Each week I will be looking at fighters, past and present, and attempting to determine whether they’re overhyped or don’t get enough credit. I will look at their striking and grappling as well as some other factors in order to figure out what I believe to be the substance behind their reputation. This weeks fighter is none other than legendary former UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell.
Chuck Liddell. The Iceman. What can I say about this guy? He’s an absolute legend. He was the first real North American superstar that Mixed Martial Arts produced and he was the face of the UFC for quite a while in the mid-2000s. His trademark Mohawk, mustache and icicle shorts made him impossible not to recognize. Speaking of which, he’s often recognized as one of, if not the best light heavyweights in the history of the sport. We’re here to determine if he’s earned that recognition. I mean he certainly entertained during his career, he never shied away from a gunfight, but was he as good as people give him credit for? Was his kickboxing as good as we remember? How about his wrestling? The strength of competition? We’ll go over all of this and more in determining if “The Iceman” was as good a mixed martial artist as he’s given credit for. Let’s get started.
Chuck Liddell was primarily a stand-up fighter. His footwork and counter right hand are legendary, but were they as good as they appeared? Although his chin seemingly deteriorated later in his career, Liddell’s ability to absorb punishment was at times impressive to watch. The way he could walk through punches and deliver devastating counters was awesome. A great example of this was his fight against current heavyweight mainstay Alistair Overeem. Overeem picked Liddell apart and battered him for the first two and a half minutes of their match-up in Pride FC. But then comes that classic Chuck Liddell overhand right about three minutes in. All that Overeem had done was deemed irrelevant in that moment as Liddell swarmed him with power punches and eventually knocked him out cold. The trouble is that except for a couple of big shots, Overeem dominated the fight. Now, there’s no shame in being outstruck by Overeem as he’s a very high-level kickboxer. But the fact remains that Liddell’s power saved him in a fight that he was losing. How about his two knockouts of Tito Ortiz? His Knockout of the late, great Kevin Randleman? The multiple knockouts he has of “Babalu” Sobral or Randy Couture? Jeremy Horn? Guy Mezger? Vernon White? Some pretty impressive names on his resume to be sure, but out of all of the names I just mentioned, point out the high-level striker.
Granted, he has wins over a slightly past his prime Wanderlei Silva and a green Vitor Belfort. Both decisions. Meanwhile, he has losses to Rashad Evans, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Rich Franklin, Keith Jardine and “Shogun” Rua, five of the seven or eight high-level strikers he fought. It seems to me that his really dominant performances came on the feet against inadequate strikers.
There’s also the fact that guys like Santiago Ponzinibbio, Josh Koscheck, and even Jon Jones have had their striking prowess questioned because of illegal eye pokes. However, lost over the years is that Liddell was once considered the biggest offender of this in the UFC. He was mockingly dubbed Chuck “the eyesman” Liddell by fans because of instances of this in fights against Vernon White, Tito Ortiz, and Randy Couture twice.
So if my argument is that most of his wins came against guys that were primarily grapplers, then I would have to concede that he was a good enough grappler to stay out of trouble on the ground. Well, that’s exactly what I believe. I’m not here to attack or insult the great Chuck Liddell. I’m a fan of the guy too, I really am. But I’m staying completely unbiased here. His wrestling was high level. He mostly used it defensively but occasionally shot(more so towards the end of his career) and typically got the takedown when he wanted it. Not only was his ability to stay on his feet second to none, on the occasion that he was taken down, he usually didn’t have much trouble popping right back up. Think prime Junior Dos Santos, that’s how good The Iceman was at getting up off of his back. He was only submitted once, very early in his career(his third professional contest and first loss) by legendary grappler Jeremy Horn, and has just one submission win which came immediately after that fight with Horn. So, to recap, good wrestling both offensively and defensively, and good enough jiu-jitsu not to get caught during the 20-30 seconds he might end up on the ground(if he even got taken down). VERDICT: UNDERRATED
Liddell faced the cream of the crop for his era. Rich Franklin, Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Rashad Evans, Renato “Babalu” Sobral, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Wanderlei Silva. The only problem is that he was about 50/50 against elite competition. The last 60-70% of his career was exclusively good competition, but he lost…. like a lot. I would also argue that his record against elite strikers is sub 500. However, I also understand that the body can only take so much punishment, and the Iceman, unfortunately, fell victim to the same opponent that a lot of fighters do. Father Time. If you take enough shots, you’re bound to get knocked out eventually and once that happens, sometimes that’s it. Unfortunately, with Liddell, I think that was it when he was flatlined by Rashad Evans. Do I think the Liddell that Faced Rich Franklin in his retirement fight is the same Liddell that defended the light heavyweight title four times? No. However, do I think his skill set was and is overstated because he spent his prime beating up on a bunch of grapplers who couldn’t have beaten any good striker that could stop a takedown? Yes.
OVERALL VERDICT: OVERRATED
(This is the opinion of Jordan Carroll and does not reflect the opinion of the entire The MMA Takeover staff).