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2000-09 in MMA: Top 50 Fights Of The Decade


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On 9/21/2020 at 8:06 PM, wandshogun09 said:

I’m determined to finish this countdown this week. It’s taken way longer than I anticipated with one thing or another. Looked at the first post again just...fucking March! Only 4 fights to go and they’re all beauties so I’ll get cracking over the next few days. 

So much for this. I might actually finish this by Christmas. 

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#4 - Chuck Liddell vs Wanderlei Silva - UFC 79 - Dec 29th 2007

OK, this fight was such a long time in the making. They were pretty much the two most scary and dominant Light Heavyweights on the planet between 2001 and 2006. Chuck in the UFC, Wanderlei in Pride. It was a mega dream fight for years that was starting to look like it would never actually happen. It had been promised and teased so many times and nothing ever came of it. When it did finally happen, it was years after it should’ve done, but better late than never. I’m going to go right back to the beginning on this one. 

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Chuck Liddell was born in 1969 in California. His old man had walked out when Chuck was really young so he and his brother and sister were brought up by their single mum and grandad. The seeds were planted for a fighting career at a young age. Chuck’s grandad taught him a bit of Boxing so he could give the bullies a slap and then he got into wrestling in school.

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He did well, eventually becoming a NCAA Division 1 wrestler. He also started training Kempo Karate and later Kickboxing when he discovered ‘The Pit’ which was run by a local badass at the time called John Hackleman. Chuck was a ‘mixed martial artist’ long before anyone knew that term.

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That is actually Wanderlei Silva, not a young Clay Guida. The baby ‘Axe Murderer’ came into the world in 1976. Born and raised in Curitiba, Brazil. He actually joined the Chute Boxe Academy at just 13 years old and was already taking Muay Thai fights in dodgy venues in Brazilian backstreets at 14. I don’t know what happened in his childhood to make him go that route at that age but he clearly bloody loved a scrap almost from the off. I guess with hair like that he had to learn to defend himself early on.

Wanderlei had his first pro fight in 1996. Fuck knows how many ‘unofficial’ fights he’d already had at this point though. Started at 14 and he was 20 here. I’m guessing a lot of people got hurt in that 6 years in between. His first few official fights were under bare knuckle Vale Tudo rules, mostly in the IVC promotion.

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Look at him. Like a pig in shit. He loved it. Over in the US, Chuck made his Octagon debut at UFC 17 in 1998. And that was that. They were off and running in their fight careers.

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Over the years that followed, Chuck became a huge name. It wasn’t always the plan for him to be ‘the guy’ though. He played second fiddle to Tito Ortiz for years as Tito dodged fighting him under the guise of ‘not wanting to fight a good friend’. So Chuck had to take the long route facing tough fuckers like Randleman, Suloev, Bustamante, Belfort and Babalu on the way up. He had his setbacks but he kept plugging away and in 2004, the big collision with Tito finally happened.

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I think Tito seeing Chuck lose to Randy Couture in 2003 is what suddenly made him OK with fighting his buddy Chuck. He fancied his chances a bit better now. But Chuck smashed him about the place and stopped him in 2 rounds. After that it was the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, which was massive for the exposure and growth of MMA at the time. As well as Chuck’s and Randy’s careers. He then knocked out Randy in the rematch to finally become the UFC Light Heavyweight champion of the world.

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The Liddell era had begun and it was quite a ride. Wins over Jeremy Horn, Couture again, Babalu again and Tito again cemented Chuck as the man at 205. At least in the US anyway. Because over in Japan...

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....Wanderlei Silva was wreaking havoc. He’d moved on from the bare knuckle scene and was stomping heads over in the Pride promotion. Like Chuck, he’d had some losses. But by 2001, Wandy was on fire. He’d just ended the legendary streak of Kazushi Sakuraba which was huge. Sakuraba was coming off that incredible run of wins over the Gracies and people were questioning who could stop him. Then this nutcase comes in and just destroys him. Wand went on to become the first Pride champ at 205 and won the Middleweight Grand Prix tournament in 2003. By 2006, he’d racked up wins over the likes of Sakuraba (x3), Rampage Jackson (twice), Dan Henderson, Ricardo Arona, Kazayuki Fujita, Yuki Kondo and Guy Mezger. Plus he’d gone to war with Mark Hunt who was 70lbs heavier and many felt he won. 

