out the lights on him late in the first round on April 18, 2009, at UFC 97 in Montreal. And Rich Franklin, who himself was nearing the end of the line, knocked him out on June 12, 2010 at UFC 115.

Foster has done a brilliant job in guiding the California commission and has more shows to regulate than anyone because he is a forward-thinking executive and understands the fight game.

He said that neither Liddell nor Ortiz are what they were at their peaks, yet he believes the match is appropriate.

“There was a time that Chuck was arguably the best 205-pound fighter in the world,” Foster said.

And he’s right. But that time was in 2005 or 2006.

“Now, he’s obviously not the best fighter in the world,” Foster said. “But does that mean he can’t fight at all? I don’t think that’s what that means. He’s now coming down the mountain, and this is important. We start fighters out as debut fighters and they go up the mountain. We start them out and we walk them up slowly, unless your name is [Vasiliy] Lomachenko. But you start out kind of low, and you go up slowly, until we get your ability. Sometimes, the guys get to the very top and they’re the champions for a while, but most of the time, not.

“They’ll stay as high as they can go for a while and then they’ll start coming down the mountain. Chuck was literally at the very top of the mountain. He beat Tito Ortiz twice on his rise up to the top of the mountain. Now, he is coming down and he’s near the end of his career. I talked to him and I asked him why he was doing it.”

Liddell said it was not about the money, but that he had a burning desire to still compete. And that resonated with Foster, an ex-fighter himself.

“There is something about the competition that fighters need and he wants to do it, and I get that,” Foster said. “What you have to understand is, at that point it’s not about whether Andy Foster personally thinks it’s a good idea for Chuck Liddell to be doing this. If he meets the requirements to get a license, then I’ll look to see if I think the match is reasonable. And the best evidence of that is that he beat him twice previously.”

That seems like a stretch. There are athletes in all sports who could do remarkable things at one stage but time eventually catches up to them and they lose their ability to do it.

Foster noted: “Am I letting him fight [UFC fighter] Eryk Anders or someone like that? No. I’m talking about him fighting someone who himself is advanced.”

But Ortiz has been fighting at a reasonably high level and bested Chael Sonnen on Jan. 21, 2017, in Inglewood in what he said was his last fight.

All that while, Liddell has been enjoying the good life.

Every fighter takes a risk every time he or she steps into a cage or a ring, and it’s up to regulators to take as many precautions as possible. It doesn’t seem wise to take a risk on a guy like Liddell, who is far closer in age to former President Barack Obama than he is to Jon Jones, the ex-UFC lightweight champion.

Odds are that nothing will happen and two old guys will have a slow and uninteresting fight, as old guys are wont to do.

It’s easy to talk about fighter safety in the abstract, but when you’re presented with a nearly 50-year-old fighter who has a record of being brutally knocked out repeatedly, the risks become very real.

People crane their necks to see auto accidents all the time and given the name recognition that Liddell and Ortiz have and the bizarre nature of this bout, it will do some business.

It’s a free country, and you can plop down your PPV fee if you so choose.

Just don’t go whining about it when you feel ripped off afterward. You were warned.

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