Before we go into the Ortiz-Liddell 2 matchup, let's back up a bit...
It was 2003, and things were getting tough for Chuck Liddell.
The talented, hard-hitting "Iceman" had been the favorite to win the UFC light heavyweight title. He'd been on a winning streak since losing to Jeremy Horn back in 1999, and that was his only MMA pro career loss. He was slated to fight Randy Couture for the then-interim light heavyweight title in UFC 43. Many felt the belt would soon be his.
That's when it happened. For one of the few times in his career, Liddell lost the match. Couture deftly neutralized Chuck's trademark powerful looping hooks with crisp straight punches, and began taking him down at will. Chuck was taken apart by Couture that night, and in a title match.
Perhaps that's why after this bitter loss, Liddell briefly left the UFC to compete in Japan's PRIDE 2003 Middleweight Grand Prix. At first the PRIDE career went well; Liddell whipped Alistair Overeem with a barrage of strikes in 3:09 of the first round. But at PRIDE Final Conflict 2003 held in November of that year, the unthinkable happened: Liddell lost for the second time in a single year, this time to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
Liddell returned to the UFC, in many ways a different man. Humbled? No doubt. A smarter, more calculating fighter? Almost certainly. But he was now also a man with something to prove, to himself and to all those who were beginning to doubt his abilities.
A very talented man, still at the top of his field, with a definite purpose is very dangerous indeed. All he needs is the right person in front of him--someone who taunts him, who works his emotion and will, someone who at that moment can serve as the perfect enemy, the personification of all his anger, all his pent-up frustration, whether that's his tormentor's intention or not.
Enter Tito Ortiz. Previously the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, Ortiz had already shown a desire to be a showman--in short, someone people feel strongly about. But this time Tito forgot one major fight rule: never taunt a powerful, strong fighter who is aching for redemption, and hungry for revenge on somebody.
Both men had trained at the Pitfight Club, but came to have a falling-out that only got worse as Ortiz taunted Liddell. Many thought the taunts were a bit strange, since Ortiz had long been running from a decisive title fight with Liddell, the very man he was taunting. Such actions even appear to have cost Tito some fans, who were beginning to say that Ortiz was willing to talk a big fight against the title contender, but was not willing to back it up.
Consider this: After all the teasing and taunting, when it was time for Liddell to get his title shot, Ortiz suddenly took a hiatus from title defenses. Tito then claimed that he and Liddell were friends all along, and further claimed the two had made a pact that they would never fight one another. Then Tito decided this was the perfect time to voice a dissatisfaction with his UFC contract, and to hold out for re-negotiations.
Now of course only Tito knows why he decided to take such a path, and perhaps we shouldn't jump to quick conclusions. But to most eyes, it looked like Ortiz's main problem was a large yellow streak which was beginning to grow down his back.
In fact Ortiz was only brought back to the UFC after an exasperated UFC management created an "Interim Light Heavyweight" Title, in essence stripping Tito of his belt. This led to the fight with new Interim Light Heavyweight Champion Randy Couture at UFC 44: Undisputed in September 2003. Tito's ring rust showed, and Couture won the fight by unanimous decision.
The next step was obvious; Ortiz accepted a match with Liddell. The result was their highly anticipated bout at UFC 47 on April 2nd, 2004 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
For most of the first round, each fighter was sizing up the other; but then Liddell downed Ortiz with a hard punch combo. He appeared ready to finish off Tito, but Ortiz was saved by the bell.
Shortly after the start of the second, Liddell drove Ortiz into the cage and landed a flurry of ferocious punches to the face, knocking him out in 38 seconds.
Since that time, the tension between the two fighters has remained. In any case, forgiveness has not come from either side. A rematch seems likely at some point in the future.
Predictions? Both men are now at the top of their game, and one suspects that this time it won't be so easy for the 'Iceman'. But something in my gut tells me Liddell will win a rematch. Let's just hope Tito's a bit more willing this time around.
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