COMMENTARY | Ultimate Fighting Championship Hall of Famer and former light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell never shied away from big fights. He's also never shied away from speaking his mind.
While many discuss the controversy surrounding fighter pay, Liddell identified what he believes is the biggest problem in mixed martial arts today on a recent episode of Inside MMA.
"I'm probably not going to be popular with the fighters with this one, but my biggest problem is guys playing it safe," he said. "I understand it from a coach's standpoint and a manager's standpoint. I understand why you'd want to play it safe and win every fight. I get it. But do I want to watch a guy go beat a guy for four rounds and then ride him the fifth round not doing anything? You want to be worth more? Go out and fight. Have fun. Knock people out. Submit them. Beat them. I don't care. Just go try to finish a fight."
During the broadcast, Liddell used Georges St-Pierre as an example, particularly following St-Pierre's UFC 69 knockout loss to Matt Serra. "Rush," the UFC's No. 2-ranked pound-for-pound fighter and current welterweight champion, has been utterly dominant since the defeat, winning his last 11 fights and defending the belt eight times. Also after the loss, St-Pierre (24-2-0, eight KO/TKOs) became quick to employ his superior wrestling and athleticism to win his fights, an effective tactic, but a less entertaining one for many fans. Here's a breakdown of GSP's victories:
- Before UFC 69: Six technical knockouts, four submissions, three decisions.
- After UFC 69: Two technical knockouts, one submission, eight decisions.
Another example is Jon Fitch. Fitch (24-6-1, five KO/TKOs) racked up 14 decisions in his career. Like St-Pierre, Fitch displayed dominant wrestling and controlled many of his opponents with ease. But those aren't always the fights people want to see. After a 1-2 stretch, he was cut from the UFC.
By contrast, Liddell finished his legendary 29-fight career with 13 knockouts. During a nearly five-year, 12-fight span, he registered either a KO or TKO, or he went down swinging. Liddell took risks in his fights and in the matchups he accepted, unafraid of his opponents' style or specialization.
But Liddell's approach is not universally adopted in MMA. As continued talk about fighter pay rages on, one cannot avoid the potential ramifications of wins and losses, particularly in terms of endorsements, contracts and fan following. These days, mixed martial arts is a mainstay on major sports networks and fighters enter the cage wearing gear from top brands, including Nike, so playing it safe can be tempting.
While exposure is seemingly increasing at an exponential rate, and as much as fighters have to lose, they also have all the more to gain. As Liddell noted, an exciting bout can increase an individual's value.
Liddell's last appearance in the Octagon came at UFC 115. He was knocked out by Rich Franklin, but even in the loss, "The Iceman" pushed the pace with his trademark excitement and tenacity.
At the end of the day, he opted to put on a show first and foremost.
"That's one of the reasons I retired," Liddell said. "To stick around, the way I was fighting, I'd have to start playing it safe. I went out on my shield. That's the way I liked it. I fought that way my whole career; I don't want to bore people my last three or four fights."
Paul Putignano lives in Southern California, where he has covered mixed martial arts and a wide array of sports across the Greater Los Angeles area. His work has been published in a variety of newspapers and online publications.
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