History in the Making: Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva go to war at UFC 79


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History in the Making will take a look back at the fights that made us cheer, the fights that stood us up on our feet and the fights that captured our imaginations. More succinctly, History in the Making is about the greatest fights of all time.

This was a fight literally years in the making.

Over 11,000 mixed martial arts fans, casino patrons, and celebrities filled up the Mandalay Bay Resort on December 29, 2007 to witness what would be combat sports history. The atmosphere was electric.

Main eventing UFC 79: "Nemesis" was an interim welterweight title rubber match between multiple-time champion Matt Hughes and recently ousted former 170 pound-kingpin Georges St. Pierre. This had all the makings of a classic. Two elite fighters? Check. Title fight? Check. Trilogy? Check. 

Despite all this, however, there was another fight the crowd was more eager for. There was another fight they could not wait to see.

There was an "Iceman" and an "Axe Murderer" and they were finally going to square off.

In 2003, Dana White and Zuffa agreed to allow Chuck Liddell to enter Pride Fighting Championships Middleweight Grand Prix. The agreement was that Dream Stage Entertainment, Pride's parent company, would send over their own fighters to fight in the UFC in a talent exchange. Being left high and dry by the Japanese company in that regard might help explain White's current refusal to co-promote but the biggest payoff in the one-sided deal was finally seeing a top-level UFC fighter plying their wares in the Pride ring.

Chuck Liddell was favored to meet Wanderlei Silva in the finals of the tournament and all that stood in front of "The Iceman" was a pre-horse meat Alistair Overeem. That obstacle was taken care of and Liddell advanced to Final Conflict 2003. In the semi-finals, he met Quinton Jackson and the Memphis born wrestle-boxer put a bullet square in the forehead of every fan's wet dreams of having the years-long UFC vs. Pride debate being put to an end.

It seemed we would never get Liddell versus Silva.

Chuck returned stateside with a vengeance, easily dispatching of Vernon White and arch-rival Tito Ortiz. He ended up destroying Randy in their rematch and then again in the rubber match. His reign of destruction extended to avenging a loss to Jeremy Horn and double-stamping wins over Renato Sobral and the previously mentioned Ortiz.

Across the Pacific, Silva's already impressive middleweight title reign entered mythic-like proportions when it was topped off with two wins over Jackson and a street fight-like curb stomping of Yuki Kondo.

Message boards across the Internet were flooded with the debate: Who is the number one light heavyweight in the world? Chuck or Wanderlei?

Then, almost all of a sudden, it fell apart.

Jackson left Pride FC, unhappy with their promotion of him and signed with upstart World Fighting Alliance. They put together one show and were bought out by Zuffa, effectively adding Jackson to the UFC roster. He fought Marvin Eastman in what amounted to an exhibition bout before re-matching Liddell. The difference this time was that the UFC light heavyweight championship was on the line. The result, however, remained the same. Jackson won via knockout, needing just over a minute to finish the job. Liddell, the UFC poster child, could not simply be awarded an immediate rematch after such a definitive loss and was matched up against Keith Jardine. "The Dean of Mean" put in the performance of his life and walked away with the split decision victory over "The Iceman."

Silva, slated to face Kazushi Sakuraba for a third time, agreed to face former K-1 World Grand Prix Champion Mark Hunt on short notice when the Japanese fighter bowed out due to injury. He lost, his first loss in over four years, via split decision. That tiny crack in Silva's seemingly impenetrable armor became a giant gash when he lost a Grand Prix-style semi-final match to Brazilian Top Team arch-rival Ricardo Arona. The sight of Arona boasting in Silva's face when the final bell sounded will never be forgotten by those who saw it.

Wandy would avenge that loss, however, and would then enter Pride's Openweight Grand Prix, a tournament seemingly designed to face off the likes of Takanori Gomi with Fedor Emelianenko. The reality ended up being a mixture of middleweights and heavyweights. Silva entered into the tournament in the quarterfinals and dispatched Kazuyuki Fujita via technical knockout and met Mirko "CroCop" Filipovic in the semis. 

He was knocked out in brutal fashion.

Silva then defended his Middleweight title in Pride FC's second excursion in the U.S. market against Welterweight Champion Dan Henderson.

He was knocked out in brutal fashion.

