There is only one constant in life -- death.
We will all inevitably fall prey to its cold, clammy grasp. Some of us will go quietly, accepting a fate we know we cannot change, and some of us will dance with the devil in the hopes that we can remain just one step ahead.
But we can't.
There are also moments in life that preclude our imminent demise. Whether we choose to acknowledge them or willfully pay them no mind, they will occur.
This can be applied to mixed martial arts (MMA) competition, as well. And I can think of no better example than Chuck Liddell.
They called him "The Iceman." No, not like Richard Kuklinski, though his body count (metaphorically speaking, of course) probably reads the same. He was a relic of yesteryear, a man who looked as though he would be more at home as a caveman, bonking animals and bringing them back to the hut to feed the women and children.
From day one it was clear that fighting was in his DNA. It's all he knew. This was simultaneously the biggest reason for his most stunning successes and the number one factor in his eventual career collapse.
Chuck just didn't know when to quit.
Aging is a slow process but once you cross a certain barrier, it hits you quickly. One minute you're young and on top of the world, the next you're picking gray hairs off your head and wondering where all the time went.
This eventuality is magnified tenfold in sports, none more significantly than MMA. It's a young man's game, one of speed, quick wit, hard work, determination and evolution.
Any weakening of these aspects, even the slightest, is severely detrimental to one's well-being. Sure, the loss of speed can be overcome through evolution in one's game but it's rare to find a man capable of such things. Usually, the beginning of the end comes when these skills start to slip.
Liddell's abilities did just that somewhere around 2007. He was too slow to react to Quinton Jackson and was viciously knocked out for it. He was too nonchalant with Keith Jardine and suffered a split decision loss because of it. These were indicators of what was to come, the warning signs Chuck -- and the rest of us -- largely ignored, especially after his thrilling win over Wanderlei Silva.
However, as stated previously, death is inescapable and the Grim Reaper showed up to claim his bounty in the form of Rashad Evans at UFC 88 on Sept. 6, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia.
The sequence of events that led to this match-up, in hindsight, should have been enough of a precursor to make clear the threat to Liddell's career.
After his victory over Wanderlei Silva, Liddell was booked to square off against Mauricio Rua, who was coming off an unsuccessful Octagon debut against Forrest Griffin. The fight was set for UFC 85 on June 7, 2008. However, a knee injury forced "Shogun" out of the fight. This led to Evans stepping in to take his place, on the same card, before Chuck himself went down with a hamstring injury.
At that point, the UFC had every intention of keeping "Suga" on the card, and set him up in a bout against knockout artist James Irvin. Had this gone through, it is entirely possible that Evans vs. Liddell never happens.
But, fate, if you believe in such a thing, is persistent. Irvin suffered a foot injury leading to Rashad's complete removal from the UFC 85 fight card and setting the stage for the eventual match-up against Chuck at UFC 88.
The fight was interesting, at least on paper, for the fact that it seemed as though the clash of styles greatly favored "The Iceman." Remember, at this point in his career, Evans was still perceived as a bit one-dimensional, a solid but not spectacular grappler with developing hands that had yet to come anywhere near the level of Liddell, who was legendary for his counter-punching and power driven knockouts.
Perhaps there was more to it than that. In fact, there undoubtedly was.
Liddell, at 38, was a full decade older than Evans, 28. And again, he had shown his fading abilities and glaring deficiencies against the proper opponents just two fights previous. Yet, those that knew and those that mattered ignored such things and instead focused on outliers that make no discernible difference in a fight.
Fans, and though they may not admit it now, pundits, wanted Liddell to win.
Chuck was the guy that everyone felt as though they were on a first name basis with. The mean looking guy with the mohawk that just likes to party, have a good time and build the sport that we all know and love. His blood, sweat and tears are one of the biggest reasons the UFC enjoys the success it does today.
Evans, on the other side, represented what fans hate. He had an air of superiority to him, despite the general perception that he had yet to earn such a thing. He danced to the beat of his own drum, sometimes literally, and his seemingly cocky attitude in the cage made it easy to hate his guts.
And did they ever.
During introductions, it became difficult to hear Bruce Buffer call out Rashad Evans' name over the boos echoing throughout the Philips Arena. The reverse applied for Liddell, who received a chorus of cheers.
Here we go.
It becomes clear rather early on that wrestling will play no part in the outcome of this fight. At first glance, Evans' strategy seems odd, downright baffling, even. He's moving around a lot, maybe even showboating a bit, and bouncing out of range as soon as Liddell makes even the slightest movement in his direction.
The crowd boos emphatically, unhappy with the pacing of both men. It's no surprise that shortly after Chuck turns the heat up, pushing forward and getting more and more impatient at the lack of action.
After the first round, that saw maybe 15 total punches, Rashad's corner tells him to continue to frustrate Liddell with his movement. After all, Chuck is the most effective when he lures his opponents into exchanging punches with him, where he can work timing and land the big counter strike to put the lights out.
But Evans, as cerebral as they come, used a growing anger and impatience within Liddell to turn the normally relaxed defender into a head-hunting stalker, pushing forward with near reckless abandon.
This was all strategy on Rashad's part, luring in his prey, and slowly but surely waiting for the right moment to strike.
Finally, with the clock reading 3:12 of round two, Liddell backs Evans into the fence and the Greg Jackson disciple plants his feet for the final exchange.
He throws a pawing jab, intended to do no damage but simply cause a reaction from his foe, which it does. He backs it up with another, which Liddell times and attempts to unleash one of his trademark right hands.
Evans, knowing and expecting this, does the same, unloading a monster right hand of his own that finds its mark faster than Liddell and hits with so much power that Chuck immediately goes limp, crashing to the canvas in one of the most shocking scenes in UFC history.
The arena is quiet, almost too quiet, save for Rashad's wife screaming so loud it was audible through ringside commentators microphones. The audience was shocked at what they had just witnessed, the camera focusing only on Evans, who further cemented himself as the most hated man in America by prancing around the cage and dancing over his kill.
Liddell, meanwhile, still lay prone on the mat, yet to return to the land of the living.
He still hasn't, not competitively, at least. That was the night Liddell's career truly ended, though it would take follow up knockout losses to "Shogun" and Rich Franklin to truly drive the point home. His soul was taken down in Atlanta by a man UFC fans hated, and, to this very day, cannot bring themselves to cheer for.
This is just one of the many reasons why.
As noted previously, Liddell's skills had failed him one too many times. His speed wasn't up to par, his wit betrayed him and his inability to evolve cost him dearly. It cost him everything, actually.
It's never easy to say goodbye and it's always hard to watch them go but here's the fateful moment when Chuck Liddell lost it all at the hands of Rashad Evans in this Legendary Knockout from UFC 88: