A Subjectively Negative Look At Chuck Liddell

Chuck Liddell is one of the most popular fighters in MMA history. His allure to casual fans was instrumental in bringing the UFC to its current heights. The Ultimate Fighter obviously played a huge role in this as well, but the fact that Liddell was in his heyday when the sport began to explode in the states helped matters exponentially. His style of fighting was something people wanted to see, pure and simple. A Cali-based, mohawked puncher with piercing blue eyes, you knew you were getting something memorable when Charles David Liddell stepped into the Octagon. All of these things are facts. Truths.

Here’s the thing: I found him dreadful to watch.

This personal view spilled over into all of my other perceptions of him.

When I see a fighter that catches my eye, there’s no real blueprint for skills or aesthetics to guarantee enjoyment or disdain in my personal viewing experience. For example, I love the technical brilliance of guys like Lyoto Machida, Anthony Pettis, and Renan Barao … but I also love watching guys like Takanori Gomi and the New & Improved version of Dong Hyun Kim bite down on their mouthpiece and swing from their fight shorts. Chris Lytle is still probably my favorite MMA fighter of all time, and he could do both. It’s a case by case basis.

So here’s where we begin: I hated the way Chuck Liddell threw punches. It was like someone screwed his arms on backwards, made him snort an eight ball, and told him to punch a hole through a dangling pinata. It made me vomit into my mouth a little. The fact that Floyd Mayweather once chose to single out Liddell for his example of “why MMA fighters could never make it in boxing” is no accident. A pro boxer watching Liddell in his prime must have been excruciating, confusing, and sad … and not necessarily in that order. Does that mean that a guy like Liddell couldn’t still potentially light guys up in as a pro boxer? No. But it was a legitimate point.

The second point I want to bring up about Liddell is his long and storied history of poking guys in the eye right before he finished them. I know, I know … I can hear all of you scolding me for my obvious consumption of Haterade.

“You’re just a tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorist! Chuck would have won all those fights anyway! You hate Chuck because you’re an unhappy person that hates the way his life turned out! You’re grasping for straws!!”

Liddell certainly could have won those fights without jabbing his finger into the eye of many men, but it’s a moot point; the fact is, Liddell’s strategy of pawing with his left hand left many men staggering backwards, looking for a referee intervention that never came. This didn’t happen once or twice, either. Off the top of my head, I can think of four instances: the first Tito Ortiz fight (Ortiz reels backward, openly grabbing his eye and looking to the ref for help, then gets finished in highlight reel fashion against the cage roughly 15 seconds later), Randy Couture (who claimed that an early eye poke in their second bout changed his strategy), Kevin Randleman (who goes down awkwardly from a weird left hook, and starts screaming at John McCarthy when he stops the fight), and Vernon White (to me, the most blatant example … White spins all the way around clutching his face). Chuck Liddell was not a “dirty” fighter; that’s not what I’m suggesting at all. I’m suggesting that he repeatedly used a technique that he learned via his Kenpo backround, and I’m suggesting that to ignore the profound effect it had on many of his biggest wins is to simply ignore objective reality.

(While we’re on the subject of Kenpo technique … Liddell’s style was a direct result of the teachings of John Hackleman. It’s simply the way he teaches stand up techniques, and it led to some funny instances. For example, remember when Gan McGee got knocked out by Tim Sylvia? He went into that fight essentially trying to replicate the style of Liddell. Nothing topped the comedy of watching a giant, plodding, athletically deficient neanderthal coming out dropping his left hand and pretending to be composed and in the zone like a young Roy Jones Jr.)

My next issue with Liddell is his resume. You could make the argument that he came along a little too early for his own good, and this has merit. He deserves credit for staying relevant as long as he did, as he began his career the same night that Pete Williams knocked out Mark Coleman, and followed that up with a 30 minute long, bare knuckle slobberknocker with Jose “Pele” Landi-Jons in Brazil. He did it for a long time. This cannot be denied. However, examining the wins he racked up during the height of his popularity doesn’t exactly blow your socks off. Ortiz, White, Couture, Horn, Couture again, Sobral again, Ortiz again. Solid, to be sure. But there aren’t any all time greats on that list.

(Randy Couture was a good fighter, but he wasn’t an all time great. Put away your flamethrowers, please.)

Liddell became famous, even outside of casual MMA circles. During the lead up to his second fight with Quinton Jackson at UFC 71, he got a cover interview with ESPN Magazine. The interview came from this angle: “Blood and guts cage fighter has a soft side! He has kids! He likes West Side Story! ” Something about it irked me, even though it obviously wasn’t Liddell’s fault that ESPN decided to feature him. The whole thing just seemed to scream “This guy’s run is officially over. We can’t possibly jinx him more than we already have. Jackson fans, eat your heart out!”

To recap: Hated the way he threw punches, scoffed at the Rocky III-esque coverage he got before the second Rampage fight, questioned his resume, was somewhat bothered by his quiet arrogance.

I softened on him a bit towards the end, as I am wont to do with aging brawlers who lose the ability to take punches. It happens to all of them, and it’s just a matter of how many emasculating embarrassments they’re willing to put up with before they retire. He admittedly had an all time classic fight with Wanderlei Silva, a back and forth war that saw two men bringing the best out in one another. As Liddell put it, “That’s just two guys standing there and banging each other.”

Towards the very end, he started getting badly knocked out. I’m not going to sit here and act like I took a creepy amount of pleasure when this happened, but I didn’t dislike it, either. Something inside of my soul knew that it was exactly what was supposed to happen to a technically deficient guy who waded in with reckless white guy abandon, took your best shot, and banked on his ability to brain you with his own.

Meh.


The Top 4 Reasons To Root For Robbie Lawler At UFC 171

UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler. In 2014.

Wait … what?

Yep. It’s a distinct possibility. Now, don’t let the title of my article mislead you. There’s a great reason to root for Johny Hendricks here, and that reason is simple: Most people thought he deserved to get his hand raised against Georges St-Pierre last November, and it would undoubtedly feel like a wrong had been righted if Johny went in there and got it done on Saturday. No doubt. I’m not the biggest Hendricks guy, but even I could admit that that would be a great story.

But it ain’t topping Robbie Lawler. Here’s why you should all get out your Robbie Lawler pom poms and make asses out of yourselves …

1. Because if Lawler wins, there is a 0.00% chance that his victory wont be shit-your-pants thrilling to watch.

I see two possible methods of victory for Lawler here. One would be to come out cautious, feel Hendricks out for a bit, then slowly take over the fight on the feet, like he did against Murilo “Ninja” Rua. If this happens, color me wildly impressed. Rob used to be a big swinger, but over the years he’s really learned how to fight intelligently on the feet.

The other (more likely) scenario is that he leans into a big shot that flattens Hendricks and his D-minus beard (I’m not figuratively referring to his chin, I’m talking about his actual beard), then follows up with his trademark coffin nails on the ground.

(Sidebar: Robbie Lawler might have MMA’s most devastating resume when it comes to hammering the proverbial “coffin nails” into guys. He always seems to get that one extra dome-splitter in. Falaniko Vitale, Tiki Ghosn, Ninja Rua, and of course … actually, let’s let a GIF handle this one …)

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DAAAAAAAAAMN.

2. Because it’s a classic style matchup: The savvy veteran striker vs. the decorated, bullish wrestler.

I favor Johny Hendricks to win this fight. I think his takedowns will be the gift that keeps on giving, and I see him being able to use them in spades if and when Robbie makes him uncomfortable on the feet. I don’t think he’ll be able to ragdoll Robbie around the octagon or anything, but his wrestling will most likely be the difference.That being said, alot of people are giving Lawler short shrift.

When I first saw Lawler fight Rory MacDonald, I left that fight thinking that MacDonald dropped the ball in a huge way. He lost a fight in one of the worst possible fashions: By not fighting to his strengths, and by not being active enough until it was too late. I still feel that way, to a degree. But upon rewatching, I realized that I didn’t give Lawler enough credit for his performance. Robbie fought with great veteran savvy and ring generalship, picking his spots to explode and never showing the effects of MacDonald’s quasi-strategic approach. By the third round, he was in complete control of a guy he was supposed to lose soundly to, as he dropped Rory Mac with punches and hammered strikes into his now-battered, bummed out face. Rory had failed, but Robbie had also succeeded in a big way.

So what can he do to Hendricks? Stuffing takedowns is going to be a tremendous key to Robbie’s success. If he can stay off of his back for the majority of the fight, all of a sudden it becomes pretty damn even. In a striking battle, I lean towards Robbie. Hendricks’ power is obviously a factor, but Rob has big power in all limbs as well, and the way Johny lunges in for 2 to 4 second stretches with his hands at his waists is troubling. The way to thwart Hendricks’ lunging would theoretically be to study his timing, plant your feet, and plan a counter. And that scenario is basically tailor made for a striker like Lawler. His combination of lethal hooks, and the fact that he’s knocked guys out with counter punching before (Melvin Manhoef) definitely suggests that this could happen.

3. Because it’s the right thing to do.

I’d rather not see a guy from Oklahoma with the most overrated beard in the history of overrated beards bullrush his way to a UFC title. Not unless I absolutely have to.

