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Passing the Torch: "The Iceman" Chuck Liddell edition

We see it in every venue of entertainment; from movies and television to music to combat sports. Someone is all the rage one moment and then -- poof -- it's all gone.

But while a once-hot actor or actress might be forced to star in direct to DVD movies or a former chart-topping artist is reduced to "Where Are They Now?" status, their falls from grace -- although apparent -- are played on such a public stage as those of fighters.

Passing the Torch is a special about those fighters who were once on top of the world but suffered at least two losses that forever altered their career -- either leaving them shells of what they once were or forcing them to retire outright.

When the UFC exploded into public consciousness in 2005, it was on the back of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) and its two coaches, Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell.

So when the two finally met -- as would become the custom for TUF coaches -- inside the Octagon at UFC 52 and Liddell scored a first-round knockout, he became the de facto favorite fighter for a legion of embryonic mixed martial arts (MMA) fans.

But only two years later, he was beginning to lose his grip on the weight class he once ruled.

Here we go!: Liddell was riding high after avenging his loss to Couture and also gaining the UFC 205-pound belt in the process. He followed that win up with yet another rematch. He vindicated himself of an early career loss to Jeremy Horn when he defeated the MMA veteran at UFC 54.

In fact, Liddell's entire title run consisted of rematches. Some might point to this as a cause for a lack of evolution in "The Iceman's" style. Why bother changing up your game when you're taking on guys who you've already beaten?

A rubber match with Couture was next and was followed by rematched with Renato Sobral and Tito Ortiz.

It wasn't until Liddell was booked against the only other man besides Horn and Couture to defeat him that his kingdom in the UFC light heavyweight division began to crumble.

When "The Iceman" first took on Quinton Jackson, "Rampage" was a ball of potenial; raw power and natural talent. Since that fight in Japan, the Memphis wrestler hooked up with Juanito Ibarra who turned that potential into reality. 

His boxing was crisper, his headwork was better. Simply put, he was a better than than he was when he first beat Liddell.

So it was no surprise when "Rampage" scored a first round knockout with a perfectly placed counter.

A tune-up fight with Keith Jardine ended in a split decision loss for the former champ. Now, saddled with back to back losses, "The Iceman" was booked a in a dream fight against former Pride champion Wanderlei Silva, who himself was coming off a pair of devastating losses.

Their fight was so inspired, so incredible that despite their recent travails, it was easy to see either fighter challenging for the belt again.

He's rocked!: 

Liddell was booked against TUF 2 winner Rashad Evans. In "Suga's" four year career, he had a dozen fights under his belt when he stepped inside the cage at UFC 88. "The Iceman" had been fighting for a decade with nearly 30 fights to show for it.

He rose to the top of the 205-pound heap on the strength of his counter punching; being able to land a strike a fraction of a second faster than his opponent.

But at 38-years old, fighting some a decade his junior, those twitch-muscle reflexes aren't as fast as they used to be or nearly as fast as they need to be.

What followed was one of the most brutal knockouts in MMA history.


The fact that Liddell was not only knocked out cold but it was done with his patented overhand right that terrorized the 205-pound division for so long made the loss even harder to take. 

Three losses in four fights. The writing was on the wall.

It's all over!:

Competitive desire is hard to squash and the desire for more wealth is even harder.

Those two factors contributed to the matchmaking of Liddell taking on Mauricio Rua. "Shogun" had a banner year in 2005 but injuries had derailed his assumed rise to the top.

A loss to Forrest Griffin screamed "hype" to American fans who hadn't seen the Brazilian in action. An uninspired win over Mark Coleman only helped to seemingly validate that point.

It certainly seemed like a winnable fight for "The Iceman." Unfortunately for the former champ, the "Shogun" of old came back that night in Montreal.

It only took the Brazilian one round to achieve the same result Evans did seven months earlier.


The aftermath:

Liddell took over a year off after the fight with Rua to heal up, train, and coach another season of TUF, this time opposite rival Tito Ortiz. 

"The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" was forced out of the fight due to injury and replaced by Rich Franklin.

If the previous two losses to Evans and Rua weren't proof enough, getting put to sleep by "Ace" -- a fighter with a total of one straight knockout victories in the UFC -- was the dealbreaker.

It took six months to officially announce what was known for a while: Liddell was done fighting.

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