Over 7 years removed from his last appearance in the Octagon, Chuck Liddell remains one of the most recognizable faces in MMA today — so much so that the recent rumors pertaining to his possible return have rapidly snowballed into one of the most popular and speculated over stories of the year.
The 47-year-old former light heavyweight champion has already found himself in the crosshairs of former foe Vitor Belfort and Bellator trash-talking champion Chael Sonnen (the latter despite Bellator President Scott Coker stating that Liddell would have to undergo “a battery of tests” before the promotion would even consider signing him), only further fueling the Internet chatter that he might just have that look in his eyes once again.
For his part, “The Iceman” has largely downplayed the rumors with a lot of ifs and buts, while at the same time admitting that his desire to step back in the cage never left him and likely never will. In the meantime, however, Liddell has continued to stay busy as one of the featured players on the second season of MVP: Most Valuable Partner on Verizon’s go90 streaming platform. A Shark Tank-style series that pits upstart entrepreneurs against a panel of titans from the all over the sports world (including but not limited to: Rob Gronkowski, Andre Ward, and P.K Subban) with the hopes of securing an endorsement deal, MVP will showcase the business savvy side of Liddell that helped make him the face of the UFC during the sport’s explosion in the late aughts.
While doing the media rounds to promote MVP‘s 18-episode second season run, Liddell sat down with us for a lengthy interview to discuss everything from his aspirations for the show, to the chances of a potential comeback, to the ever-shaping landscape of the UFC promotional machine, and even shared some classic stories from the glory and gory days of the sport.
Chuck Liddell: I wanted to show another side of me, that I’m a businessman too. I saw some videos of what they had done [in the first season] and it seemed like a great idea to get a chance and meet the guys behind the actual pitches. A couple of the people we met with actually had pretty great pitches, and it was a nice get out there, get lucky, and hook up with a couple great brands.
Were there any pitches that just left you scratching your head, or ones that were too crazy to air?
They were all pretty great pitches, but the funniest one for me was one where they made a pillow with my face on it, and I looked like Mugatu from [Zoolander]. I felt like “Kill the evil Prime Minister!” It was mainly just a lot of that; pillows and shirts that you can put your face on or whatever, but the demonstration pieces were pretty funny.
Would you say that you’re more a Cuban, a Herjavec, or a Corcoran in the investor’s (or in this case, endorser’s) chair?
I don’t that I have a certain style. I’m just straightforward and not great and not saying things, you know? I was in a meeting at Universal [Studios] recently and I was looking at the movie posters on the walls like “That’s a good movie, that’s a good movie, that movie sucked.” After we got out of the meeting, and one of the guys I was with as like, “You know you told the guy that produced that movie that the movie sucked, right?” I guess I just shoot from the hip.
Save the obvious exception of Andre Ward, which of your fellow endorser’s would you say stands the best chance of competing in the Octagon?
That’s a hard thing to tell people. I mean, we’re talking about good athletes; they’re all good athletes. Could they get there someday, if we trained the right way? Maybe. Some guys are afraid to get hit, some guys aren’t. Some guys can punch, some guys can’t. I’ve worked with a lot of athletes during their offseasons and you get some of these big guys who hit the mitts and don’t make any impact. Then you get other guys, like Kyle Long, who’s got some real crack on his punches. It’s just so hard to tell, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Gronk try it out. He seems kinda crazy and like he’d be fun to watch.
Speaking of the Octagon, there’s been a lot of rumors surrounding your possible return to MMA this year. Is this something you’re getting tired of discussing, or is the notion that you’re still such a popular figure in the sport make a comeback feel all the more necessary?
You know, it’s one of those things … I hear that Chael is running his mouth, Tito ran his mouth, and I said, “You know what, fine, let’s fight!” But he won’t fight me. Now he’s saying he’s retired, he said he can beat me, he can’t fight any more … the same old tired thing. Well then the next thing I see is that he’s talking about fighting Chael [again]. So he’s saying he can still fight, but he can’t fight me anymore.
It’s stupid, and it’s the same thing with Chael. I’m not that interested in fighting Chael, but if he gets the money up, I’ll go ahead and slap him around.
So is there any truth to Sonnen’s claims that you’ve turned down a fight with him on two occasions?
I’ve never been offered a fight with Sonnen. He’s lying through his teeth. Hearing from him is the first time I’ve ever heard from anybody about fighting Chael Sonnen. He’s one of those guys who will say anything to start some sh*t and get some attention, because he’s not a very exciting fighter. He’s made himself relevant by running his mouth a lot, and it just gets a little ridiculous. I’ve said it before too, he gets a little WWE-ish, a little over the top, and if that brings in the casual fans, great.
And I’d imagine that seeing guys like Chael, Wanderlei Silva, and Tito still competing in Bellator only adds fuel to the fire.
Well I mean, I love fighting. It’s a great job and I love every minute of it, the lead-up to fights and the fights themselves, and it all comes down to one of those “we’ll see” situations. We’ll see what happens.
It seems that even nowadays, fighters like you who were the faces of the sport during its explosion still remain more popular than fighters that have come along since. Why do you think that is, and have you noticed anything change about the UFC promotional machine that could be responsible for it?
I think that a lot of the up and comers are getting lost in the shuffle. There’s a lot of fights now, a lot of events, a lot of competition for time. Some of these guys are also fighting a bit too safe, you know, they’re winning fights but they’re not very exciting. I always believe that the best fighters should be the champ, whether they’re boring or not, but you gotta get out there and sell a fight. With the casual fanbase, it’s more about being a personality. You gotta woo them with something spectacular.
It doesn’t help that the importance of title fights seem to be falling by the wayside in favor of “money fights” lately.
Yeah, I think it should sway a little more toward the guy holding the title being the best guy in the division. As fans, that’s the guy that you should want to see fight. But the thing is, what a guy like Conor McGregor does well, and I love to see him fight, he runs his mouth to get the fight sold, but he shows up and fights like he said he was gonna fight. The real fans will always be interested in the best fighters. They’re gonna love you, but I just want to see the best guys fighting the best guys.
If I could fanboy out for a moment, there’s an infamous story from Matt Hughes’ biography about an alleyway brawl that involved you, him, Tito Ortiz, and UFC fighter-turned legendary bank robber Lee Murray, which allegedly ended with Murray brutally KOing Ortiz. While Ortiz has rebuked the claims in the time since, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard your perspective on it. Mind indulging me in what you remember from that night?
So here’s the thing: I can only tell you what I understood of what the story was and what started it, but I didn’t see that. I came out of the White Dragon, or whatever club it was — that was back in the old days, where we’re all at the same afterparty — Tito and me were on the right, and to the left, these 145-pounders that I knew had a guy up against a car and three of them were hitting him in the back of the head. So, I went that way and started pulling the guys off him. Then, one of them made the mistake of hitting me in the back of the head, so I turned around.
It was funny, I had just gotten my first nice watch, an Omega. So I turn around and start walking toward the guy that punched me, and I took the time to take my watch off as I’m walking towards him and put it in my pocket before I started hitting him. And then I just started swinging. I’ve been in a lot of big brawls when I was younger; I was kind of a ruffian when I was a kid. And let’s just say I did pretty good.
Another funny thing is that I was doing an interview when Glover [Teixeira] was fighting Jon Jones, and this guy asked me, “I’ve been waiting ten years to ask you this question. I was there that night, I saw you dropping all those people, but I have to know, did you know that girl you walked off with at the end?” The thing is, I’ve been in a lot of street fights as a kid, and when the cop shows, you check to make sure everyone’s okay on your side, and then you get out of there. So that night, I just put my arm around the first girl that I saw and started walking. I walked right past the cops and was the only guy in that brawl that didn’t get detained.
So … did you know her?[Chuckles] No.
Let’s say everything falls into place and you find yourself standing across the Bellator cage from Chael Sonnen. How does that fight play out?
It would be a long night for Chael. I’m a bad matchup for him. He can say whatever he wants, but he likes to ground a guy, and he’s gonna have a real hard time taking me down. He’s one of those guys who doesn’t like to get hit — which, no one likes to get hit, but what I mean is that some fighters have too much of a dislike to the point that they get gun shy.
So he’s gonna have a real hard time taking me down and he’s gonna have to keep walking through my punches to try and take me down. It just wouldn’t be a good night for him.
Season two of ‘Most Valuable Partner’ premiered on October 9th on go90. Fans can watch two new episodes each week – Mondays and Wednesdays – for free only on go90.com or the go90 app, available for iOS and Android.