Chuck Liddell, the man who made MMA cool, now wears a suit to work
This article appears in the July 4, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here.
The Iceman cometh. Relentlessly so. Way back in, say, 2005, the UFC was creeping into the mainstream, and its figurehead came adorned with a Mohawk. Chuck (the Iceman) Liddell fought the way he did everything else: aggressively and without much nuance. A light heavyweight, Liddell (21–8) won mostly by throwing haymakers—his 13 wins by knockout remain a UFC record—and refusing to tap out. And his toughness was leavened by a measured, likable disposition. He was a college graduate (an accounting major, no less!) capable of kicking serious ass in an unapologetically brutal sport.
When Liddell’s reflexes and speed ultimately slowed a bit, his full-bore style betrayed him. After losing five of his last six fights, he retired in 2010. But he hasn’t gone far. He holds a vague executive position, VP of Business Development, with the UFC, a parting gift for the vital role he played in the outfit’s growth. He trains fighters. When Jon Jones needed a fill-in foe for an April bout, Liddell's name even surfaced. Now 46, he spoke with SI this spring, shortly before heading to Buenos Aires to shoot a season of The Ultimate Fighter, a reality-TV series that might as well have been named in his honor. — Jon Wertheim
If you’re having a hard time hearing me, it’s because I just got back from Coachella. I was there all weekend, so my voice is gone, yelling for three days. And, yeah, I was at the house with Johnny Manziel.
The UFC takes cares of me. I’m working for them, but I live in Calabasas [Calif.], working on some movie roles and having a good time. Yeah, life’s pretty great.
Conor McGregor has a big mouth. But I do love the way he fights. I like Glover Teixeira; he’s a former training partner. And I love—aw, I can’t think of his name now. . . .
Totally different challenges, but being a dad and fighting both wear you out. I’ve got two sets of kids [with two women]: a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old; and a four-year-old and a two-year-old. Two sets is hard—two different tracks. You try to be there for both sets, but it gets complex, keeping everything organized. It keeps life interesting, though.
The UFC—and MMA in general—have come a long way from where I started. And that’s great. I mean, we were begging states to let us fight. We were begging for the media to take it seriously. Now that same newspaper we were begging for coverage is calling me just to ask where I’m going for vacation. But here’s the thing: We had a great time. Growing the sport was fun.
It’s a great sport; people just needed to see it. The Ultimate Fighter—that was like the Trojan horse. People saw that and figured out what fighting was all about.
There were no women fighting when I started. But they have great technique. I think that as the sport grows, they’ll get better and better.
Oh, I’m still a huge fan of fights. I love watching fights, still get excited every time I go. I still love everything about fighting—training, preparing. . . . I even like cutting weight. It was never work. Yeah, it’s hard to walk away.
People ask how often I use my accounting degree. Well, not much at all. I used to do the books when I had my own gym in San Luis Obispo [Calif.], but I don’t have that anymore. Taxes and expenses—I have an accountant for all that. It’s easier that way.
I’m walking around at 230 pounds now. That was my walk-around weight when I was fighting. I’m staying in shape, for sure.
The Mohawk? Yeah, I still got it. Hard to give up. My wife likes it, so it’s not going anyway.
The best advice I ever got as a fighter is the same advice I like to give: Make sure you’re in shape for a fight. The worst thing is losing because you got tired, because you didn’t work hard enough in training. Ugh, that’s the worst.
I guess I consider myself retired, but I still like to get in there with guys who are training, go at it a bit. It’s fun to stay competitive that way.
If I was coming back to fight, I’d fight f------ anybody.