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Should ‘The Iceman’ Return to MMA?

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When I saw the news on that Chuck Liddell was rumored to have signed a deal with Bellator MMA, I shook my head. Reports speculated that the multi-million dollar contract was offered to schedule a trilogy with Tito Ortiz, who Liddell defeated twice during his prime in the UFC.

Retired since 2010 after he lost 6 of the last 7 bouts of his career, “The Iceman” will have to ask himself if those millions are worth the risk to his legacy?

The 48-year-old slugger was the face of the Ultimate Fighting Championship when the organization emerged from obscurity and exploded in popularity to alter the course of sports history. Along with the Rocky-style brawl that Forrest Griffin and Stephen Bonnar delivered on cable TV in 2005, highlights of Liddell’s haymakers became an intriguing selling point as the general public discovered mixed martial arts. Keep in mind, the Liddell/Couture trilogy was built around the original season of the Ultimate Fighter reality show that propelled the company into the main stream.

The former UFC Light Heavyweight champion started his MMA career in 1998, long before big money or fame accompanied those that stepped into the octagon. Surviving the lean years, Liddell used his background as a Division I amateur wrestler and kick boxer to utilize the “sprawl and brawl” tactics. A combination of windmill punches and takedown defense brought him notoriety as the sport that was once an underground niche began to draw big numbers on pay-per-view in the mid-2000s.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wC56o21uHrs&w=560&h=315]

During the first eight years of his legendary career, “The Iceman” generated an impressive record of 20-3, most of those victories were by thrilling knockout. Perhaps the highlight of the pioneering grappler’s career was the vicious KO of the legendary Randy Couture to claim the 205 LBS title in 2005. On top of a crowd-friendly style, Liddell had the perfect look to market an MMA fighter, sporting a Mohawk to accompany the Chinese letters tattooed on his head. As Chuck racked up victories in the cage, he also drew at the box office, including his 2006 pay-per-view KO of Tito that still ranks among the top ten best-selling events in the promotion’s history with over a million buys.

While that second KO win against Ortiz was the peak of his drawing power, it proved to be the peak of Liddell’s career as a fighter as well. After Zuffa bought Pride in 2007, the sport saw a drastic shift as another wave of established fighters joined the UFC, which eventually saw the sport continue to evolve. Just five months after his second win against Tito, Liddell was knocked out in less than two minutes by Rampage Jackson at UFC 71. The argument can be made that Liddell was never the same inside the cage after Rampage’s looping right hook sent him crashing to the canvas.

The popular athlete finished the year with a split decision loss to Keith Jardine before he won via unanimous decision in an epic brawl with Wanderlei Silva at UFC 79. The violent spectacle with Silva wasn’t an indication of a return, but rather the last glimpse of “The Iceman” that soared to fame when the UFC surged in popularity.

Three consecutive KO losses followed in the next three years against Rashad Evans, Shogun Rua, and Rich Franklin respectively. The brutal fashion of each knockout caused concern and a call for his retirement. UFC President and close friend, Dana White insisted on Chuck’s retirement, which was officially announced at a press conference in 2010.

Liddell later acknowledged it was a tough decision to hang up the gloves, but most agreed with it so that he could avoid any further damage. The contrast of sports, especially combat sports, is that the decline from the peak can be just as disappointing as the thrill of the rise to the top. We watch sports heroes with anticipation as they excel with incredible skill, and in most cases, watch with some sadness as their decline is an indication that it’s time to conclude their careers.

Nobody wants to see a fighter stay in the sport too long, mostly because of the danger it can pose to their health. Perhaps, the toughest test for any athlete in any genre is to know when to hang up the boots to preserve their health and their legacy. The examples are numerous, but the common theme is sadness as an audience watches all-time greats compete as a former shell of themselves. Sometimes the motivate is for the money or simply that those that have competed their entire lives can’t step away from the sport. One of the most well-known examples of this was the Ali/Holmes fight in 1980 that saw Ali’s former sparring partner defeat the icon when the contest was stopped in the 10th round. The 39-year-old Ali took a tremendous beating before his trainer, Angelo Dundee screamed that the fight was over to rescue his fighter from more damage. The incredible punishment that “The Greatest” took during his heroic career had taken its toll. Larry Holmes, who retained his title, wept in the dressing room after the bout because he didn’t want to cause damage to the aging legend.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0N6NTUbWFA&w=560&h=315]

