Chuck Liddell’s longtime trainer John Hackleman likes Tito Ortiz. He respects the accomplishments of Ortiz, a hall of famer who dominated the division as UFC light heavyweight champion until Liddell arrived on the scene.
“I think Tito’s a legend,” Hackleman explained to MMA Crossfire on the phone from The Pit in San Luis Obispo, California. “A legend of the UFC too. I don’t think he gets his share of notoriety. He did a lot, but Chuck was his kryptonite. Chuck just has his number and has a lot more skill and a lot more power. Tito is great, and a great person, well I don’t know about a great person. I don’t know him well enough to say that, but he’s a great martial artist and a great representation for MMA.”
The story of Chuck and Tito is now the stuff of legend that made an imprint on many longtime fans and will now generate a third fight this November.
“Their dynamic is kind of funny,” Hackleman chuckled. “They just don’t like each other. Sure, they were friends, but for a second. Not really, not to the extent that Tito says, but they came up at the same time. Their connection with Dana, maybe they worked out a couple of times but they weren’t like BFFs or anything. I could see Chuck getting mad because Tito when he crossed the line saying some pretty negative things. But before that, they didn’t like each other in the beginning and it was like, why? You didn’t really know why, they just didn’t.”
“It was so easy to train Chuck for those fights because he was so fired up the whole time,” Hackleman added. “I think Tito tried to make up a couple of times, but it was too little, too late. He already crossed the line and once you get on Chuck’s bad side, usually you’re not going to dig yourself out of that hole.”
Liddell is now 48 years old, and Tito is 43. But Liddell seems to have a certain energy whenever he has a fight scheduled with “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy.” Ortiz was dispatched in the first two fights, but with both fighters older and the success of Ortiz since returning from retirement, many fans feel Tito has a much better chance this time.
Not so fast, says Hackleman.
“I see it the same,” Hackleman surmised on the outcome. “I think they’ll fight again in their sixties and then again in their eighties, it’ll be the same. They’ll be no difference. It’s like getting on a bike. I get on a bike now, like I could ride it when I was 10. I’ll get on a bike again when I’m 80, I’ll ride it. Probably 90, I won’t, but it’s just the same. For Chuck, it’s like riding a bike and beating Tito again. It’s in his DNA.”
The bout is being promoted by famed boxer and now promoter Oscar De La Hoya and his new Golden Boy MMA promotion. Both camps seem to view this as a positive thing that other fighters can benefit from.
“There’s no downside because if it’s bad, nobody will buy the fight and the company will go out of business,” Hackleman reasoned. “If it’s good, it’s just iron sharpening iron. So, there’s no downside to more competition, it’s all positive.”
“And if Golden Boy doesn’t treat the fighters right, he’ll lose them and if somebody else treats them better, the fighters will go there,” Hackleman elaborated. “That’s the way it is. He’s done a super job. Chuck is going to get paid, everyone is going to get paid. I know Oscar has had his challenges in life, but if you look at him overall, he won the world title and a gold medal. He’s definitely an overachiever and a high-end person. He’s done some unbelievable boxing. He’s gone from fighter to promoter so he’s a real alpha-male who’s done well.
“Who knows? He might rise up and compete with the UFC, he might not, he might be more like Bellator – and thats not terrible either – so I don’t know. Just his name and reputation and what he’s accomplished in his young life, obviously he knows what he’s doing.”
The preamble seems to be generating some of the fireworks of old. There has been a lot of banter and both fighters are starring in the upcoming action thriller movie “Silencer,” which premieres Sept. 4, which Hackleman plans to see this weekend.
Just like old times.