News

Not all that long ago, the idea he’d be famous enough one day that  people would want him to fly up to Canada just to hang out at a fight so  folks could get an autograph or a picture with him never dawned on Chuck Liddell.  Back in the mid-’90s when he was an accounting student at California  Polytechnic State University with a knack for bookkeeping, he figured  he’d graduate, get a real job and maybe open a karate gym if he was  really lucky.

But then, right around the time he was graduating, something called  the Ultimate Fighting Championship was starting to gain a tiny bit of  traction. Suddenly, guys who weren’t boxers but didn’t mind scrapping  could make a few bucks. So, one day as his classmates were chatting  about what firm had hired them or where they’d been accepted to work, he  announced he had a slightly different plan.

“Yeah,” he said. “I’m going to go fight professionally.”

Thirteen years after his first bout, it’s turned out OK for the  Ultimate Fighting Championship’s retired light-heavyweight champion,  who’ll be in Hamilton on Friday night as part of the Slammer in the  Hammer mixed martial arts card at Copps Coliseum.

How well did it turn out? Not only did the 41-year-old carve out a  lucrative career inside the cage as one of the most-explosive and  exciting knockout artists in the sport, but he’s been a character on the  Simpsons, has competed on Dancing With The Stars, was the first UFC  fighter to make the cover of ESPN magazine and has become a full-on  celebrity.

It’s a bit of an unbelievable story for a guy who grew up in  California but whose lone claim to fame prior to adulthood came in a  tiny spot in the movies. If you slow down the Boy Scout scene in The Postman Always Rings Twice with Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson and look very, very closely, you’ll see the future Iceman as an 11-year-old.

But his love was fighting. Karate actually. He studied Koei-Kan  karate — that’s what’s tattooed on his head in Chinese characters — and  took up kick-boxing as a teenager.

The UFC was a little different since it was more free-form than he  was used to, but he won his first two fights as a middleweight and 12 of  his first 13 bouts overall, all the while managed by Dana White, who  eventually bought the organization with two casino owners and has become  the face of the sport.

Liddell already had his trademark Mohawk haircut back then. Had for a few years, as a matter of fact.

Back in 1992 — six years before his first pro fight — a bunch of  friends were heading to a Slayer concert and decided they’d shave their  heads for the occasion. Thing is, growing up with his strict mother and  grandparents, he’d always had to keep his hair short. Now that he was  finally allowed to grow it out, he wasn’t about to take it right down to  the wood. The Mohawk seemed like a good compromise.

“The reaction I got, people liked it,” he says.

So he kept it.

As the UFC exploded in popularity — heavily helped by the first season of the  reality show The Ultimate Fighter for which he was one of the two  coaches, giving him oodles of air time and exposure — his unique look  stood out and helped make him more famous than he ever imagined. That  really hit home with him while standing in a Windsor coffee shop waiting  for his order, when he first really realized his life had changed.

“Some girl from behind the counter said, ‘You’re that guy,’ ” he laughs.

Thinking he was being pegged for something he didn’t do, he quickly  told her he’d never been there before and had nothing to do with  whatever it was she was talking about.

“No,” she said. “You’re on TV. You fight.”

Today, he can’t step out in public for two minutes without being  noticed and stopped. It’s something he’s OK with, though he says it  makes working out at a gym difficult when people want to come up and  chat. And he still finds it odd that, when he’s eating in a restaurant,  people who spot him call their buddies and soon there’s a crowd waiting  for him when he’s done. He says he’s happy to oblige the fans, though.

“They’re the ones who allowed me to do what I wanted for a long time,” he says. “I want to continue helping the sport.”

Which is why he’s here and why he’s now the UFC’s vice-president of  business development. He would have loved to still be fighting, but  three nasty knockout losses in his last three fights were enough to  convince him to move along.

That said, is there any chance he and Randy Couture and a few other retired guys might start a UFC old-timers’ tour?

He pauses for a second and then bursts out laughing.

“That would be kind of funny.”

Guess that means no.