When Brock Lesnar made the crossover to MMA, I had been out of pro wrestling fandom for a few years. Mixed martial arts captivated my teenage thirst for realistic combat that pro wrestling could no longer quench. One of my favorite fighters as I grew more in tune with the sport was Chuck Liddell or, "The Iceman." Liddell was a brutal knockout artist who could put your lights out with nearly any punch or kick he threw.
Unfortunately, those were all highlights by the time I learned about MMA. Liddell had become a fighter without a chin, likely the most tragic thing in the sport. Chuck had been 1-3 in his last four fights when I started watching, with him having been knocked out cold by Rashad Evans and Quinton Jackson and having gone to war against Wanderlei Silva and Keith Jardine. This didn't fare well for Liddell's chin and he was again knocked out by Mauricio Rua. Needless to say, the jury was out for the former UFC light heavyweight champion.
However, UFC president Dana White was always close pals with Chuck and gave him one last fight against a personal foe in Tito Ortiz. Liddell vs. Ortiz had been a rivalry that helped MMA reach the pinnacle it has reached today. The story goes that Liddell and Ortiz were acquaintances and training partners. Ortiz was leading a reign of terror over the 205-pound division and Liddell was going to help him with his striking while Ortiz would help with grappling. Liddell allegedly would bust Tito up on the feet so badly that Tito would be knocked down and refuse to get up. These tensions came to fruition when Ortiz seemingly ducked a fight with Liddell, claiming that their "friendship" wasn't worth the money that was being thrown at them to fight (NOTE: MMA still had not hit their stride in popularity. This was before The Ultimate Fighter had been created and the sport had just come off being outlawed).
Eventually, Liddell got to fight Ortiz and finished him with punches in the second round. Liddell went on to capture the championship and ended up fighting Ortiz two years later. Although Ortiz's boxing had sharply improved, Liddell still finished Tito with punches in the third round.
Ortiz's career became as much of a joke as Liddell's in the aftermath of this fight. Including his loss to Liddell, Tito went 0-3-1 in his next four fights before being matched up with Liddell once again. Tito would come with a plethora of excuses in case of a loss, including coming into a fight with a "cracked skull."
The duo were slated to coach The Ultimate Fighter's 11th season. The season proved to be arduous to watch. Liddell's knockout losses and rock star lifestyle had been racking up and Chuck's speech was often slurred and littered with plenty of incoherent thoughts. Tito was never a book-smart guy and presented his normal meathead persona, all the while displaying thin skin for anything Liddell had to say to him.
To end this rather sad story in the MMA world, Ortiz had to pull out with a back injury that had been nagging him for the majority of his career. Liddell was matched up against replacement Rich Franklin and subsequently was disconnected from his senses by a Franklin right hand, albeit after turning in a better than average performance. Ortiz still fights today, but is facing his retirement coming up after a slew of bad performances. Liddell was forced into retirement and now holds a role in the UFC's front office.
Anyone drawing some parallels here? Follow me after the jump to hear about a similar tale in the pro wrestling world.
This past week on RAW, Triple H came out to cut a promo on The Undertaker confronting him for a Wrestlemania rematch before Hunter could fire our favorite Executive Vice President of Talent Relations and Interim Raw General Manager, John Laurinaitis. This segment lasted twenty minutes and ended with a pretty eerie and nicely presented video package of Undertaker sitting in a dark room and pining for a rematch with Triple H. This video package was pretty effective and capped off the promo well.
Unfortunately, it wasn't as effective or enjoyable when they showed it later in the night to recap what happened.
Undertaker and Triple H have taken a high card slot on two WrestleManias before. This isn't surprising, given Triple H liking to cash in his son-in-law card with Vince McMahon to get high-level booking and attention. On what is likely still the best WrestleMania of all-time in WrestleMania 17, HHH and 'Taker delivered what many fans consider the weakest link on the card.
However, the rematch went down at last year's WrestleMania 27 and delivered a classic match. Both men sold and took bumps like it was their swan song in the business. Of course, Undertaker extended the streak to 19-0 with his Hell's Gate submission (gogoplata in MMA, yet another similarity). Undertaker was taken off on a stretcher and most were legitimately questioning if he was injured. Triple H walked out under his own power.
Not unlike the Liddell vs. Ortiz rivalry, the first two matches were accepted by the fans and things were hunky dory. However, with the build up to the third match slowly starting, I cannot help but draw so many parallels to the aforementioned MMA rivalry.
Both men cannot accept the fading of the spotlight on their generation of wrestlers from the 90s and their lack of relevance to today's storylines. Just like both fighters, fans will pop loudly because of the legacy both men have in the ring. In reality, the men risk ruining their legacies this way, just as the fighters did by taking fights past their primes. Triple H is slowly ascending to Hulk Hogan levels of booking abuse, while still trying to wrestle and maintain a front office position like Liddell did recently in trying to campaign for a final fight for Ortiz's retirement match. Undertaker returns once or twice a year as both of these fighters did to take a match and still manages to look broken down.
Even in terms of injuries, the similarities are striking. Triple H's quadriceps mimics the back problems that would plague Ortiz. While Triple H's quads would blow out during high spots, Ortiz's back severely affected his bread and butter in the double-leg takedown. Liddell and Undertaker have both greatly slowed with age and their quality of performance has diminished with each outing.
And not unlike season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter, we could have a lackluster build up into something tragic. While the UFC's show was predictable and sad to watch, the WWE is using the the same script with minimal tweaks for this year's rematch. Undertaker comes out, points to the sign, and poses. Triple H rejects this time around, but will be goaded into a rematch. That said, the tragedy that could infest WrestleMania lies in HHH's booking power. With Undertaker being exposed at last year's WrestleMania, this could be the opportune time for Hunter to book himself to end the historic streak, thus ending one of the most sacred WrestleMania traditions.
In all, this storyline has all the makings to be as melancholy as the Liddell vs. Ortiz rivalry. The bittersweet thing that could come from this is a classic match that puts the bookend on legendary careers for both. Whether this feud that will seemingly close both mens in-ring careers will leave us high and dry like its MMA counterpart remains to be seen, but all signs are pointing to a pretty sour ending that will validate one man's front office career and end another WWE tradition.