Sunday, June 13, 2010

One legend dies, while another lives on

At UFC 115 in British Columbia, Canada there was a definite mixture of named veterans of the sport along with the next generation of Mixed Martial Arts fighters involved? However, when it was all said and done, it was two living legends of MMA and a potential future legend that stole the show; sadly for one, it was for the wrong reason. Chuck 'The Iceman' Liddell (21-8, 13 KO's), arguably the most recognizable MMA fighter in the world and a UFC Hall of Famer, took it on the chin, literally, again for the 4th time in his last six fights and hopefully the last time ever.

While I had predicted openly before the fight that I thought Rich Franklin (26-5, 14 KO's & 9 subs) would defeat Liddell in a decision, a surprising turn of events occurred in an exciting first round. Liddell, as seems to happen all the time now, got caught coming in by a counter short right that melted the Iceman like The Wicked Witch of the West. Liddell, who UFC President Dana White was trying to get to retire after his last loss 14 months ago, came into this fight energized, focused and easily in the best shape of his long and stellar career. Known to enjoy the nightlife in his past, Liddell showed up ripped with shredded abs, which he's never had before and early in the fight, it looked as though the long layoff would prove good for him.

Stalking his opponent in his patented counter punching style, he was definitely quicker then he's been recently even shooting in on Franklin for an early takedown and combining his punches with devastating leg kicks. How devastating, it was later found out that he broke Rich Franklin's left arm in that first round with a vicious round kick. Franklin however weathered the storm and throughout all that Liddell gave him in that first round, he had moments of his own where he connected with quick jabs and combinations. Then with just about 10 seconds left in the first round, Liddell characteristically came after Franklin with arms wide open after thinking he had him in trouble and got hit with a short counter right that knocked him down. A follow-up left to the head by Franklin with his broken arm and a second right hand to the face forced the ref to stop it as Liddell was clearly out.

So it appears quite clear that Chuck Liddell's storied career as a fighter is finally over, however shed no tears for this warrior. Dana White made it known in the post-fight press conference that he'll always have a home with the UFC in some capacity as he continues to be an ambassador for the sport. As for Franklin, the former middleweight champion (185lbs.), he seemed quite strong at light heavyweight (205lbs.) and with two wins in his last three fights over legends Liddell and Wanderlei Silva, he appears to be on his way to carving out his own legendary Hall of Fame career. When asked at the post-fight press conference if he would go back to 185lbs, he said "I would like to make a run at the 205lbs. Title".

While one legend leaves and another one continues to grow, the third legend in this equation, Mirko 'Cro-Cop' Filipovic, came back with a new found enthusiasm he hasn't shown in a long time, if ever. With only the fourth submission win in his career, Cro-Cop (27-7, 20 KO's) finished a young hungry Pat Barry with a rear naked choke late in the 3rd round of their co-main event bout. Early on it looked as though Barry (5-2, 5 KO's) may have Cro-Cop's number as he twice dropped the Croatian sensation with quick right hands. However, both times he failed to follow-up and capitalize on any damage he may have inflicted on the legendary striker, who Barry had admitted before the fight he idolized. It was quite evident as the fight continued and the momentum swayed, Barry showed way too much respect for his idol and was content just to be in the same cage with him. Next up for Cro-Cop, who knows as his UFC career currently stands at (4-3), however a more relaxed and even joking Filipovic seemed not only amiable towards the fans and his opponent, but his employer as well. Dana White said at the post-fight press conference, "I like the new Cro-Cop".

Amidst this trio of legends, there were a couple of young fighters who looked very impressive in their respective fights, one doing so in defeat. First, Evan Dunham (11-0, 2 KO's & 6 subs) looked really good as he totally dominated a tough Tyson Griffin (14-3, 6 KO's & 3 subs) by smothering him with his slick jiu-jitsu game for a split decision win. How one judge even gave a round to Griffin, let alone the fight, should be investigated. Also, Rory McDonald (10-1, 4 KO's & 6 subs), although he got finished with mere seconds left in the 3rd round of his fight with Carlos Condit, looked extremely impressive in the first two rounds. The youngest fighter currently on the UFC roster, only 20 years old, he looked seasoned well past his age. In the end Condit (25-5, 11 KO's & 13 subs), the former WEC welterweight champion (170lbs.), proved too much for the young stallion. Expect to see big things for both these young stars down the road as their talent just continues to grow with their experience.

So as a new wave of fighters continue to make their way into this generation of MMA, it's only right that we acknowledge the career and achievements of an actual pioneer of this sport. Chuck Liddell, who was headlining UFC 115 last night, made his initial appearance in the octagon twelve years ago in 1998 @ UFC 17. That's over 100 shows ago, counting Ultimate Fight Night cards. That night he won a decision over Noe Hernandez; I know Noe who? It doesn't matter because since then he's fought the who's who of MMA and up until recently, was the best of the best. However, no one is immune to Father Time and when that time comes, as we've seen so many times before, if you hang on too long the legend dies. Thanks for the memories Chuck!

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