Chuck Liddell, "The Iceman" and the one who served as the face of mixed martial arts and the UFC for the better part of four years, officially retired from competition on Wednesday. Liddell, 41, will become an executive vice president of business development for UFC.
Liddell's last fight was a first-round knockout loss to Rich Franklin at UFC 115 last June. But his unofficial retirement was in the immediate moments of UFC 97 in April 2009. He was knocked out in the first round by Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. But it was Liddell, the losing fighter, who was last to leave the octagon that night. The Montreal crowd roared for roughly 10 minutes as Liddell soaked in those final moments of athletic glory and adulation from the crowd of 21,000-plus.
Liddell propelled UFC, and by default MMA, to new faces and places. Just as the sport began to break into the mainstream in late 2005, here came Liddell with the mohawk, the steely eyes, the soft harmless-sounding voice and that thunderous overhand right. Oh that overhand right.
It helped him knock out 13 opposing fighters. Liddell amassed a 21-8 overall record in 12 years as a professional fighter, with notable wins over Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, Wanderlei Silva and Alistair Overeem, to name a few. He beat Couture the first time at UFC 52 to win the light heavyweight title, then defended it four consecutive times. That's the second longest streak in the UFC's most competitive division. The longest? Liddell's archnemesis, Ortiz.
As the sport grew and developed new stars such as Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre, Liddell was still the most marketable star. It was Liddell who did a guest spot on HBO's "Entourage." It was Liddell who was invited to be a contestant on "Dancing With the Stars."
In the cage, however, Liddell's star began to fade the night of Sept. 6, 2008. He fought Rashad Evans at UFC 88 and was knocked out in highlight-reel fashion in the second round. The knockout punch, a devastating right hand from Evans, has been replayed over and over again in the years since and belongs on any knockout DVD compilation being made.
Liddell lost five of his last six fights, but managed to make getting knocked out just as exciting for fans as knocking other people out. That's no easy task. And while the news of Liddell's retirement shouldn't be that shocking -- after UFC 97, he was unofficially retired though never used the "R" word -- it's worth a few moments to reflect on his career and legacy in the sport he helped build.
If you want to learn more about Liddell's life and career -- the accounting degree and his wrestling at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo -- read his 2008 book "Iceman: My Fighting Life."