December marks the month for many a great bout in the history of Mixed Martial Arts. Thanks in part to the UFC’s traditional year-ending show at the end of December, the last month of the year has played a role in the deciding of several UFC title fights. One of these bouts was the culmination of a bitter feud that dragged on for years between UFC Light Heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell and former champion Tito Ortiz. It was a defining bout that helped put the UFC into the enviable position that it enjoys to this day.
The back story of this bout is a lengthy one to be sure, as Liddell and ‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ Ortiz had a history of having trained together at John Hackleman’s The Pit. Apparently, somewhere along the road, the two had some sort of a falling out which ultimately lead to their facing off at UFC 47, on April 2nd, 2004. Ortiz had lost his belt to the legendary Randy Couture, but Liddell finished him off anyway.
Fans called for a rematch of the two with bad blood between them, but the fight would not come to fruition for over two and a half years. When it finally did at UFC 66 on December 30, 2006, Liddell was enjoying a run as Light Heavyweight champion that featured him knocking out the best fighters in the world with relative ease. Hype was at an all-time high for the year-end festival, and each fighter made no bones about their strategy to dispatch the other man. It was Ortiz’s vaunted wrestling and ground-and-pound against the excellent sprawl and deadly striking of Liddell.
Ortiz tried his best to drag Liddell into deep waters, but many forget that Liddell was a collegiate wrestler. He refused to be taken down and held down, and even though Ortiz scored one, it was apparent his main weapon had been neutralized. With fans going crazy in Las Vegas, Liddell threw his patented unorthodox combinations. He grounded Ortiz and unleashed a barrage of punches to score a third round TKO of one of the most outspoken fighters to ever grace the Octagon in Ortiz. Liddell, although previously popular, was suddenly a superstar. Unfortunately, his reign was short-lived after that fateful night in late 2006 thanks to a prime Rampage Jackson’s defection from Pride to the UFC.
This great bout put the UFC on sports fans’ radar in a big way. Of course, December has been known to feature many bouts of magnitude. What is your fondest MMA memory from the month of December?
Here’s a video of Liddell’s famed finish of Tito Ortiz: