Chuck Liddell to battle Tito Ortiz in mixed martial arts blockbuster
By Neil Davidson
December 30, 2006
LAS VEGAS (CP) -
The fighters don't like each other and neither do their fans, but the bad blood between mixed martial art stars Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz is once again making for great business for the UFC.
Liddell, 37, is the reigning light-heavyweight champion - "the biggest superstar in this sport worldwide," according to UFC president Dana White. The Iceman is a no-nonsense fighter who makes a healthy living hurting people.
Ortiz, 31, is a former champion at 205 pounds, a brash self-promoter. The Huntington Beach Bad Boy is loud, lovable - to some - and always controversial.
The combination of the two is golden at the box office.
"This is the biggest fight to date," White said when asked to place the bout in the MMA scheme of things.
Both fighters tipped the scales at 205 pounds Friday in a well-attended public weigh-in at the MGM Grand Garden Arena that switched from sedate to raucous when the main event participants were announced.
Ortiz fans chanted "Tito" to drown out Liddell when he was being interviewed on stage. Liddell fans responded by chanting "Tito sucks."
The live gate at the MGM Grand is expected to exceed C$5 million, and White has said he hopes to attract an MMA-record 1.2 million pay-per-view sales, which at $39.9 a shot translates into additional revenue of some $48 million.
There's even talk of the pay per view hitting 1.5 million buys. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, only four bouts - all Mike Tyson fights - have ever exceeded that number.
Liddell and Ortiz, who doubtless will take home a small slice of that pay per view fortune, will make more Saturday night than any previous MMA fighters, says White, while declining to detail the numbers.
The fight works because the combatants offer different personalities, styles and fans. The fighters also have history, with Liddell brutally knocking Ortiz out in the second round in an April 2004 bout.
With his shaved mohawk, tattooed skull and piercing stare, Liddell (19-3) is the total package for casting agents looking for crazed bikers, psycho truckers, thug tattoo artists or prison gang leaders (he has actually played the last two roles on screen).
And the six-foot-two Liddell delivers on that menace when he steps in the ring.
"I have one-punch power with both hands and both feet," the Iceman says matter-of-fact.
When not putting people to sleep for money, Liddell is substantially more relaxed. The Iceman doesn't give much away to strangers, but say the right thing and he'll crack a wry smile.
What you see is what you get.
Liddell still lives in San Luis Obispo, an unassuming town of 43,000 halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco where he can just be Chuck rather than the Iceman.
Ortiz, 31, is a totally different story. His life is an open book and he is always ready to read from it.
His new love, porn princess Jenna Jameson? The sex is awesome and so is the relationship. The wife from whom he is separated? Things are good and she still helps with his clothing line.
Ask and Tito will tell.
In the ring, the six-foot-two Ortiz (15-4) is deceptively strong. His forte is driving opponents onto their back, their heads scrunched against the fence. Then he goes to work, carving them open with elbows and busting them up with his fists.
"There's nobody in this business that stops people like Tito Ortiz does once he gets them down on the ground," White said.
In the ring, Ortiz is fuelled by emotion. Liddell is, well, the Iceman.
When Ortiz awaits the opening bell in the Octagon, chances are he will run around it or bounce up and down like a rubber ball. Liddell just stands and waits.
"Once I step into the ring, it's not emotional," Liddell explains. "I don't let that get into it. I'm out there trying to calculate and trying to set a guy up and knock him out."
The backstory between the two fighters depends on who you talk to.
Ortiz says Liddell was a friend and training partner who betrayed him by reneging on a promise not to meet in the ring unless the money was so good they had to.
"He's shown his true colours and I'll never trust him every again," Ortiz says bitterly.
Liddell says Ortiz simply made that up as an excuse because he feared fighting him.
White says the two fighters offer a different kind of appeal, with Liddell winning fans for his power and warrior mentality.
"He'd fight Tito tonight for free, in his backyard with 10 people there, because he likes to fight," White explained. "Not only that, he likes to finish people, he likes to knock them out. If you're a real fight fan, that's what you love. That's why people love Chuck Liddell."
Ortiz's personality appeals for other reasons, according to White.
"Tito has this aura about him. When he walks into a room, people say, 'There's Tito Ortiz.' Tito just has this thing about him. Not to mention that he is one of the toughest fighters in the world."
Ask Ortiz about Liddell's charisma and the vitriol rolls.
"Chuck has charisma? No. With all the millions Chuck has made, maybe he can buy some. He doesn't have charisma if his life depended on it."
Even their fans don't mix.
"No doubt about it," said White.
"Tito hates Chuck and Chuck hates Tito. Chuck fans hate Tito fans and Tito fans hate Chuck fans."
White knows both fighters inside out, having managed them at the same time in an earlier life. He says Liddell is still the same man. But Ortiz has changed completely, maturing in the process after what White calls it the "cling-on phase."
"When things start to get big, you get all these scumbags that come out of the woodwork, attach themselves to a guy and start getting his ear, telling him, 'I can get you movie deals, I can get you this, I can get you that.'
"And then, when a guy loses, they scatter like roaches when the lights come on, and the guy's sitting there by himself - one loss and everybody's gone. Tito had to go through that stuff."
"Same guy. Chuck has not changed one bit. He's made a lot of money and he's still surrounded by the same exact people, never got caught up in all the hype and bull that he's going to a big movie star. He loves to fight, he knows he's a fighter."
The key questions about this fight are:
- is either fighter injured going in?
-can Ortiz survive Liddell's power to establish his own game plan
Both insist they are at 100 per cent, but mixed martial arts training is rigourous and things happen. With so much at stake and so much money on the line, fighters also often go into the ring less than fully healthy. Ortiz, for example, reckons he was 60 per cent because of knee and back problems when he beat Forrest Griffin this year.
At a training session earlier this month attended by one reporter, Liddell got up with a grimace after a clinch in the cage in which he went down with his sparring partner on top of him. He continued the workout and then lifted weights and did sit-ups. His trainer took the liberty of subsequently calling the UFC representative escorting the reporter to assure him the Iceman had emerged from the session in tip-top shape.
For his part, Ortiz swears he is healthy for the first time in years.
As for Ortiz taking Liddell down, the Huntington Beach Bad Boy knows there may be pain before gain, but Ortiz says he is ready for the Liddell onslaught,
"I know there's going to be times I'm going to get hit, there's time I'm going to have to survive," Ortiz conceded. "I've only been stopped once and that was by Liddell. Training's been awesome. I'm mentally and physically ready for this fight."
Ortiz, however, says he will not make the mistake of fighting Liddell at his own game, trading punches.
"If I chase Liddell down, I make mistakes and he finishes the fight," he said.
Instead, he will stick to his game plan of looking for the opening to take Liddell to his world - on the ground. That means patience and defence, looking to take the fight into the later rounds where Liddell rarely ventures.
Liddell, whose takedown defence is arguably the best in the UFC, says the outcome will be the same whatever the round.
"I'm planning on knocking him out," he said. "I don't know if it's going to take one, two, three, four, five rounds but I will knock him out before that final bell."
The bookies agree. The sports book at MGM had Liddell at minus-230, meaning a bettor would have to wager $230 to win an extra $100. Ortiz was the underdog at plus-190, meaning a $100 wager on Ortiz would earn $190 profit.
Still, Liddell concedes this fight will be more of a challenge.
"I think it's got to be a tougher fight than last time. He's going to come after me with something. We'll see what he came up with."
Ortiz promises Liddell won't enjoy the show.
"I'm going to teach him to respect me. I'm going to show everybody that Chuck Liddell is human."