By this point, the talk in the MMA media and on forums like Sherdog was who had the best fighters - UFC or Pride? And the fight that always seemed to be at the centre of it all and the most hotly debated was Chuck Liddell vs Wanderlei Silva. The fact that both had been pretty much dominant in their respective promotions plus they were both so exciting to watch and always going for the knockout, it was a fight everyone was dying to see. There were two times it came very close to happening.

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1) The Pride GP in 2003. Both were entered into the tournament so there was always a chance they’d meet. Dana White flew over to Japan and everything. Remember, this was when the UFC were willing to work with other organisations. They weren’t the only show in town back then and Pride was just as big, if not bigger, in the early to mid 2000s. Chuck knocked out Alistair Overeem in the first round of the tournament and things were looking good. But then Rampage took him out in the semi finals. If Chuck had beaten Rampage, we’d have got a Wandy vs Chuck final.

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2) In July 2006, UFC 61 went down and it was supposed to be this great night for the company. They had the big Tito Ortiz vs Ken Shamrock rematch with coming off them coaching against each other on TUF 3. And the main event would be the rubber match between Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski, who’d had 2 short and exciting fights previously in their trilogy. Anyway, Tito vs Ken 2 was a major flop. After all that buildup, Tito just crushed him in about a minute. Couldn’t be helped, these things happen in sports, but the crowd booed the fuck out of it and the whole thing just felt like a massive anti-climax. To top it off, Sylvia and Arlovski shat the bed in the main event and circled around doing fuck all for 5 rounds. Sandwiched in between those 2 letdowns though, Dana had a big announcement. We’d finally be getting Chuck vs Wandy in November!...

...and erm, Wanderlei wanted to “fuck Chuck” apparently.

Of course, this amounted to sod all as well. Pride were going to start holding shows in America and were basically using the UFC for free advertising. Chuck and Wand were clearly both up for a fight. But they were just pawns in a bigger game of cat and mouse going on behind the scenes and the Pride top bollocks had no intentions of letting the UFC stage that fight.

Dana would get the last laugh in the end though. By mid 2007, Pride was dead. And in the summer of that year, Wand was signing a UFC contract.

How happy did Dana look there? 

The big Chuck vs Wand dream match had lost a little bit of its lustre though. Since the “fuck Chuck” face off in July 2006, things had gone a bit wonky for both men. Wanderlei had been savagely knocked out by Mirko Cro Cop and Dan Henderson in back-to-back fights. He was no longer the Pride champ and he wasn’t quite the force he was a couple of years earlier.

Dana was fuming after the Hendo loss;

“I’m pissed off he (Silva) didn’t lose to Chuck. Not only are they (Pride) Number 2, they’re not the brightest bulbs on the porch either. I wanted that Wanderlei Silva fight so bad. I knew Chuck Liddell would knock him out. I knew it. And it’s gone. I don’t know. We’re trying to figure out what we’re going to do with Chuck next”. - Dana White 

But over in the UFC, Chuck’s reign as champion was also about to come to a crashing halt. Rampage fucked it all up again.

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So with both coming off knockout losses and both beltless, I guess it wasn’t the ideal time for Dana and the Fertittas to make the fight. So they booked Chuck against Keith Jardine for UFC 76 in September. It was being talked about as merely a ‘warm up fight’ and then we’d see the big clash with Wandy later.

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Jardine didn’t get the memo. It was a bloody battle that went 3 rounds and Jardine battered Chuck with leg and body kicks the entire time. It was nasty and Chuck was red raw down the whole one side of his body. Jardine dropped him at one point as well. When it was over, it was Jardine with his hands raised. With one very disappointed spectator watching at cageside...

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Old Wandy clearly thought the Chuck fight was off again at this point. 

Thankfully, within a few weeks, the UFC just said fuck it and booked it.

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There was never going to be a ‘perfect time‘ to make the fight and trying to build them up with wins was too risky and had already backfired with the Jardine attempt. Belts or no belts, it was still a fight people badly wanted to see. Chuck vs Wanderlei was on!