The unfortunate example of this in MMA is Ken Shamrock, who was one of the originals of the first UFC tournament, but is much more well-known for fighting well over a decade past his prime. The low point of this was probably 2010 when he lost to Pedro Rizzo via TKO at a sparsely attended upstart event in Sydney, Australia. He also signed with Bellator in recent years, first for a loss against the late Kimbo Slice in 2015 and then another loss to Royce Gracie the following year. Shamrock tested positive for steroids after the Gracie bout and his license was revoked in 2016. “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” didn’t choose to retire, but instead prostituted his legacy until he was forced out of the sport.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqrOZtgAPFE?start=495&w=560&h=315]

I’m concerned about the potential pitfalls of a Chuck Liddell comeback to MMA. While he retired because he couldn’t take the punches he had previously to set up for his own devastating counter punches, the decline is not unusual for combat sports. The general consensus was that Liddell hung it up at the right time and left a legacy he could be proud of intact for the history books. Following his retirement, he was named Vice President of Business Development for the UFC and continued to appear in film and television roles.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQ7KX5I4vag&w=560&h=315]

Assuming this isn’t just about the money, what does Liddell expect to prove here? What does beating Tito for a third time really prove? Does a victory somehow indicate a comeback at 48 years old? Considering that Chuck hasn’t won a fight since 2007, the odds are this potential return to the cage won’t be successful. More than anything, this is a risk of his legacy, a career that helped build the sport to where it is today.

Is this Bellator deal really worth the risk to tarnish a legacy?

Chuck Liddell is the only one that knows the motivation behind this contract. Maybe it’s because he needs the money, or maybe the athlete that KO’ed his way to the top of the UFC thinks he has one more run at stardom. However, at this point, I hope that Liddell reconsiders this move because nobody wants to see another Ken Shamrock situation.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta

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Cyborg’s Bellator Invasion Begins

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Bellator MMA will kick of their year and their decade this Saturday night for the third year in a row at the Forum in Inglewood, California, and as has often been the case with Bellator, they do not waste time.

The main event will feature Bellator’s latest big name acquisition-former Strikeforce, Invicta, and UFC featherweight champion Cris Cyborg, trying to make some massive history against the best opponent the promotion can offer, current Bellator featherweight champion Julia Budd, the only titleholder in the promotion’s history who will be defending her title for the fourth time.

The matchup was formally announced back at Bellator 228, in the cage itself and signaled to everyone that Bellator would not be playing when around when it comes to showcasing the star power of Cris Cyborg. She represents a rare commodity to Bellator, an acquisition who has proven she can actually move the needle when it comes to ratings and pay per view buys, someone who has headlined and sold tickets for three different promotions.

Yet Bellator has something to offer Cyborg that she has long craved-a legitimate featherweight division. Whereas the UFC has done next to nothing to bolster their 145 pound weight class, Bellator has worked to go out, look for, and sign fighters for their 145 pound weight class, one of the two women’s weight classes that are fully active in the promotion. Until Cyborg signed with the promotion-that has been to find opponents for Julia Budd.

For many MMA fans, the enduring image of Julia Budd comes from over eight years ago, when she was in short order, taken down, mounted, and arm-barred by some chick named Ronda Rousey. Budd was submitted in November 2011 by Rousey, her elbow trashed in just thirty-nine seconds. The image of Budd’s dislocated elbow just hanging from its socket is not something you forget easily.

Since then, however, Budd has completely transformed herself into a 5’8 145 pound female tank, a ripped kickboxing machine who hasn’t lost a fight since being submitted by Rousey all those years ago. She has won eleven fights in a row since then, beating some big names, including retiring women’s MMA pioneer Marloes Coenen to become Bellator’s first featherweight champion in March 2017.

Budd has defended her title three times and is coming her most impressive win yet, stopping Olga Rubin with a body kick in the first round last July. With her size, confidence, and kickboxing skills, she represents a legitimate challenge to Cyborg-hopefully one of many the women’s MMA legend faces in the promotion.

Of course, the Cyborg that Budd is facing is not the invincible Cyborg who tore through the women’s divisions for ten years. This is a Cyborg who has had the hell knocked out of her in one round by Amanda Nunes in December 2018, one of the biggest upsets in MMA history. Then Cyborg had a much more difficult fight than expected with the much less experienced Felicia Spencer last July in Winnipeg at UFC 240. Spencer, a very good grappler, managed to win a lot of exchanges with Cyborg and give her a lot of trouble for the first two rounds, before Cyborg’s class began to show in the third.

