During a hike up San Luis Mountain a couple of months ago, Chuck Liddell — the face of ultimate fighting — talked with his longtime trainer, John Hackleman, about calling it quits.
“We went back and forth on it,” Hackleman said. “(We thought) ‘What’s in his heart? Does he have it anymore?’ We never doubted he could get back on top if he wanted to.”
What they decided a couple of months ago became official Wednesday, when Liddell, a San Luis Obispo resident, announced he was formally retiring from professional fighting.
“It’s time,” Liddell said.
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Even though he had made the decision two months ago, Liddell still sounded somber the day it became official.
“It’s hard to make that decision and walk away,” he said, looking back on 20 years of fighting. “I loved entertaining the fans.”
His association with the UFC is not over, though. Liddell, who has an accounting degree from Cal Poly, will become executive vice president for business development with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Basically, he said, he’ll be promoting the UFC.
“I’ve been working at promoting this sport for a long time,” he said.
While the UFC helped propel Liddell to stardom, he also helped propel the UFC, his hard right punches making him a fearsome force in the ring and a fan favorite outside.
“He’s the Muhammad Ali of the UFC,” Hackleman said.
In 2005, Liddell became light heavyweight champ with a first-round knockout over Randy Couture, who had beaten Liddell two years earlier. For 19 months, he would retain that title with four successful challenges, defeating fighters like Tito Ortiz and Jeremy Horn and beating Couture in a rematch. Meanwhile, he began appearing in TV and film roles.
When asked to pick his most memorable fight, Liddell struggled — “I’ve had so many good memories and times, it’s hard to say” — but ultimately said the first time he toppled Couture was his highlight.
“He’s a great fighter, and he beat me before,” Liddell said.
As his celebrity continued to grow, the aging Liddell, now 41, began to accumulate losses, losing five of his last six fights. Still, he remained a popular figure, appearing on “Dancing with the Stars” and writing an autobiography.
To get back on top, Liddell said, would take considerable time, taking on one opponent at a time. Plus, as Hackleman noted: “He’s reached the peaks and accomplished all his goals.”
Now that he’s formally retired, Liddell said, he will try to land more Hollywood roles. And while he plans to remain in San Luis Obispo with new fiancée Heidi Northcott, he will frequently travel to Las Vegas, where the UFC is located.
“Now I have an actual job,” he joked.