When I read the rumors about a potential Chuck Liddell comeback a few months ago on social media, I penned an article to explain my concern for the possible pitfalls of “The Iceman” back in the cage. More specifically, the aspect of sports that nobody wants to see a legend as a shell of themselves because it’s just a sad situation. At the time, there was speculation that the former UFC Light Heavyweight champion might ink a deal with Bellator to set up a trilogy fight with longtime rival, Tito Ortiz. I asked if the big payday from the Viacom-owned organization was worth the risk of tarnishing his legacy as one of the greatest to step into the octagon?
Last week, Oscar De La Hoya announced that his Golden Boy Promotions company will venture into the MMA business with plans to promote an event later this year. De La Hoya, a former boxing champion in six different weight classes, started his promotional group in 2002 and currently represents several well-known fighters, including Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez. Undoubtedly, Oscar remains a prominent figure in boxing almost a decade after he hung up his gloves, but mixed martial arts, while still within the genre of combat sports, is a different scenario.
Despite the down slide in star power the past few years, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, an organization that was purchased by the WME group a few years ago for over $4 billion, remains the top MMA company in the world. In fact, the UFC just signed an extensive deal with ESPN that will bring content to the cable network and its ESPN+ streaming service next year. Bellator, which is broadcasted on the Paramount network, is considered another option for fighters that look to continue their career on a main stream stage outside of the UFC, but that is clearly the secondary option. Speaking of Bellator, the argument could be made that the promotion already brings nostalgic type fights to the table on traditional television, so how exactly will Golden Boy market a similar bout on pay-per-view?
The main problem that Oscar has ahead of this event is that there’s no way to promote this Tito/Liddell trilogy on anything other than the accomplishments of the past. Sure, Tito was one of the few athletes that was able to make a new for himself during the dark ages of the sport, but the prime of his career was more than ten years ago. The latter half of his UFC run saw him win one fight and suffer six losses. After he signed with Bellator, he won three of four fights before he retired early last year. However, the surge of success was more so because of the level of competition than an indication of a comeback in the sport.
For “The Iceman,” as I wrote previously, he had a legendary career and was the top star in the organization when the sport boomed in popularity in the early 2000s. The conclusion of his career caused concern from fans and peers, as the aging grappler suffered three consecutive KO losses before he hung up his gloves in 2010. Now, the 48-year-old Liddell will make a return to the cage without a victory since 2007.
I don’t want to sound too harsh because Chuck Liddell is legitimately one of the most important fighters in the history of the sport, but does anyone want to see him fight again? More importantly, does anyone want to see him risk another KO loss? This isn’t Rocky and in reality, the type of comeback he’s hoping for rarely happens. Considering the brutal KOs he endured prior to retirement, there are very serious risks if he suffered another knockout at this point in his career. I would rather not watch Liddell compete again because I don’t want to see him risk his health.
— Ray Sefo (@SugarRaySefo) July 11, 2018
That said, the contracts were signed last week, making the bout official for a venue yet to be announced. While Golden Boy does very well on pay-per-view with boxing, the distribution of this event could be another hurdle entirely. The easiest answer if for De La Hoya to go the traditional pay-per-view path that he used to distribution his major boxing cards, but again, MMA is a different world. In fact, this actually isn’t the first time that Oscar will be involved with mixed martial arts.
As companies like Elite XC set ratings records on broadcast TV, and Strikeforce tried to establish itself on Show Time, an alphabet soup of organizations tried to get a piece of the pie when MMA was still in the boom period. Affliction, the clothing company that sponsored many UFC athletes at the time, launched a subdivision of the organization, Affliction Entertainment to promote fight cards. Golden Boy partnered with Affliction to distribute MMA cards that featured many former Pride and UFC competitors. In mid-2008, Affliction produced a PPV event that saw Fedor Emelianenko knockout Tim Sylvia in just 36 seconds and the event garnered 100,000 buys. Six months later, Fedor KO’ed Andre Arlovski in the first round of a contest that headlined a show that drew a buyrate of 175,000 on pay-per-view. The third event was scheduled to showcase Fedor vs. Josh Barnett in the main event, but Barnett tested positive for steroids less than two weeks before the show, prompting the decision to cancel it, which led to the shut down of Affliction Entertainment.
More recently, Bellator attempted to promote events on PPV, including a Rampage vs. King Mo main event that generated roughly 100,000 buys in 2014. It’s second venture for pay-per-view drew slightly better with 130,000 purchases for Wanderlei Silva vs. Chael Sonnen last year. For a comparison, the previous numbers mention would rank among the lowest numbers the UFC did in the modern era. The bottom line is, no company other than the UFC has drawn major numbers for an MMA event on pay-per-view in the United States.
Regardless of any criticism, the only question that matters here is, will fans pay to see another Tito/Liddell fight?
If there’s a market for it then Oscar can promote a successful MMA pay-per-view completely under his own banner. But, I don’t see ANY logical reason why Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz in 2018 would draw an audience to pay to watch it. In fact, even if these two were still in the prime of their careers, there would be no reason to book a trilogy fight because Liddell beat Tito via TKO in both of their previous bouts. If this fight takes place, I’d guess that it’s a one-time deal for Golden Boy Promotions with an MMA card because again, quite frankly, there’s no major reason to expect Liddel vs. Tito to be a draw to the modern audience.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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