Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell’s long-time friend and trainer John Hackleman has always insisted that the choice to retire be left to Liddell and Liddell alone. After suffering his third knockout loss in a row despite looking better than he has in years (and maybe ever), Hackleman still will not tell Liddell to hang up the gloves but he recently told SI.com’s Josh Gross that he really hopes that “The Iceman” will.
“You can’t make someone quit,” Hackleman said. “But definitely when I looked down at him in the cage, my stomach … it just didn’t feel good.”
Liddell himself has made no official announcement as to what his plans are next but UFC President Dana White told media following Liddell’s UFC 115 loss to Rich Franklin that “The Iceman” is definitely done competing. Hackleman, who butted heads with White over the subject of Liddell’s retirement after “The Iceman’s” last knockout loss, told Gross that while he won’t go so far as to make the announcement himself, he would certainly prefer that Liddell retire from MMA.
“I don’t think there’s too much to talk about,” Hackleman said. “I think we both know what he’s going to do. I won’t speak for him like Dana [White] did. I’ll just say I’d rather he not do it anymore.”
Like a true friend and coach though, Hackleman said that he will stay by the California Kempo stylist’s side no matter what he decides.
“If he’s gotta do it I’d rather be there looking after him than someone else,” he said. “I don’t think it will come to that. I think he’s good right now. I think he’s in a good place and obviously wishes he won. But he’s a very successful guy that’s accomplished a lot in and out of the cage, and he doesn’t really need this anymore in any way. I don’t think he has anything to prove.”
Much was made during the lead-up to UFC 115 of Liddell’s renewed motivation and dedication, which was evident in his uncharacteristically chiseled physique, and Liddell proved his supporters right as he was well on his way to claiming the first round by using a varied and technical assault against Franklin (even breaking “Ace’s” left arm in the process) until he was stopped cold by a short right hand that likely would barely have tickled him just few short years ago. A cut and bloodied Liddell went down in a heap as instantly as the right hand touched his chin and that, as Hackleman apparently explained while fighting off tears, is an image that he and a legion of “Iceman” fans would rather not see again.
“Looking down at him cut like that, broke my heart,” Hackleman said.
Finding the words to sum up Liddell’s career (although not officially ended) and his impact on and contribution to the sport of MMA, is difficult at best. He was the face of the UFC as it rapidly self-propelled to the vanguard of the sport and he carried with him a hoard of fans and interested spectators that, together, helped push MMA closer to mainstream acceptance. His performances, in and out of the Octagon, will never be forgotten and he will likely always remain a beloved figure to MMA fans. His guts and go-for-broke style earned him his fans and his championships but it also cost him his durability; Hackleman’s desire for Liddell’s retirement is justified and, although his reputation will not be greatly tarnished by any further losses in the UFC, “The Iceman” need risk no more bodily harm as he has nothing left to prove to anyone.