It feels that if there was ever a time for Julia Budd to fight Cris Cyborg, this would be the time. Cyborg is still formidable, but not the invincible killer who had most women beaten before the caged door was even locked. Amanda Nunes proved that she was human, that you can go right at her, and it would be smart for Julia Budd to come forward, back Cyborg up and try to put real hurt on her. Cyborg has looked to develop real boxing skills in recent years, and it would be smart for her to use those skills, box, and look to set up her grappling, one place she should have a huge advantage.

That’s how it should go. But the biggest question may be how does Julia Budd handle the spotlight, which will be on her more than it ever has before, in front a big crowd at the Forum, on the biggest stage of her career. Cyborg has been there many times before. Even if Budd can have a good round or two, when it gets into the championship rounds, with the bright lights on, can Julia Budd deliver? Its question that will determine how long Cyborg’s invasion of Bellator goes from here…

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The Monday Wrap-Up: Shakur Rises, MacDonald Falls, Jiu-Jitsu Rules

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With our combat sports weekends getting busier and busier, every Monday, FightBooth’s Frank Anguiano will come to you with his weekly report, telling you what have you have missed, and what might deserves a second look…

Shakur Is Special

Special is a word that may be used to liberally in combat sports, an arena where special things are happening all the time. But this Saturday Night on ESPN+, New Jersey featherweight star and former Olympic Silver Medalist Shakur Stevenson proved he was truly special.

At only twenty-two-years-old and in just his thirteenth professional fight, Stevenson dominated undefeated twenty-six-year-old Joet Gonzales of Los Angeles over twelve rounds in front of a nice crowd in Reno, Nevada, bringing championship boxing back to a once great fight town.

Stevenson was excellent, slowly breaking down Gonzales and for the first six rounds, he barely got touched. Gonzales picked it up a little in the middle rounds, but Stevenson just picked up the pace and with a steady right jab, a stabling straight left to the body, and a little bit everything else, controlled nearly every round. Gonzales, thought by most to be a very good prospect himself, only landed eleven percent of punches throughout the fight.

This fight was given extra fuel due to the fact that Stevenson is remarkably the boyfriend of Joet’s sister Zamora, a former amateur boxer herself. That being said, Stevenson never lost his cool and was calm and classy after the bout, and why not? He’s the new WBO featherweight champion and now has his sights on IBF title holder Josh Warrington (30-0, 7 KOs) of England, who has already made three successful title defense. That should be a very interesting fight.

The co-main event saw female 130-pound prospect Mikaela Mayer of Los Angeles advanced to 12-0 with a sixth round TKO of Argentina’s Alejandra Zamora (7-4, 1 KO).

Mayer was sharp, landing good punches to the head and body, and landing hard left hooks over and over. It was Mayer’s fifth win by knockout. Mayer has everything needed to be a star. She can fight, she has a great social media presence, she’s hot, and as Muhammad Ali once said, she has the right complexion and the right connections. Most of all, she’s in the weight range of a lot of prominent female fighters at 130. She will do some business in the near future.

Lima Bests McDonald to win the Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix

The final of the year-long Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix Tournament ended a bit of an anticlimax, as Douglas Lima won the Bellator welterweight title for the third time, besting Rory MacDonald over five rounds at the Mohegan Sun Casino.

Needing little more than the occasional well timed jabs and leg kicks Lima managed to keep MacDonald in a mostly defensive stance for much of the fight. MacDonald, try as he might, was unable to take Lima down for most of the fight, even when he did get into with good shots. Lima simply refused to go down! MacDonald finally managed to get on top in the fifth round, but by that time the fight had been decided.

Welterweight remains Bellator’s busiest division and Lima will have plenty of options going forward in defending his title. But part of me can’t help but wonder what Douglas Lima could do in the UFC! He’s a big welterweight with great striking and wonderful takedown defense, and against the breed of power wrestlers that currently dominates the 170-pound division, he would be a great matchup for many of them. It probably won’t happen, but it’s a damn good dream.

Other Bellator Thoughts

Nick Newell dropped his second Bellator fight on Saturday, getting smothered by Oklahoma’s Manny Muro for much of the last two rounds. It’s the way most guys are going to fight him from now on, and that’s a bad thing for Newell, and fans who like exciting fights.

Jake Hager’s third pro fight ended a no contest, as an accidental knee to the groin was enough for Kansas City’s Anthony Garrett to pack it in. When two guys are as inexperienced as these two, with only a combined eight pro fights, this stuff happens.

