Now that we’re a few weeks removed from Chuck Liddell’s stunning loss to Rashad Evans, I’d like to take this opportunity to be a voice of reason. Anyone suggesting Liddell should retire is simply an amateur who lacks the ability to come up with a feasible solution to his situation and asks the first question on their mind instead of the right question. They’re shallow. They fail to realize that every athlete goes through peaks and valleys and the truly great ones come out of it with their legacy intact. Liddell is a great athlete and retirement should be the furthest thing from his mind right now, especially with the longevity of professional athletes pushing boundaries every year. However, Liddell’s future is certainly at a crossroads and whichever path he chooses will determine whether he goes out a legend like Randy Couture or a man way past his prime like Ken Shamrock. As a guy who was attracted to MMA based on The Iceman’s stunning KO of Kevin Randleman at UFC 31, I want to see him get back on the winning track. But there’s only one thing that can make that happen-Chuck must change training camps.
John Hackelman is Liddell’s friend and Santa Barbara is his home. I get that and I know how vital loyalty is to men in our professions (I am an active Army Officer). But no matter how difficult change is, losing is even more difficult, especially when you’re the poster boy of the UFC and someone whom thousands of fighters measure themselves against. But fighters take road trips outside their comfort zone to improve their skills frequently, yet Liddell never has and the result is three losses out of the last four fights because John Hackelman has reached his limit on developing Liddell as a fighter. Rampage Jackson recognized that Juanito Ibarra wasn’t doing anything to keep him competitive and moved to the Wolfslair. Tyson Griffin left David Terrell for Xtreme Couture. Chris Leben left Team Quest for Hawaii. This list of fighters who have benefited from a change in scenery goes on and on. Yet Liddell stays put.
This sport constantly changes because MMA is so young and has so many brilliant teachers and students within it. It’s probably the most dynamic sport on the planet and those who don’t keep up with that change remain in the ranks of the mediocre, dreaming of a day of greatness that will never come. If you don’t evolve, you will perish and none of us wants to see that happen to the Iceman. After the loss to Rashad Evans, Greg Jackson put the defeat into layman’s terms. “Chuck got predictable,” he said. “We didn’t change our game plan against him from Keith Jardine’s win. We saw that he dropped his left when he threw the right uppercut and took advantage of it again.”
Jackson is arguably the most brilliant mind in this sport, so it probably isn’t surprising when I say the solution to Liddell’s woes are within his gym walls in Albuquerque. It might be hard on Chuck’s pride to train with two guys who defeated him, but with his legion of trainers and fighters and some high-altitude conditioning, Liddell could easily be back in old school Iceman form terrorizing the LHW division and being lionized like a conquering hero by the rest of the MMA world.
You see, Liddell is the torch-bearer for the sport. Without Liddell and his indelible mohawked image, most of the free world wouldn’t be able to spell MMA. He’s the one on the cover of mainstream media outlets, like ESPN the magazine and Men’s Fitness, which no other MMA fighters have achieved. He’s the sport’s rockstar doing cameo appearances in Nickelback videos and Owen Wilson movies because he strikes fear in the hearts of those who know our beloved sport and curiosity into those who don’t. He’s the one driving the Ferrari and living in a mansion while thousands of other fighters still eat tuna fish and sleep on someone’s couch. He’s the Rocky of MMA and the thought of him losing any more fights is gut wrenching, especially when the reason for his downturn is so easily corrected.
Do us all a favor Chuck and change camps. Even if it’s just for one fight, do it to see how Jackson can improve your game. If you don’t like it, go back to Santa Barbara and do what you’ve been doing. Maybe your game will come back. Or maybe it won’t.
I’m just sayin.
Kelly Crigger is a freelance MMA writer and author of the book “Title Shot: Into the Shark Tank of Mixed Martial Arts” which you can purchase by clicking here. Contact him through his website at IntoTheSharkTank.com