I have nothing inherently against people from Oklahoma, but can you guys stop telling me you’re from Oklahoma without me asking you first? It never fails. It’s literally like “Hey man, can I get a pack of Marlboro Lights? I’m from Oklahoma.”

Ribbing aside, there’s something about Hendricks’ style that I find aesthetically unpleasing to watch. I think it’s the aforementioned lunging, which he gets away with because he A) has a great chin (for the time being … we’ll see how it holds up over the long haul) and B) always has his takedowns to fall back on if exchanges don’t go his way.

4. Because, if Lawler wins, it would cap off one of the weirdest, longest, most roundabout routes anyone has taken to a UFC title, ever.

Lawler made his UFC debut nearly 12 years ago. Jeff Osborne was still the color guy. Murilo Bustamante beat Matt Lindland for the middleweight title. And Robbie Lawler was a 20 year old kid entering the octagon and slinging leather. He won his debut (a true slobberknocker with Aaron Riley), then went on to have an entertaining test drive inside the octagon. His fight with Chris Lytle at UFC 45 was one of my first favorite contests. Lawler and Lytle got into some wild exchanges, laughing, clapping for each other, and just acting like idiots. I remember thinking “These guys are awesome”. Now, they’re still two of my favorite fighters.

After being submitted by the late Evan Tanner, Lawler bounced around a bit and accumulated some stories. There was the time he knocked out Niko Vitale as Vitale’s girlfriend ran into the ring, yelled at him, and got in his face. He got the ball rolling with PRIDE’s first Vegas show (which I was at) by jump kneeing Joey Villasenor’s face so hard that he ended up thinking the hairstyle to the right was a good idea.

He fought for PRIDE, King of the Cage, the IFL, Elite XC, Icon Sport, and Strikeforce, all of which were relevant promotions at the time. He scored brutal knockouts (Trigg, Rua, Lindland, Amagov). He dropped fights in a myriad of different ways (grinded out by Tim Kennedy, submitted by Jacare & Shields, outpointed on the feet by Lorenz Larkin). He alternated between winning and losing often, but he never had that performance where you thought “This guy is done. The sport has passed him by.” He persevered, kept fighting, kept refining his game, kept doing his thing.

Finally, he gets his shot at UFC gold. Lawler claims that he never gave up on the idea that he could be a UFC champion someday, and maybe that’s true. Up until he beat Rory MacDonald last November, though, it didn’t seem likely. He KO’d Josh Koscheck, a man who lost the ability to take big punches, and Bobby Voelker, who is Bobby Voelker. But the MacDonald win, coupled with GSP vacating, has given him the opportunity of a lifetime. And I can’t lie; I hope he capitalizes.


The Inevitable Occasion When I Write About Steroids In MMA

On February 27th, 2014, the Nevada State Athletic Commission issued a ban on testosterone replacement therapy. The UFC followed suit, issuing this statement:

“We believe our athletes should compete based on their natural abilities and on an even playing field. We also intend to honor this ruling in international markets where, due to a lack of governing bodies, the UFC oversees regulatory efforts for our live events. We encourage all athletic commissions to adopt this ruling.”

Mere hours later, TRT proponent Vitor Belfort pulled out of his scheduled title fight with Chris Weidman for reasons that seem fairly obvious.

Okay.

I’ve been sporadically sitting here for the past few months, staring at my blank computer screen, in the hopes that a way to start an article about the most polarizing, loaded topic in organized sports will pop into my head. Since it obviously hasn’t, I’m just going to start writing and see what happens. I have to write about this subject, and no matter how ignorant, lazy, or predictably contrarian my opinion might seem, the idea of getting it out there is more important to me than if I had never mentioned it at all, backlash be damned. In short, I have a big mouth.

Writing about performance enhancing drugs seems like a terrible idea. If you get on your high horse and start piously whining about cheating and uneven playing fields and the sanctity of the sport, congratulations. You’re uninteresting and predictable.

But, if you take the other path, and begin outlining a stance that seems like it’s supportive of PED use in sports, alot of people will just stop reading past the first paragraph. First people are annoyed at your perceived trolling, then they get even madder when they realize you aren’t.

The hell with it.

Let’s assume that using illegal steroids and other things to elevate your testosterone level will irrefutably help you win fights. Do the numbers back up this assumption?

Not really. Cage Potato has an ongoing article that documents MMA’s history with steroid busts, and if you go by just the guys who tested positive after a fight, the overall record is 15-22. That’s 15 wins, and 22 losses. Now, granted, this list contains names like Ken Shamrock, Johnnie Morton, and Kit Cope. This is true. But it also contains names like Thiago Tavares, Stephan Bonnar, and even Vitor Belfort, who tested positive after losing a unanimous decision to Dan Henderson at PRIDE 32 in Vegas (a listless and soul crushing performance, even for him. More on him in a minute).

