“The Iceman” is returning to the cage. God help us.
Here are some facts: Liddell is seven months removed from his 49th birthday. He’ll be even closer to that or even past it by the time he straps on the gloves again. He hasn’t fought since 2010. He was finished in four of his last six fights, that last three coming in very brutal, head-jarring fashion.
Liddell retired because his legendary skills had eroded, his once sturdy chin had turned into glass, and all those knockouts were likely doing a number on his brain. If you need proof, check out the videos below. One was taken as Chuck was hitting his peak in 2003, and the other was his retirement speech in 2011.
The difference is telling. After eight years of taking shots from some of the world’s most dangerous fighters, Liddell’s speech had started to slur. Now that he’s even older, there’s no telling what kind of impact (no pun intended) more head trauma will have.
Worse, his reason for coming back is to face off against another fellow geriatric in Tito Ortiz, in a rubber match for a rivalry that was settled a lifetime ago. It’s a fight that no one asked for. After that? He wants to fight exiled UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones, a monster of a fighter at the height of his powers.
We’ve seen it happen since time immemorial. Once-great fighters who think they’ve still got what it takes, and with no one brave enough in their inner circle to stop them. The results are rarely pretty. Muhammad Ali was less a floating butterfly and more like a slug against Larry Holmes. Oscar De La Hoya was a study in slow motion when he took one fight too many against Manny Pacquiao. The list of once-greats who became has-beens overnight runs a mile long.
Liddell’s comeback, and the many ill-advised ones that came before it, makes a strong case for stricter regulations on fighter licensing. Unlike other sports where a washed-up athlete in the arena means a missed jump shot, fighters who are long in the tooth can get seriously hurt if they push on.
MMA Junkie reported that a California State Athletic Commission executive has said that as long as Liddell can pass his pre-fight medical exams, then he’s cleared to fight. Whether he has the necessary skills to compete or defend himself, the executive said, is up to the matchmaker and not the Commission.
There’s the argument that Liddell should be allowed to do as he pleases if he’s willing to run the risks. Perhaps he does have his reasons for coming back. Maybe he needs to let the ‘beast inside’ out a la Rocky Balboa after he lost his cushy UFC job. But no matter the reasons, sometimes people need to be defended from themselves. Whether it’s the athletic commission, the promoters, or Liddell’s confidants, someone should step in before something bad happens.
Fighting is a young man’s game. The human body is fragile, more so in middle age and after decades of wear and tear. Nobody wants to see Liddell potentially lose to a slightly less-eroded Ortiz, or get wrecked by the current young lion in Jones.
For the sake of your health and legacy, Iceman, please stay retired.