Few things are as impermanent as a combat sports retirement. Ask just about any fighter in their 20s how long they’ll stay in the game, and they’ll be quick to give you an answer. Many say they’ll be done by their mid-30s, some earlier than that. Just about all of them will tell you that they won’t be fighting by 40. And everybody says they’ll know when it’s time to call it quits.
Talk to those same fighters as their mid-30s actually approach and the assurances seem to drop. Suddenly everyone has a lot more that they feel they need to prove. They’re still getting better. They’ve never felt healthier in their lives.
To put it simply, fighting seems like a bit of an addiction. And breaking away from it is rarely ever clean. It’s a mindset that brings former UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell’s current situation into focus.
Liddell – once one of the best mixed martial arts practitioners in the world – was the poster-boy for the UFC in the mid-2000s. But, following a string of brutal KO losses between 2007 and 2010, Dana White urged his longtime friend to step away from the sport; to hang up the gloves and take a “lifetime” executive role with the promotion’s front office.
Eight years later and Liddell’s office job is gone – a victim of the UFC’s sale to WME-IMG and corporate downsizing. The strings cut on MMA’s version of a golden parachute.
So, what’s next? Years of talk about making a possible comeback sound like they’ve turned into an actual plan. It seems the ‘Iceman’ may be signing with Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy MMA Promotions to take on long time rival (and fellow retiree) Tito Ortiz. He spoke about the potential decision on a recent episode of the MMA Hour:
“You know, when we had the meeting,” Liddell explained, “I thought [De La Hoya] was talking about doing a one-off. And we got an interview with him and he was like, ‘Yeah, no, I want to start an MMA promotion.’ We haven’t had any further talks on that yet, but we will be talking.”
Those are the kind of statements that may have led White to hope that Liddell’s interest in Golden Boy MMA was purely a business venture, rather than a sporting event.
“I hope he’s coming out of retirement to be partners with (Golden Boy Promotions owner Oscar) De La Hoya and not to fight. I hope he doesn’t fight,” Dana White told the assembled media during the UFC Liverpool post-fight presser (transcript via MMA Fighting).
If that’s what White is picking up, however, that’s not what Liddell has been putting down. The former champion made it clear in his interview with Helwani that, while the prospect of being business partners with De La Hoya may come in the future, lawyers are already working on making a deal for the Ortiz bout. “I will fight again,” Liddell said, flatly, when pressed.
“I miss it. I never stopped missing it,” Liddell said. “I hadn’t really thought about it much, and when [Tito] brought it up and we started to get going – I started training, I started doing stuff again, getting ready to try to take this on – it made me go, ‘You know what? What if he pulls out? Am I not going to fight? Am I going to do all this and not fight? Oh no, we’ve got to have somebody to back it up.’ If it doesn’t work out with him, I’m going to give it a shot. It’ll be somebody else. One of the guys from my past, most likely. And we’ll see where I’m at.”
And while Liddell sounds confident that this may be the start of something more long term with Golden Boy and MMA, White is making it clear that he’s incredibly skeptical. Both in Liddell’s potential to return to the cage, and in De La Hoya’s business acumen.
“I don’t know if De La Hoya’s that smart,” White said. “He isn’t the brightest bulb on the porch. Oscar De La Arum is not that bright, but I don’t know what he’s thinking. Hopefully Chuck’s going to be his business partner and not fight. The last thing I want to do is sh-t on Chuck Liddell, because I love him, but I asked him to retire 10 years ago for a reason.”
At the time of Liddell’s interview – back on May 14th – he and White had yet to speak personally about the UFC vet’s plans to return to MMA. But, as the UFC president has continued to make his opinion on the matter known publicly, Liddell gave his own thoughts on White’s concerns.
“With all due respect, yeah. Leave it alone. Leave me alone.” Liddell finally responded, when pressed, after attempting to be more diplomatic about White’s statements. “You promised something to me for a long time and it’s gone. But it’s not even that, it’s – I want to fight. I miss everything… People always ask me, ‘This must be a lot better than fighting?’ Mmm, no, no. I still… that was my favorite thing. My wife asked me, ‘How do you like doing that?’ Everyone asked me all the time. I still miss it. I miss everything. I miss cutting weight. I miss everything that goes with it, everything. The good, the bad, I miss all of it. I miss hanging out at the gym, going, working out every day. It’s fun to me.”
While no firm date or venue has been set for the potential Liddell vs. Tito III bout, Liddell did say they’re targeting November. And that the bout would most likely go down in either Las Vegas or California, where both men spent the majority of their careers fighting and training respectively. In the meantime, both White and Liddell will likely end up talking a lot more about the idea of retirement in MMA, and their relationship both as friends and professionals.
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