Chuck Liddell, whose time as a fighter has passed, needs saving from himself

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Retired mixed martial artist and former UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell attends the BNP Paribas Open on March 12, 2018, in Indian Wells, California. (Getty Images)

There are three reasons why Chuck Liddell, one of the most popular fighters in mixed martial arts history, wants to make a comeback after more than a decade away and at nearly 49 years old.

One, he’s already said publicly. He loves to fight and he’s never stopped loving to fight. Liddell is the epitome of a fighter.

The other two reasons are related, and he’s not going to say them, and may even deny they’re reasons that he’s suddenly making the rounds and saying he’ll compete toward the end of this year.

First, he needs the money. He’s got a massive home with a huge mortgage and it takes a steady flow of income to keep that running. And that leads us to the second reason: He thought he had a job for life with the UFC. When UFC president Dana White was begging him to retire in 2010, he promised his close friend he’d give him a job for life if he did.

And White was true to his word. Liddell worked for the UFC for six years, and didn’t have much of anything to ever do. He was hired and he was paid because, well, he was Chuck.

That arrangement lasted until the UFC was sold in 2016 and the new owners didn’t have the personal connection to icons like Liddell and Matt Hughes that the previous ownership did.

Thus, without a no-show job that paid him handsomely and without a couple of massive checks for fights, paying that mortgage on that lavish home in Hidden Hills, California, where according to Zillow the median home price is about $3.2 million, became considerably more difficult.

Now, of course Liddell shouldn’t be fighting. He shouldn’t have been fighting his last few fights, if truth be told, but he was stubborn and always had an excuse for the previous knockout.

He lost his UFC light heavyweight championship to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson when he was knocked out by a crushing shot at UFC 71 in May 2007. After losing a split decision to Keith Jardine and winning a decision over Wanderlei Silva, Liddell closed out his MMA career with three consecutive losses by knockout.

Chuck Liddell hasn’t fought since being knocked out by Rich Franklin during UFC 115 at GM Place on June 12, 2010, in Vancouver, Canada. (Getty Images)

He was iced by Rashad Evans at UFC 88, Shogun Rua at UFC 97 and Rich Franklin at UFC 115. They were hard, violent knockouts, the kind that makes anyone with a heart cringe and say a quick prayer for the best.

Liddell lost five of his last six, but those defeats didn’t take away from his legacy as one of the greatest gunslingers in MMA history. He never backed away from a fight, always sought out the toughest matches and fought with a passion that made him one of the most beloved fighters the sport has ever seen.

MMA, like boxing, is a sport that uses up its stars if they’re not careful. There is a toll that must be paid for the cheers from the crowds and the many zeroes on the paychecks. Human brains aren’t designed to take the kind of punishment that declining fighters often take.

The smartest fighters are the ones who use the system to their advantage: They get in, make their money, set themselves up for the future and then get out with their brain health and their finances intact.

Liddell hasn’t been shy about his interest in a fight with his long-time rival Tito Ortiz. They fought twice, they sold massively twice and Liddell won twice.

But Liddell said on “The MMA Hour” on Monday that his return isn’t necessarily predicated on facing Ortiz.

It’s not going to be easy for him to return, no matter what. He’ll have to get a license and it’s difficult to see safety conscious commissions in Nevada and California, among other places, giving him a license.

He’s said he’ll fight toward the end of this year, or a lot closer to his 49th birthday than he is right now.

But even if the conscientious state athletic commissions decline to license Liddell, as seems likely, you know there will be one, in Arkansas or Kansas or Oklahoma or Indiana, which will.

Going to one of those spots will mean there won’t be much in terms of a live paid gate, and it will undoubtedly cut into whatever pay-per-view revenues there possibly could be.

That, though, won’t necessarily keep Liddell out of the cage, because we get back to the first point: This guy loves to fight and it’s not going to be easy to get it out of his system.

Sometimes, though, even the toughest and bravest fighters need to be protected from themselves. The cage is no place for a 49-year-old fighter, particularly a battle-worn 49-year-old who suffered four crushing knockouts in his final six fights.

Liddell is in desperate need of someone who cares about him, who doesn’t want to make money off him or be associated with him simply because it makes them look cool. No, Liddell is in need of a frank friend who will tell him what a mistake this cockamamie idea to fight again is, and that anyone who is pushing him toward it clearly cares not about his health and safety.

Chuck Liddell is a fighter through and through, but he’s a fighter whose time has passed.

It’s time for the adults in the room to stand up and prevent a tragedy from occurring.

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