Twelve years after his second knockout loss to his bitter rival and fellow UFC Hall of Famer, Tito Ortiz finally removed the Chuck Liddell-sized monkey from his back.
Ortiz (20-12-1) made sure his pre-fight prediction of a first-round knockout would become a reality when he patiently circled before countering Liddell (21-9) with a pair of counter right hands to knock "The Iceman" out cold at The Forum in Inglewood, California.
The ill-advised pay-per-view bout, promoted by boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy MMA, turned out to be more sad and difficult to watch than a fight between two legends with a combined age of 91 even sounds on paper.
It quickly became clear that Liddell, 48, shouldn't have been allowed anywhere near the cage nor licensed to compete eight full years after a trio of violent knockout losses forced him out of the sport. Not only was the punch resistance of the former UFC light heavyweight champion long gone, he had troubles keeping his balance or showing any signs of coordination.
The 43-year-old Ortiz, who fought as recently as 2017 for Bellator MMA, appeared as if he could finish the fight at anytime by taking Liddell down. Instead, he was overly passive while giving Liddell a chance to tire himself out before following through with the finish at 4:24 of the opening round.
"I work to try and pay the bills and I do it to entertain each and everyone of these fans," Ortiz said. "I did it tonight by stopping Chuck Liddell, like I said I would. The whole gameplay was not getting him into a takedown, I wanted to take Chuck Liddell out. You are not coming back after eight years outside the cage to take me out. Hell no."
Despite the years of hatred between them which helped fuel a pair of high-profile bouts more than a decade ago, which played a pivotal role in UFC's growth, the two rivals embraced inside the cage after the fight.
"I have to be respectful," Ortiz said. "Chuck Liddell, thank you for taking this fight dude. You gave me an opportunity to show my skills and start this great thing we are going with Golden Boy MMA. Thank you, you pushed me hard, man. You made me work super, super hard.
"At the end of the day Chuck, I'm respectful man. You gave me a chance to do what I love to do. You're a f---ing true champion, bud."
De La Hoya made both fighters equal partners with himself for the fight, which promised them a larger upside should the PPV do well than they reportedly received in any of their previous fights with UFC. Disclosed purses by the California State Athletic Commission saw Liddell earn $250,000 and Ortiz take home $200,000 in guaranteed pay.
Ortiz, who had his iconic victory dance of shoveling dirt over his opponent's grave interrupted and stopped by California officials, urged other fighters to join Golden Boy MMA during his post-fight interview. Sadly, after teasing that he would change his mind on retiring, he urged Liddell to keep fighting and that he and De La Hoya would promote him.
Liddell, who hasn't recorded a victory since his decision win over Wanderlei Silva in 2007, was noncommittal after the fight regarding his future.
"I came back and got in great shape," Liddell said. "He motivated me. I was ready for this fight and I got caught. I made a mistake and it is what it is. I don't think it was my best showing for sure but I got in shape and was ready for this fight. I've got no excuses. I made a couple of mistakes. I started getting comfortable in here and I got caught.
"We are going to have to sit back and think about [the future]. I don't know, I don't know what I'm going to do. I got out here and got back in shape and got motivated to do it and I hope I motivated a lot of people to do the same. This is how champions do it. You have to fail to succeed."
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