Bad Blood: Ortiz Seeks Revenge Against Liddell
By Frank Curreri
A few months ago, after watching Chuck Liddell annihilate his sixth straight opponent, someone asked Randy Couture to name a fighter with the skills necessary to halt Liddell’s dominance.
Couture could have said Vanderlei Silva, or pointed to Quentin Jackson. Instead, without hesitation, the retired and highly respected UFC Hall of Famer gave a surprising answer: Tito Ortiz.
Ortiz? The same guy whose oversized head served as a punching bag for Liddell when they fought two years ago? The same guy who famously tried to avoid fighting Liddell, saying he didn’t want to jeopardize their close friendship – a tight bond that Liddell says never existed? The same guy whom Liddell used to school in training sessions, whom Liddell claims harbors a deep-seated fear of him?
Yep, that Ortiz, the one who is scheduled to scrap with Liddell again on Dec. 30 in Las Vegas. Only Ortiz now acts like his uninspired performance on April 2004 was the work of an imposter. He vows to soon unleash the true Tito, the brute known for slamming opponents and ferociously pounding them with elbows, and reclaim his UFC light heavyweight title.
“I really think not much is going to be different, besides at the end of the fight when my hand is raised,” said Ortiz, who hails from Huntington Beach, Calif. “I just got to take the fight to him, just look for takedowns, of course, look for him striking when it comes about, just mix it up and make it exciting. I just got to press Liddell’s heart. He’s really had a lot of quick fights and I got to press his cardio and see if he can handle the pace I put on him.”
Liddell, showing his typical laid-back demeanor, almost seems to yawn at talk of an invigorated Ortiz. The mohawked star doesn’t question Ortiz’ physical tools, but said Ortiz’ wounded psyche will again spell his downfall in their sequel.
“The biggest thing he has a problem with me is fear,” Liddell said. “He’s afraid of me and he’s afraid of me hurting him. If he overcame that, if someone is able to talk him out of being afraid of me, maybe it’ll be a good fight.”
In their first outing, Ortiz never came close to securing a takedown and looked uncomfortable trying to exchange blows with Liddell, a former national kickboxing champion. Asked whether self-doubt undermined him against Liddell, Ortiz said, “You know, mentally, physically, emotionally—I wasn’t stable. I wasn’t ready to go in there and fight. I got pressed into a corner that I didn’t want to do. Now it’s something I want to do.
“I’m afraid of no man at 205 pounds. He bleeds the same as I do, and he loses the same as I do, and wins the same as I do.”
Indeed, Liddell and Ortiz boast similar records. Liddell has racked up 19 wins versus 3 losses, with key wins over Couture (twice), Ortiz, Jeremy Horn, Alistair Overeeem and Jeff Monson. Ortiz sports a 16 and 4 mark, including victories over Vanderlei Silva, Yuki Kondo, Forest Griffin and Evan Tanner.
Though casinos have listed Liddell as a nearly 2 to 1 favorite for the rematch with Ortiz, and though their first fight was remarkably one-sided, the bout could potentially draw more fans than any UFC event in history. Tickets to the mega-fight went on sale Friday; in less than one day, roughly 8,000 tickets had been sold, according to UFC vice president Craig Borsari.
“When are you going to knockout Tito again is probably the most common question I get,” said Liddell, who will be 37 come December but has showed no signs of slowing down. “He’s probably the guy I need the least amount of motivation for. He’s the easiest guy to get ready for because I want to go out there and shut him up again.”
Though Ortiz has mellowed in recent years, the frosty-haired superstar has never been shy about rubbing victory in his opponents’ faces. Ortiz’ impromptu ring celebrations have included unforgettable gestures such as flipping the bird to Ken Shamrock and also pretending to dig a grave for Shamrock after beating him into retirement. Most notoriously, Ortiz showed incredible versatility while flipping Shamrock the bird in one moment – and then, 20 seconds later, shaking and raising Shamrock’s hand in a classy show of respect to his rival.
It is that same kind of raw vitriol, this time between Liddell and Ortiz, that makes their rematch so appealing.
“I think it may be a little stronger than a dislike," Ortiz said while describing his feelings toward Liddell. "It’s just one of those things where we’re complete acquaintances now. It’s a story where two best friends that used to be really good friends – they no longer like each other and they’re going to step in the ring and fight.”
Liddell, meanwhile, is approaching the Dec. 30 with the same strategy that has led him to stardom: Stand and Slug.
"To produce a different outcome, he's got to take me down," said Liddell, who owns the best takedown defense in his sport. "I mean, he can't stand with me. I mean, his stand-up has gotten better and he's got some decent striking, but as long as he stands on his feet with me he's waiting to get knocked out."