For UFC fans who have been watching the action inside the octagon from long before the days of Conor McGregor, Brock Lesnar and even Ronda Rousey, the names of Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz will be forever etched into the memory.
Liddell and Ortiz were the pioneering superstars of the Zuffa era UFC, the poster boys who helped drag the sport from the dark ages into a brave new world.
Back then, the UFC was just beginning to gain a foothold under new owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, with Dana White steering the ship.
But White’s involvement with Liddell and Ortiz went back even further than that. As their manager, he represented the pair in negotiations with the UFC, and it was after one such meeting with the UFC brass that he was alerted to the fact that the organisation was struggling. He called his old friend and casino magnate Lorenzo and the rest, as they say, is history.
But after initially being stablemates and occasional training partners, Liddell and Ortiz became rivals and the pair faced off twice inside the UFC’s octagon – at UFC 47 in 2004 and at UFC 66 in 2006. Liddell won both bouts convincingly, stopping Ortiz on both occasions.
Now, some 12 years after their second meeting, the old rivals are set to face off inside the cage again.
HOW DIFFERENT WILL IT BE?
The unavoidable fact is both men are way past their fighting best. Liddell hasn’t fought for eight years and was knocked out in each of his last three fights prior to his retirement, while Ortiz has undergone a host of surgeries and, while still in excellent shape, isn’t the same explosive, dominant figure he once was.
The bout is also being hosted not by a mixed martial arts organisation, but by legendary boxer-turned-promoter Oscar De La Hoya. “The Golden Boy” has forgotten more than most people know about the “Sweet Science,” but he’s clearly little more than a newbie when it comes to MMA.
That fact was horribly exposed during the pre-fight press conference where De La Hoya nervously stepped up like a rabbit in the headlights and went on to badly (and repeatedly) mispronounce Liddell’s surname. Not a good look.
The contrasting footage of the pair’s preparations has also been cause for concern. While Ortiz has looked in good shape, Liddell looked off-balance and slow in his footage and leading to a debate over whether “The Iceman” is sandbagging or whether he really is that off the pace. Regardless, it hasn’t helped sell the fight.
The promotion for the fight has also been hampered by the fact that Golden Boy has no rights to any of the previous fight footage between the two men and, despite the legendary status of both men, there have been clear concerns over the level of interest in the event as a genuine pay-per-view attraction. As a result Golden Boy Promotions recently announced they were lowering the pay-per-view price for the event in an attempt to attract more buys for the event.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
This time the pair are facing off as grizzled veterans of the game, both coming out of retirement and both as fired up as ever.
For Liddell, it’s the opportunity to jump back into the cage and do what he loves, while proving his doubters wrong. “The Iceman” hasn’t fought since 2010 and he was told by former manager, old friend and UFC president White that he didn’t want him to compete in the UFC any more, for the sake of his own health.
But Liddell still harbours that fire in his belly and it only took a face-off with Ortiz in the summer in Las Vegas to get him back on the comeback trail once again.
Meanwhile, for Ortiz it’s the chance to finally get a win against his old nemesis. “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” previously said he would only come out of retirement to face Liddell and now he has that opportunity, he is determined to redress the balance and score a win over his longtime rival, a dozen years after their last meeting.
WILL PEOPLE ACTUALLY WATCH?
For those fans who followed the early days of the UFC, Liddell and Ortiz are legends of the game, and their star power – and their white-hot rivalry – gives the matchup a level of interest to this day.
Yes, they’re both older. Yes, they’re both past their prime. But the rivalry still exists today, and hardcore MMA fans will no doubt tune in – especially at a lower price point – to watch them throw down one more time.
If you’re among that number, you can watch on pay-per-view from this side of the pond via the online streaming platform Fite.tv.
Ortiz is undoubtedly the more in-form athlete ahead of this one. He has competed in nine bouts since Liddell last set foot in the cage, and in his most recent outing back in January 2017 he claimed a submission victory over another former UFC star, Chael Sonnen, at Bellator 170 at The Forum in Inglewood, California.
Now Ortiz is set to return to the same venue looking to bury his personal hoodoo, and he is the betting favourite heading into the bout. Ortiz is a 1/3 shot, with Liddell a 2/1 chance.
HOW WILL IT PLAY OUT?
If Liddell and Ortiz both regressed at the same rate, the natural pick would be Liddell. But Ortiz appears to have everything on his side heading into the third meeting between the pair.
He is younger, he’s been fighting as recently as last year and he appears to be free of the injuries that have blighted his career. He’s also motivated by revenge and redemption following his two previous losses.
Liddell hasn’t looked great in the pre-fight footage, and you cannot ignore the fact that he hasn’t fought in eight years, or the fact that he was knocked out in his last three fights.
They say your power is the last thing to go as you age as a fighter, so Liddell still carries a puncher’s chance, but the key to the fight will be whether Liddell can still prevent Ortiz’s takedowns like he could back in the early 2000s.
The smart money says no. And if Ortiz gets Liddell on the ground, it could well get finished relatively quickly.
Odds correct at time of posting.
Header image copyright Golden Boy Boxing.