There have been few combat sports rivalries that seemed so long lasting and bitter as the one between Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. One time training partners, way back in the early days of MMA when Ortiz was first skyrocketing to fame as a top contender in the UFC’s new light heavyweight division, Liddell’s own rise to fame quickly saw the two men pitted against one another.
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Not helping keep the peace between Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz was UFC president Dana White. Back before White became an MMA promoter, he had a brief run as a talent manager. One of his most prominent clients? None other than the ‘Huntington Beach Bad Boy’. Eventually, the relationship between the two men soured so badly that there was even talk of making a pro boxing match between White and Ortiz.
Dana White was a major driver of the wedge between Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz
“The reality is I used to beat the living shit out of Tito Ortiz back when we first bought this company and we used to box,” White said at a 2014 press conference, claiming that he had gone through pre-fight medicals and licensing before Ortiz backed out of their bout on weigh-in day.
As president of the UFC, one of White’s chief early interests was the promotion of new rising star Chuck Liddell. So much so that White took Liddell over to Japan for the 2003 PRIDE MW Grand Prix, with the personal guarantee that the ‘Ice Man’ would win the whole thing. A semi-final round beating at the hands of Rampage Jackson put a stop to that, but Liddell was fast becoming the poster boy of the new Zuffa era of the UFC. A fight between Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz was going to be a key part of crafting that narrative.
Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz fought for the first time at UFC 47 in 2004. Just five months after Liddel’s humiliation in Japan. Liddell stopped Ortiz via KO 38-seconds into the second round. Two years later, the two men met again, with Liddell knocking Ortiz out in round 3. The victory would be one of the very last of Liddell’s MMA career. But it wasn’t the last time the two men would meet inside the cage.
In 2018 Liddell came out of a nearly decade long retirement for the long talked of, but seemingly never going to happen trilogy bout against Ortiz. Four minutes and 24-seconds into round 1, Ortiz had his revenge, a first round KO of his greatest rival. Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz might not have had the fiery hatred of one another that fueled their early career, but there was no love lost.
“People always talk to me like I hate him or something. I don’t hate the guy,” Liddell said in a 2019 interview. “I don’t care enough about him to hate him actually. But I hope he has a great life. I don’t particularly like the guy, that hasn’t changed. I don’t deal with him.”
Fast forward to UFC 287 last Saturday and Israel Adesanya’s massive victory over Alex Pereira, and it just might be that the feud that defined both men’s MMA careers is well and truly put to bed.
Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz seen partying together at Izzy’s UFC 287 after-party
It’s a beautiful thing to see so much bad blood washed away by time. Ortiz and Liddell became stars in their own time because of the rivalry they shared. No reason they shouldn’t both enjoy the afterglow all these years later. Just don’t let Dana White hear about it.
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