Q&A with MMA pioneer Chuck Liddell (cont.)
SI.com: Let's talk about your own leisure time. Now that you don't have to train for fights and make weight, what will you allow yourself to do that you never could before?
Liddell: Well, I never let myself go snowboarding while I was an active fighter. And I've done it a couple of times recently and had fun. But not too much will change. I'm still going to be working out, training with guys who are fighting. And it looks like I'm going to be busy with the new job as well.
SI.com: Speaking of things outside the sport: Which was more fun, Entourage or Dancing with the Stars?
Liddell: Those were very different experiences. Entourage was just fun; I had a good time. Dancing with the Stars was hard work. It was interesting and fun, too, but it was hard work. And it was kind of frustrating for me. I'm used to telling my body to do something and it does it, but everything was just a little bit different in dancing. It was humbling.
SI.com: So you sacrificed a little dignity in order to get the UFC some great exposure.
Liddell: Yeah, and all that exposure was with a demographic we're not usually seen by. It was pretty much the opposite of our usual demographic. And it was good for those people to see a fighter in a different light, not as a Neanderthal beating people up.
SI.com: OK, I've always wanted to know this, and couldn't find the answer on Wikipedia or from any other unimpeachable source. So I'll just ask: Where did the nickname "The Iceman" come from?
Liddell: John Hackelman gave that name to me a long time ago. I was, like, the 16th fight on a card, and John came looking for me around the 10th fight so he could wrap my hands. He found me sleeping in a corner of the locker room. He couldn't believe I was that relaxed before a fight. And after that he called me "The Iceman."
SI.com: It makes sense that you'd be relaxed, being from San Luis Obispo. Are you aware that your California hometown was named the happiest city in America?
Liddell: This is the first I'm hearing that. But yeah, it's a nice town to live in.
SI.com: In addition to yourself, among the prominent people who've called San Luis Obispo home are actor Zac Efron, Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter and the writer Jack Kerouac. Which of those people do you most relate to?
Liddell: [Laughs] I know who they all are, but that's as far as it goes. I'm a fighter.
SI.com: What made you a fighter?
Liddell: It's just something I was always good at. I remember saying to a friend when I was in high school, "The thing I'm really good at, I can't make money doing." I was talking about street fighting. Who would have guessed I would end up making a living as a fighter for so many years?
SI.com: What made you good at fighting?
Liddell: I like the competition of fighting, and always have. When I started in MMA, you needed wrestling, in order to defend takedowns, you needed striking, and you needed ground work, jiu-jitsu. Those are the three elements you had to learn. And back then the top guys were good at one and were learning the other two. But when I came in I was good at two elements -- I was a good wrestler and a good striker -- so I just had to learn some jiu-jitsu. I had that advantage.
Even the fact that I was willing to learn put me at an advantage. Randy Couture was the same way -- when he came in, he wanted to get better at everything. But there were a lot of guys back then -- and even still -- who wanted to prove that their style of fighting was superior. They didn't want to learn anyone else's stuff; they just wanted to win with their stuff.
SI.com: What do you remember from May 15, 1998, in Mobile, Alabama -- UFC 17, your mixed martial arts debut?
Liddell: I actually had fought once before that, an open-handed fight on a small local card. I ended up kicking the guy in the head and knocking him out.
SI.com: Oh, OK. But your first official fight under MMA rules was at UFC 17 vs. Noe Hernandez. What do you remember?
Liddell: Other than the weigh-ins? [Laughs] Those were the days before the sport came of age. When it was time for me to weigh in, they pointed me to where I was supposed to stand and I said, "On that scale?" They weighed us in on a bathroom scale, not one of the balanced ones we use now. I'd been saying to myself, "I've made it to the big time. This is going to be great." And then this -- I had to laugh. My opponent weighed in two pounds over, and I thought, "Why doesn't he just lean backwards?"
What I remember from the fight was that the one thing I knew about the guy was that he had a big overhand right. He'd knocked out a couple of guys quickly with it. So I told myself, "Watch out for that big right." Then the fight began and the first punch I got hit with was that overhand right.
SI.com: But you survived it, won a unanimous decision, and went on to win 11 of your next 12 before losing to Randy Couture in your first title fight. But two years later you fought Randy again and knocked him out to become light heavyweight champ. Was that the biggest win of your career?
Liddell: It's hard to pick one, but that fight with Randy probably was it. It was right after we coached on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, and it was the biggest pay-per-view the UFC had up to that point, by a lot. And I finally won the title I'd been after for so long, and did it by avenging a loss. And I did it the way I like to: I knocked him out.
SI.com: You and Randy are forever connected because of the great trilogy of fights you had. But you're also inevitably linked to another fighter, a guy you beat twice and was scheduled to fight again, even though you had nothing left to prove against him. You know who I'm talking about.
SI.com: I can hear the dislike in your voice, and I haven't even mentioned the man's name. You know, I bet you can't listen to the Latin jazz of Tito Puente simply because of his first name. I bet you can't watch the Boston Red Sox play because their manager is nicknamed "Tito."
SI.com: Let's move on from He Who Must Not Be Named and go to another irritating topic. You won 21 and lost 8. Which loss still gnaws at you?
Liddell: No one more than the other ones. I'd like to have all of my losses back. But it's too late for that.
SI.com: As you move forward, are there any unresolved feelings about fights that didn't happen? Are there any guys you didn't get in the cage with who you wish you had?
Liddell: I don't think so. I got to fight all of the guys in my weight class, other than the newer guys.
SI.com: Let me pose the question a different way. If you could magically wake up tomorrow at any fighting weight, from 145 pounds to 265, and in the prime of your career, what guy would you most love the challenge of fighting?
Liddell: There are a lot of really tough guys out there. Whatever weight I was at, I would want to fight the guy who had the title.
SI.com: It's all about the belt.
Liddell: It's all about the competition.
SI.com: But none of those fights are going to happen, of course. The fighting career is over. You've made it clear that it's hard for you to move on. But are there things you're not going to miss about fighting and training for fights?
Liddell: Not really. I enjoyed everything I did. I'll miss it all.
Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to SI.com's MMA mailbag, click on the e-mail tab above.
Phillips: Cox, La Russa, and Torre added to Hall of Fame class
SI Now Live Monday December 9, 2013