“Chuck Liddell vs Wanderlei Silva is not just a Mixed Martial Arts fight. It’s history. These are easily the two most exciting Light Heavyweight fighters in history. We were begging for this fight for so long but, the logistics, it couldn’t be worked out. Both these guys, you can see in their physiques, they’ve trained incredibly hard for this. You can see in their eyes, they are focused. They understand the significance of this bout. And you know, this is one for history. This is a legacy fight.” - Joe Rogan 

For the fighters themselves, there was never any real beef there. It was purely a competitive rivalry and both men believed they were the top dog at 205lbs. I think they always had a respect for each other beyond all that. 

“He’s a good striker, he’s got heavy hands and he’s aggressive. There was never any real bad blood, it was always about being the best in the world.” - Chuck Liddell 

It still got a bit heated when the weigh in rolled around though;

It’d been a long time coming and the hype and intensity was off the charts by this point. Just imagine if they had met back in 2005/06 when they were both still champions and weren’t both coming off knockout losses? Would’ve been even more insane.

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Chuck Liddell vs Wanderlei Silva

UFC 79: Nemesis

December 29th 2007

Las Vegas, Nevada 

Here we go. I remember watching this at my mate’s on the Sunday night on Bravo. Didn’t have internet at my flat at the time, mobile phones were basic and I was spending most of my free time absolutely bladdered anyway so avoiding the spoilers back then was a lot simpler than it is now. My mate swore he’d avoided the results as well but he seemed to be picking all the winners correctly, conveniently enough. I was full on Wandy fanboying it and predicting him to crumble Chuck in the first round. I couldn’t be told otherwise although, style-wise, it probably always favoured Chuck.

I love the little pre-fight video for this. There’s no talking heads or waffling, it’s just basically a highlight reel of them both wrecking fuckers with some cack stock music dubbed over. Basic as shite but it’s all you need with these two. There was nothing left to talk about.

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“The wait is finally over. Wanderlei Silva. Chuck Liddell. Inside the Octagon. Herb Dean our referee. GET READY WORLD!” - Mike Goldberg 

Round 1: Bit of a cautious start here with neither wanting to make the first move and drop a bollock and get clipped. Crowd is electric and nothing’s even happening yet. They’re very pro Chuck as you’d expect on his home turf.

“These are two dogs that have been staring through the cage at each other for a long time.” - Joe Rogan 

We’re about 90 seconds in and Chuck connects with the first real clean shot so far. It was a big right hand and Wand has backed right up against the fence. But just when Chuck comes after him, Wandy throws some shots. He was playing possum the little rascal. He’s paying for it now though. It seems to have pissed Chuck off.

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Both throwing but Chuck’s got that extra reach and he’s landing more while Wand’s coming up short. Chuck’s the aggressor now, which wasn’t typical of him as he usually liked to draw opponents onto his punches and counter strike. But he smells blood here. ‘Chuck’ chants from the crowd and Goldy and Rogan are predictably all over his dick. Chuck’s landing some nice shots as the round goes on. This is a terrible start for Wanderlei. A disaster opening round. He does land a few digs in the exchanges late in the round but, on the whole, he’s been getting the worst of it. Liddell 10-9.

Round 2: OK, Wandy’s not arsing about anymore. He’s coming forward more, which obviously suits his style better. I don’t know what they said to him in the corner but Wanderlei appears to have been woken up and he’s doing much better so far in this round. He’s getting the kicks going now as well as walloping in some hard hooks in close quarters. Wand puts Chuck on his arse...

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And this sums up how biased the commentary was. Chuck wasn’t badly hurt or anything but here Wanderlei scores a legitimate knockdown, and what does Rogan say? “Good right hand before he went down though.” Yes. He’s talking about a punch Chuck landed a second before he was knocked down. Then Goldberg is saying how ‘the look in Chuck’s eyes’ has got even more intense or something. Get out. I know it’s UFC vs Pride and Chuck was their boy but just...fuck off. Chuck cracks him with an elbow in close against the fence and Wand’s eyebrow is pissing blood immediately. A minute left of the round and they’re going to fucking town now. Both still throwing bombs. Wand connecting with some meaty shots again. Chuck nails him with a flush right hand and another slobberknocker ensues. 

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This is wild. Crowd is going proper berserk. Liddell gets a takedown right as the round ends. Could go either way with that round. I had it Wanderlei 10-9, he bossed about 4 minutes of it and had that knockdown. But Chuck’s flurry in the last minute or so was big. Amazing round either way.