Five months later, it was announced that Wanderlei Silva had signed with the UFC. Speculation ran wild as to who his first opponent would be. Despite all the luster it had lost over the past year, fans clamored for "The Axe Murderer" to face "The Iceman."

Their wish was granted.

In the most anticipated match-up in mixed martial arts short history, Chuck Liddell faced off against Wanderlei Silva at UFC 79. Years of debate, years of hype, years of what if's would all come to an end.

After year heaped upon year heaped on year, how could any fight live up to the hype?

The cynic in every fan feared the worse. A quick, flash knockout or a plodding three-round affair with neither fighter wishing to engage.

What fight fans got instead will forever be etched in their memory.

In the two-minute long feeling out process that would otherwise leave an American audience clamoring for more action, the crowd did not boo. 

They anticipated.

Two minutes into the first round, the fighters finally exchanged in a moment that still takes my breath away. Silva retreated, quickly backfooting into the cage. Whether he was feigning injury or actually staggered may never be known because as soon as Liddell pounced, Silva met him with a volley.

Both fighters had connected, neither flush, when the first stanza came to a close.

Seconds into the second round the fighters exchange and the crowd erupts. Minutes later, Liddell attempts a kick and slips, eating several punches on his way up. Against the cage, they exchange again with each fighter landing clean. First Liddell, then Silva. Chuck is knocked down but Wanderlei is too rocked to take advantage of his momentarily helpless opponent.

Liddell continues to stalk Silva and finally presses him up against the cage. He staggers Silva with a left and a large cut open above the Brazilian's eye. 

Blood pours down the side of his face as Liddell clinches him up against the fence.

In a moment that completely embodies everything I love about this sport, a freshly cut Silva breaks Liddell's clinch and punches his way off the cage. Now a bloody mess, he forces Liddell to to backpedal for the first time in the match and takes the center of the Octagon. 

They exchange and Liddell lands a punch square on Silva's chin, visibly staggering him. Another punch lands clean before Silva is able to answer back, forcing the former UFC 205-pound king to do something he hadn't done in quite a while -- shoot in for a takedown. A successful one at that.

The beginning of the third round shows both fighters breathing heavily and already visibly bruised.

Liddell opens the final frame with another takedown. Silva quickly retains a vertical position but another element has been added to his once-exclusive striking affair. Going into the third minute, Liddell attempts a spinning backfist and while he doesn't connect cleanly, he is able to wobble Silva. Chuck pounces and pins Silva up against the fence and unleashes the power that made him the UFC light heavyweight champion.

Silva, a former champion himself, refuses to wilt. He once again punches himself off the fence and staves off a third consecutive knockout loss. Halfway through the last round, both fighters take a second long break. It means nothing to those of us watching at home but after almost 15 minutes of grueling battle, it means everything to the battered and tired fighters.

They spend the rest of the round circling the cage; Liddell landing some, Silva landing some. With less than twenty seconds left, Liddell scores a third takedown en route to an apparent decision victory. The final horn sounds and he emerges with blood on his back and a mouse under his eye while Silva, a bloody mess, returns to his feet.

When the judges scores were announced, Chuck Liddell was proven victorious. It wouldn't become known until three years later but it was the last time "The Iceman" would have his hand raised after a fight. A number one contender bout against Rashad Evans ended in brutal fashion as did a UFC 97 tilt against Mauricio Rua. Slated to face Tito Ortiz for a third time, "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" bowed out due to injury and Liddell was knocked out by Rich Franklin, a fighter with only one clean knockout in his UFC career.

Recently, Chuck Liddell announced his retirement from fighting and took a position as the Vice President of Business Development with the UFC.

Wanderlei would go on to score an impressive knockout against Keith Jardine only to drop two fights in a row immediately after; one to former Pride nemesis Quinton Jackson and the other to Rich Franklin before dropping to 185 pounds. He debuted at that weight with a unanimous decision victory over Michael Bisping and is currently in the process of a mini-career revival.

It was a fight we never thought we'd get. And when we got it, it seemed too late, like it didn't even matter anymore.

But Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva proved that night, with or without championship gold, that all the debate, all the hype, was absolutely worth it when they stood toe-to-toe and fought it out for 15 minutes.

And that is why Chuck Liddell versus Wanderlei Silva is one of the greatest fights of all time.

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