Tito Ortiz’s long-denied dream finally was realized Saturday night in a brief and final exchange with his longtime rival, Chuck Liddell.
By insisting on boxing with his fellow former UFC legend known as “the Iceman,” Ortiz sent a crushing right hand to the middle of Liddell’s face, avenging two losses more than a decade ago.
The punch sent the 48-year-old Liddell (21-9) to the canvas face first, and before he could respond, Ortiz (20-12-1) was there to smack him with two hard lefts to the head, triggering the stoppage at 4 minutes 24 seconds of the first round in the main event of the Golden Boy MMA fight card at the Forum.
“I work to pay the bills and to entertain, and I worked tonight to stop Chuck Liddell,” Ortiz, 43, said to a crowd of 7,839.
The former UFC light-heavyweight champions, who helped transform mixed martial arts from a niche sport to a mainstream offering thanks to their riveting skill and personalities, emerged from retirement to meet in this grudge match. But time clearly deteriorated them, especially Liddell, who fell to the canvas after missing a power punch earlier in the round. Ortiz couldn’t capitalize on his downed foe, and stumbled in launching a punch seconds later.
Ortiz’s answer was to taunt Liddell by extending his chin upward, and Liddell couldn’t land anything definitive.
“The game plan was not to take down Chuck Liddell,” said Ortiz, the “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” who advanced the ground-and-pound route to victory during his prime by relying on his wrestling talents.
“I wanted to box him. I stopped him! I wanted this test.”
Liddell stopped Ortiz in their 2004 and 2006 meetings, and even more than eight years removed from cage fighting, he professed that his intimidation would lead Ortiz to wilt.
In defeat, Liddell said, “I came back and was in great shape. I made a mistake,” adding, “I’m going to take a step back and really think” about fighting again.
Ortiz didn’t close the book on a possible return, but he sought to bury the hatchet with Liddell.
“Chuck Liddell, thanks for this fight. You gave me an opportunity to show my skills. You pushed me to work super hard,” Ortiz said, shaking hands with Liddell and embracing him.
“You’re a true champion, brother.”
Ortiz and Liddell earned guaranteed purses of $200,000 and $250,000, respectively, and shared in the pay-per-view, live-gate and other revenues with Oscar De La Hoya’s promotions company. Only one other fighter was paid more than $10,000, including MMA veteran Gleison Tibau, who made his UFC debut against Nick Diaz at UFC 65, one month before Liddell-Ortiz 2 became the most lucrative fight in UFC history at that time.
Tibau (34-14) defeated Arizona’s Efrain Escudero by unanimous decision.
In the co-main event, Deron Winn (5-0), who trains alongside two-division UFC champion Daniel Cormier in San Jose, displayed impressive power and a wrestling advantage while defeating Tom Lawlor by three 30-27 scorecards.