Christ, Rogan bias gets worse. During the replays, they show Wand’s knockdown again and this time Rogan minimises it as “that was the right hand that Chuck landed very well but then he slipped trying to move away”. A slip. Shit off Joseph.

Round 3: Chuck comes right out with a takedown straight away which nobody expected. He lets Wandy back up almost immediately but it was smart as it’ll keep him guessing. Both swinging leather again now.

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This is fucking awesome. Chuck lands that big looping overhand right he loved but Wand takes it and keeps coming forward. Jesus. Whatever was left of either man’s chin, I think they left it in the cage on this night. Wandy throwing kicks but then Chuck absolutely bloody clobbers him with a big spinning backfist...

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Wand’s in trouble this time. He backs up to the cage again but Chuck is coming right after him with more punches.

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He’s really laying into Wandy here but Wand’s firing back just enough and moving just enough to avoid the stoppage. Wand’s survived the onslaught and now Chuck’s taking deep breaths and looking up at the clock. He might’ve emptied the tank with that all out assault. There’s 2 minutes left and they both look worse for wear. Wandy from the damage and Chuck from exhaustion. Chuck with some more punches though. Wanderlei’s got cauliflower face but he’s still trying. Bless him. They both look about done for the last minute or so. They’ve left it all in there. Chuck with another takedown to seal the round with seconds to go. And that’s a wrap. Liddell 10-9. 

Winner - Chuck Liddell by unanimous decision.

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“I never thought it would make it through all three rounds. Between the two of us we both hit real hard. I had him hurt quite a few times and I’d hit him three or four more times and he’d still be fighting. He’s a tough guy.” - Chuck Liddell 

Just a tremendous fight. Worth the wait. I think everyone always thought that if this fight ever happened, it’d be 2 minutes of chaos then a knockout either way. And while that would’ve been great too, this was even better. I don’t think anyone expected a 3 round epic battle like we got. I’m actually kind of glad neither of them got laid out.

Dana was practically jizzing himself into a state of dehydration after the fight. Look at him backstage with Wandy here;

It was that kind of fight though. Everyone was buzzing after the show. Poor GSP and Matt Hughes had to go out and follow this mayhem.

Looking back at this now, I’m so glad it happened when it did. 2007 was probably THE very latest they could’ve left it before Chuck became a complete shell of himself. If they’d delayed it any longer by trying to ‘build’ both guys up more, I’m pretty sure we’d either have never seen these two fight or it’d have happened when Chuck’s jaw was just crumbs and it wouldn’t have been anything close to what we got. It was all downhill from here. Chuck never won a fight again. His chin had been fading for a while but it officially died in his next fight when Rashad Evans flattened him. Then he got put away by Shogun and Rich Franklin, retired, then came back a decade later and got slept by Tito Cunting Ortiz of all people. I still fucking hate that that happened. Wanderlei had his ups and downs himself but nowhere near as bad as Chuck. He still had those corkers with Brian Stann and Cung Le and had that win over Bisping. He’s done now though. His last 2 fights in Bellator have confirmed that.

A stone cold classic. Like with any great fight, there was always a bit of talk about a rematch. But really, I’m glad it never happened. Like I said, them fighting any later than they did would probably be sad to watch as all Chuck’s fights from 2008 on were. Them just going out and having that one banging fight and leaving it at that was the way to go.

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23 hours ago, wandshogun09 said:

I was full on Wandy fanboying it and predicting him to crumble Chuck in the first round. I couldn’t be told otherwise although, style-wise, it probably always favoured Chuck.

I think it would have been a very different fight had they met in the finals of the 2003 MW GP. 

It was only after his losses to Rampage and Couture that Liddell improved his footwork and tightened up his striking. Moreover, as Rogan mentioned on the UFC 49 broadcast, it was only after 2003 that Liddell became more disciplined and stopped half-arsing it in training.

A while back, Slack studied Wanderlei's game and found that his decline could be partially attributed to him abandoning his jab, which he used create opening to land his hooks. In the latter stages of his career, particularly after 2005, Wanderlei instead threw wild hooks with no set-up, which left himself open to counters. Furthermore, the larger UFC cage made it more difficult for him to back his opponent into a corner, where he could flurry or attempt to enter the Thai clinch.

It's possible that Liddell would have still beaten Wanderlei in 2003. Liddell always had knockout power and Wanderlei's chin was never the best. But I wouldn't have been shocked if it went the other way either. 

 

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