While we all settle in with the new generation of UFC stars, I can’t help but to think about how successful some of my favorite fighters would be if they fought in their prime today. More specifically, how good would Chuck Liddell be in today’s UFC if he was a 30-year-old? These types of hypotheticals and what-ifs are what fuel debates for most major sports. Would Babe Ruth be able to hit off of Clayton Kershaw, and who would win the most MVP awards if Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant entered the league at the same time?

Generally, there aren’t any right answers, just a lot of banter going back and forth without any concrete evidence (and how could there be?) on how a particular athlete would do if they had access to a working time machine.

Liddell’s decline began with a glancing punch from Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in 2007. At that point, Liddell was already 37 years old. When “The Iceman” lost to Rashad Evans, he was 38, and finally, he ended he career with another knockout loss to Rich Franklin in 2010 at the age of 40. Liddell made what I consider to be a last-ditch effort to prove he could adapt to the changing environment of the UFC in that last fight. He looked great when he got Franklin in the clinch and even took him to the ground. Liddell wasn’t relying on his overhand right, but rather tried to incorporate a well-rounded attack. Of course, that all came crashing down pretty quickly when Franklin landed the knockout blow.

One can’t figure out when the prime of an athlete is based solely on age, but a good range of those “prime years” in MMA would be between the ages of 28 and 33. That’s not a scientific answer based upon research, but really just an observation based on all my years of watching fights. Before the age of 28, many fighters are still trying to find themselves, and by 33, we’ve usually seen the best we are going to see from them. Of course, there are always exceptions, and I’m sure we can all think of some examples of where those prime years are completely different for a particular fighter.

Although I was and will always continue to be a huge fan of Liddell, I just can’t see how he would be successful in 2012, even if he was in his prime. The fighters in the Octagon today are more technically advanced than they were when Liddell owned the Octagon. More often than not, Liddell would circle around with his opponent until his patience paid off and he was able to counter their move. His hand speed and power earned him 13 knockouts and 21 wins in his professional career.

Early in his career, Liddell displayed his expert kickboxing skills (he holds a professional kickboxing record of 20-2), but looked like he completely abandoned the craft as the years went on. For fans that tuned into Liddell’s career after 2006, they missed out on somebody who used to mix up kicks and punches quite well. Liddell was always good at defending the takedown. His sprawl in reaction to a takedown attempt will always be one of my lasting images of him, in addition to his powerful overhand right.

The eventual reason for Liddell’s retirement was the failure of his chin. He was never the same after the loss to Rampage, and the knockouts became more and more devastating to watch. I can still hear the crack of Evans’ fist on Liddell’s chin from 2008.

I’ve heard from other Liddell fans that they think he’d be able to win the belt if he were fighting in his prime today. I can’t see it. I just can’t see how Liddell would overcome the length and skill of Jon Jones and beat him. Perhaps I’m not giving Liddell enough credit. Perhaps I’m trying too hard not to be bias toward my favorite fighter of all time. But I just don’t see how he’d be successful if his prime years were now, not then.

It’s not about pointing out what Liddell wasn’t good at, but more of a testament to how the sport of MMA has evolved over the last decade. It’s hard to be successful by just being a good striker or a good wrestler. Now, you have to be a true mixed martial artist.

Then again, perhaps we do have a feel for how Liddell would do against today’s competition. Glover Teixeira is 33 years old and is also coached by John Hackleman. He has a better ground game than Liddell had, but he also relies heavily upon powerful punches. There are glimpses of a similar style there, but Teixeira is still a fighter of this era, not Liddell’s.

I’m just happy Liddell fought during the years that he did.

Photo: Chuck Liddell (Sherdog)

About The Author

Joe Chacon
Staff Writer

Joe Chacon is a Southern California writer that has also spent time as a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, as well as a Staff Writer for Operation Sports. Joe has a passion for the sport of MMA, as well as most other sports.

  • jim ludwig

    Hi: Nice article, and I generally agree with you, but I will point out one thing you may have overlooked in your hypothetical reflections: if Chuck somehow were fighting today, wouldn’t he be a different fighter, potentially a better one, than the one we knew?

    That is, if you try to cut-and-paste a fighter from an earlier era to a later one, you can readily see, as you did, how he might fall short, given the evolution of the sport. But at the same time you could imagine how the fantasy Chuck might have been a more broadly skilled fighter IF he had the luxury of coming of age in the later era.