Despite being one of UFC President Dana White’s best friends, even three losses in his past four fights isn’t enough to provide former UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell total immunity.
In a new interview with Neil Davidson of the Canadian Press, White goes so far as to essentially put his good friend on notice leading up to Liddell’s co-headlining bout vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua scheduled for UFC 97 on April 18 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada.
“I’ve made it very clear to Chuck. Very clear,” White began to tell Davidson. “It’s not about money, it’s not about this, that. Chuck is one of my good friends. Chuck (has) cemented his legacy in the UFC and in the fight game. I’m not even saying if he wins, unless he looks incredibly impressive (in Montreal) – I mean, he’s going to have to go out there and dazzle me, for me to want Chuck to still fight.”
“I love him, and I don’t want to see what I saw in his last fight ever again,” he added.
Once considered the top light heavyweight in the world, Liddell began to see his immense stock drop following a TKO loss to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 71 in May of 2007. Jackson needed just one minute and 53 seconds to end Liddell’s four-fight title reign.
In what was perceived as nothing more than a showcase fight to bounce back following the disappointing loss to Jackson, Liddell was matched up with Keith Jardine a little over three months later at UFC 76. However, Jardine proved to be a difficult matchup for Liddell and utilized an array of leg kicks to win an upset split decision victory.
Liddell then rebounded at UFC 79 in December of that same year when he recorded a unanimous decision victory over Wanderlei Silva in a long-awaited dream match between the two 205 pound icons.
Unfortunately, Liddell’s comeback was short lived as he was knocked out in devastating fashion by Rashad Evans at UFC 88 this past September. Despite being 12-0-1 heading into the fight, Evans was still the clear cut underdog but appeared to have scouted Liddell well when he countered one of Liddell’s looping punches en route to a KO stoppage at 1:51 of round 2.
While White is claiming that money is not an issue, public records indicate that Liddell has been receiving a $500,000 guarantee for his past several fights. It is believed that Liddell easily makes over $1 million per fight due to the fact that his contract also includes a clause that entitles him to a percentage of pay-per-view sales.
While Liddell finds himself in a must-win situation, the UFC has matched him up with an opponent who has been just a big of a disappointment as Liddell in recent fights.
Once considered one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world, Rua has performed as one of the biggest busts in UFC history since signing a lucrative contract with Zuffa during the final days of the Japan-based PRIDE promotion.
Rua showed poor stamina during his UFC debut at UFC 76 against Forrest Griffin and tapped to a rear naked choke at 4:36 of round 3. Even if Rua had not been finished by Griffin, he was well on his way to suffering a decision defeat.
After requiring multiple knee surgeries, Rua was unable to compete for a year and a half. The 27-year old Brazilian native returned at UFC 93 this past January against 44-year old UFC Hall of Famer Mark Coleman. Both fighters gassed early in the fight and in spite of Rua’s youth, he was only able to finish Coleman with 24 seconds remaining in the contest.
While UFC officials awarded both fighters a “Fight of the Night” bonus, critics panned the bout and were extremely critical of Rua’s performance during the fight.
While a poor performance by Liddell could signal the end of his UFC career, the same could also likely be said for Rua.