UFC president Dana White said Sunday that after a lengthy conversation with “The Iceman” Chuck Liddell Saturday, he would not be surprised if Liddell retires from mixed martial arts competition.
Liddell, a former UFC light heavyweight champion and its biggest drawing card, lost his second fight in a row on Saturday when he dropped a split decision to Keith Jardine at UFC 76 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, who knocked Liddell out in the first round of a May 26 bout in Las Vegas to lift the light heavyweight title from him, speculated that Liddell may have been gun-shy.
But White, Liddell's former manager and a close personal friend, speculated that Liddell may simply no longer have the passion to fight. White said he didn't see the fire that Liddell used to exhibit and that it resulted in a flat performance. At the post-fight news conference, Liddell deferred questions about his future. He said he would go home and think about whether he would fight again, which in and of itself was newsworthy since he'd never had given an indication before that he was remotely considering that option.
But White said he spoke with Liddell in the locker room and they had a frank discussion.
"There's a hunger thing that you have to have to be an elite fighter and I just didn't see a Chuck Liddell who was as hungry as he used to be," White said Sunday. "Chuck has made a lot of money in this business and he's done a lot of things, but he wasn't the Chuck of old.
"Chuck was never a guy who fought for money; he fought because he loved to fight. He'd just as soon go out and fight in the back yard for free as fight before 20,000 people on a card he was making a ton of money because he just loved to fight."
Jackson said he wasn't sure Liddell was willing to stand in the pocket and trade blows, hallmarks of a career that will soon land Liddell in the UFC's Hall of Fame.
Jackson couldn't pinpoint why, but suggested some fighters have difficulty overcoming a knockout loss. "I think Chuck was probably a little gun-shy," Jackson said. "I went through it when I lost to Wanderlei (Silva) and so I know what it's like. I could see it. Jardine was, too, but not as gun-shy as Chuck.
"It depends on the person and how strong they are for how long it takes to get that out of you."
Liddell dismissed the notion, saying "I don't feel it affected me."
White sided with Liddell on that issue and pointed to the way Liddell came out quickly at the start of the fight. He landed a right hand early that raised a welt on Jardine's bald head, though Jardine joked after the fight that "Sometimes, I start bleeding when I walk into the cage."
White said he thought Liddell became fatigued and discussed Liddell's training habits with him. Liddell is a night owl who likes to attend clubs even in the nights before he fights.
But White said Sunday that Liddell told him that he had taken good care of himself and wasn't club-hopping.
"He said he was getting his sleep and he was eating the right things and that he wasn't going out at all," White said. "I don't know. Chuck just wasn't Chuck. That's not the kind of a fight I'm going to remember Chuck for when he eventually does quit. "Chuck was a guy with that killer instinct. Remember the way he went right after Tito (Ortiz) in their first fight? That's kind of the perfect example of who Chuck Liddell was as a fighter, but I didn't see those same things last night."
If Liddell retires, the UFC will lose its top drawing card. Liddell was the main drawing card in the three biggest live gates in the company's history and in North American mixed martial arts history. His Dec. 30 rematch with Ortiz at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas brought in a record live gate of $5.39 million.
But White said the UFC will survive even if Liddell opts to retire.
"At the end of the day, we have so many talented fighters in the UFC that we'll be fine," White said. "We're not a one-trick pony, that's for sure. Chuck is always going to be a part of the UFC, whether he's fighting or not, but we're definitely not going to be in any kind of trouble if he quits.
"He needs to do what's right for him and not worry about us. This isn't the kind of sport you can be in half-heartedly. If you don't have the passion for it, it's time to get out. Only Chuck really knows how he feels, but you wonder because he hasn't looked the same, fire-wise, in either of these last two fights."