Welterweights Ed Ruth and Jonathan Jackson tore it up on a Friday in a three round war that could have gone either way. I would love to see those two guys in the cage again.

I don’t really need to see Roy Nelson in the cage anymore, or Frank Mir for that matter…

Maia Submits Askren

The battle for grappling supremacy lived up to its hype as Demian Maia submitted Ben Askren late in the third round, once again using his patented rear naked choke. While most of this fight took place on this feet (and actually wasn’t bad, except Askren’s atrocious footwork), the grappling exchanges were hella fun, mostly because Maia was dedicated constantly attacking with submissions. The heel hook sweep he used to finally gain the advantage was a thing of beauty, as he was the squeeze he used to get the finish. Maia didn’t even have to grab his bicep or wrist to complete the hold. He’s that strong.

Other UFC Thoughts

Heavyweights finishing with heel hooks, as undefeated Frenchman Ciryl Gane against American Don‘tale Mayes in third round, is the kind of energy I need in my life. Even though Beneil Dariush got his third win in a row and second Performance of the Night in a row, I can’t see him became a huge threat again a lightweight. Didn’t catch much of the undercard this week, since it was on in the AM on Saturday.

Final Punches

Have heard great things about the Josh Taylor-Regis Prograis fight this Saturday in England, where Taylor won by decision to unify two 140 pound titles. We now have two guys with four belts, lets have Taylor versus Jose Ramirez as soon as Ramirez gets healthy. It was good to see Showtime Championship Boxing running again, as they have been quiet for most of the second half of the year.

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Fedor vs. Rampage to headline Bellator Japan on Dec 29

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LOS ANGELES – For the first time in the organization’s history, Bellator travels to Japan and the iconic Saitama Super Arena for an historic event, as Fedor Emelianenko (38-6, 1 NC) and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (38-13) square off in a long-awaited heavyweight showdown. Bellator Japan: Fedor vs. Rampage, powered by RIZIN, takes place Sunday, December 29 and will air LIVE on Paramount Network.

Tickets for Bellator Japan: Fedor vs. Rampage go on sale November 3. Additional bouts are expected to be announced in the coming days.

“For Bellator’s debut in Japan, we wanted to bring a massive event and fighters that the Japanese fans really connect with,” said Bellator President Scott Coker. “Given the vast history of martial arts and MMA in Japan, and especially at Saitama Super Arena, this will be a very special show that no one will want to miss. This will, unquestionably, be a monumental event for Bellator and I am looking forward to the moment that Fedor and ‘Rampage’ walk out to a crowd that has known them since their careers began. I would also like to thank RIZIN for their help in making this event a possibility and we look forward to working together in the near future to showcase the best talent each organization has to offer.”

Fighting out of Stary Oskol, Belgorod Oblast, Russia, Fedor Emelianenko returns to Japan following a successful run in the Bellator Heavyweight World Grand Prix earlier this year, where he earned consecutive first-round knockouts over Chael Sonnen and Frank Mir. A former PRIDE FC Heavyweight Champion and PRIDE 2004 Heavyweight World Grand Prix Champion, “The Last Emperor” returns to where his career started. Often referred to as “The GOAT” by fans around the world, his career resume stands as one of the most impressive in the history of the sport with victories over Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko Cro Cop, Mark Hunt, Mark Coleman and Andrei Arlovski, to name a few. With 29 career victories ending via finish, the punching power and world-class Sambo of the stoic Russian could result in yet another defining moment in his illustrious career.

An eight-fight veteran of Bellator, “Rampage” Jackson’s legendary career has seen him compete against some of the top names in the sport, generating a loyal army of fans along the way. The former PRIDE and UFC champion is the proud owner of many epic highlight reel slams and knockouts that he has racked up throughout his epic battles with the likes of Chuck Liddell, Dan Henderson, “King Mo” Lawal, Kevin Randleman and, perhaps most-notably, his four-fight series with Wanderlei Silva. The Memphis, Tennessee-native has long been seen as an icon to MMA fans around the globe and has openly voiced a desire to face Fedor in front of a Japanese crowd before his career comes to an end. Now, the two legends will finally meet inside the Bellator cage on December 29 at the famed Saitama Super Arena.

Updated Bellator Japan: Fedor vs. Rampage Fight Card:
Heavyweight Main Event: Fedor Emelianenko (38-6, 1 NC) vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (38-13)

*Card subject to change.

Please visit Bellator.com for more information.

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