When you look at the documented busts for elevated testosterone levels after a fight, the results aren’t any better for dudes who pee’d hot. The fight record for the men who tested positive for elevated testosterone after a fight is a meager 1-4-1, and the one win can be explained away easily. All you have to do is realize that the guy who tested high was fighting Brandon Vera. No further explanation necessary.

I realize that these are just figures, and I also realize that reporting them as I’m doing doesn’t prove that these fighters were actually impeded by steroid use. They also don’t take into account the fact that these were people who were actually tested. Who knows how many people have committed violent crimes inside the octagon and somehow or another eluded testing. But still, the numbers are compelling, and I’m going to guess that they aren’t what most people would have expected.

Okay, genius. What about Vitor Belfort? He’s getting therapeutic use exemptions for TRT, savagely murdering people inside the octagon, and looking like a gakked up police horse. How do you explain THAT?

Any time I try to flesh out my take on an issue, there’s always the obligatory monkey wrench that makes me reconsider. In this case, Vitor Belfort isn’t just a monkey wrench, he’s half a Goddamn tool kit.

(Did that work? Probably not.)

Vitor Belfort’s highlight laden run hasn’t just been due the return of the legendary “Old Vitor”. Old Vitor wasn’t doing stuff like he’s doing now. Old Vitor possessed blinding hand speed, and would catch you with 20 punches in 4 seconds. That’s how he would finish. It was so quick, sometimes you didn’t even realize what happened.

Now, there’s no debate about what is happening. He’s getting homicidal with excellent fighters, and he’s doing so with techniques that he simply hasn’t shown a capacity to perform before. Hmmmmmm.

But wait a second. He’s Vitor Belfort, a sensational athlete with genuine talent. Why are people surprised at what he’s been able to do? Why are people throwing their hands in the air and crying foul because VITOR BELFORT has been knocking people out? It’s not like Matt Lindland started knocking guys out with flying knees. It’s not as though Rob Broughton started throwing acrobatic capoeira kicks. Danny Downes isn’t suddenly coming out of the gate with Tyson-like punching power. If the changes were that drastic, my view might change a bit.  But people look at what Vitor is doing and assume that it must be due to testosterone. That’s most likely a part of it, but exactly where TRT ends and a sensational talent like Vitor Belfort begins can’t be proven. And what bothers me is that everyone seems to think that it can, just based on the eyeball test.

How ’bout those PRIDE Fighting Championships?

Yeah, I know. Guys were juiced to the gills over in Japan, and the serious drawback was … um …

Nothing! It was awesome!

There was certainly a notable difference in many fighters’ physiques when they made the transition over to the UFC. I wont name names, but a few that stand out rhyme with Shmanderlei Milva, Shmauricio Mua, and maybe even Shmirko Mo Mop. Lots of folks assume that these types were over in Japan crushing people because they were on steroids. However, they were most likely killing people because they were largely getting matched up with tomato cans and neighborhood dads. Wanderlei, Mauricio, and Mirko all had amazing runs in PRIDE, but fighting the Tatsuya Iwasaki’s and the Yasuhito Namekawa’s of the world in between their marquee matchups certainly helped the perception that they were more indestructible then they actually were. I’m certainly not the first person to make this point, but it’s a fact. There were no Yoshihisa Yamamoto’s for Mirko to fight in the UFC.

Steroids are illegal for a reason. People wouldn’t be taking them if they didn’t help. So why can’t you stop being a douche and advocate their elimination?

Can’t do it. On one hand, anabolic steroid use increases muscle mass. On the other hand, having increased muscle mass means that properly getting oxygen to all of those muscles is more difficult, leading to decreased stamina and a vibe that might remind you of a young Brad Kohler. Let’s see the aforementioned Vitor Belfort go deep into the championship rounds with the winner of Weidman-Machida with the same ferocity and vigor as he’s historically displayed in the first round throughout his career. However, let’s also see him lose that fight and make his return by knocking out Francis Carmont in 14 seconds with everything but jet fuel and red matter coursing through his veins. You want to roll the dice by putting crazy synthetic shit into your body? That’s a risk I believe you should have the right to take.

People whine about an “uneven playing field”, but there’s no even playing field out there, with or without the option to use steroids. MMA matchmaking is getting better and better at the highest levels, but alot of fights are decided by the fact that one fighter is simply better than the other fighter. There’s no universal physical starting point. Steroids may be a temporary solution in some cases (with juicing to heal an injury faster being the most obvious example), but in my troglodyte brain, they are nothing more than a product of science. And science never stops progressing, perpetually weeding out the negative aspects of advancements, until they’re whittled down to their purest, most positive form.

We should never exclude literal science in favor of figurative religion.